Issue 192 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 1995 Copyright Socialist Review

Dangerous games

'Buffoon is surely not too strong a name for a man who criticises Michael Howard for not attacking a predominantly Asian group. Howard has done little else in recent months but attack immigrants and refugees'

Tony Blair's New Labour supporters do choose some odd targets for their wrath, don't they? It would seem the meek will be inheriting very little from Blair's brand new earth. Indeed quite the opposite appears to be the case.

Take the recent pronouncements of a junior Blairite, Jim Murphy, president of the National Union of Students. Murphy has joined the contest for directing fire at the most inappropriate target.

He issued the following statement to the press about an Islamic fundamentalist group which has supporters in the colleges, Hizbut-Tahrir:

Now just to make a few points clear before we go any further, lest there be any misunderstanding. Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a small organisation, with groups in a handful of colleges, and little support amongst the vast bulk of Asian students. Socialists have fundamental differences with its politics, which are anti-Semitic, anti-gay and anti-Hindu. Some of Hizb-ut-Tahrir's number have almost certainly been involved in acts of intimidation and violence.

Nonetheless its activities pale into insignificance when measured against the level of racist attacks perpetrated by white fascist groups in Britain today.

Yet somehow Murphy sees these groups as a lesser 'extremist threat' in Britain at the moment. So, although Asians are almost certainly the most vulnerable group when it comes to being the victims of 'extremist threats', Murphy singles out a predominantly Asian group as the main enemy.

In doing so he cites the evidence of an NUS student hotline to report incidents of racism. Apparently two thirds of all calls on it were about Hizb-ut-Tahrir. I find this surprising, but leaving that aside, a more important question must be asked. Even by NUS figures, the complaints on the hotline at most came to just over 200, which means that in a year NUS received less than 100 calls from blacks and Asians concerning white racist activities.

Why so few? Well I suspect because the vast majority of black and Asian students see little relevance in the NUS and its nonexistent anti-racist campaign.

In the last three years the executive of that body has repeatedly resisted affiliating the union to the Anti Nazi League, first of all posing the Anti Racist Alliance as an alternative, and when it became clear that this was not a tenable position announcing grandly its own anti-racist campaign. That campaign has yet to launch a single initiative. Instead it has become more and more obsessed with Hizb-utTahrir.

At the last NUS conference, practically the whole discussion of racism focused on this group to the exclusion of any serious attempt to tackle the white racist groups. Actually Hizb-ut-Tahrir had no delegates to the conference, although it did attempt to set up a bookstall.

The hysteria that followed included police guarding the conference centre and stopping all potential Hizb-ut-Tahrir members at the door and questioning them. The result, of course, was that delegates who happened to be Asian (Muslim, Hindu or Sikh) were, at their own union conference, subject to the sort of police harassment they suffer in everyday life.

To add to this ignominy the Muslim delegates who were not part of Hizb-utTahrir listened while supposed attacks on one group more and more took the form of attacks on the religious beliefs of Islam. one member of the executive, in a group that is meant to be to the left of Labour, even talked about 'backward Muslims'.

It would be easy to understand if a number of those delegates who entered the conference with little time for Hizb-utTahrir left feeling more sympathetic towards them.

For the greatest irony of Murphy's campaign is that it can give Hizb-ut-Tahrir credibility among Asian students, even though it has no real answers to the problems that they face. Many Asians who are at the bottom of the pile in Tory Britain, often marginalised and ignored by official politics, may find that, if their own union thinks the greatest threat of extremism comes from a small group of Muslims on the margins, it makes them wonder if that small group does not have a point.

So a sect like Hizb-ut-Tahrir can become a focal point for the disenchanted and deserted, thanks to the crass stupidity of an ambitious young Blairite buffoon.

Buffoon is surely not too strong a name for a man who criticises Michael Howard for not attacking a predominantly Asian group. Howard has done little else in recent months but attack immigrants and refugees. Yet all this seems to have passed Murphy by as he pleads for Howards support in his hysterical and dangerous campaign.

Not exactly at the cutting edge of challenging the nasty little games the Tories are playing, is it?
Pat Stack

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