Peter Tatchell: Islamists Betray Palestine and Human Rights


Islamists betray Palestine
When supporters of Palestine ally with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, they undermine support for the Palestinian cause

By Peter Tatchell
The Guardian – London, UK – Comment Is Free – 12 October 2007

Al Quds Day is a day of international protest in support of the Palestinian people. It was originated by the leader of the Iranian Islamist revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini.

In London, this year’s Al Quds demonstration – held last Sunday – had the themes of: “End Child Killing! End Oppression! End Israeli Apartheid!”

It was supported by the left-wing Respect Party, 1990 Trust, Muslim Association of Britain, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. The post-march Trafalgar Square rally was addressed by the Respect Party MP, George Galloway, and by the former Daily Express journalist, Yvonne Ridley.

As a long time supporter of justice for the Palestinian people, I decided to join the protest. I am against Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank, its divisive Berlin-style wall, its illegal nuclear weapons programme and its often indiscriminate military operations that kill innocent Palestinian civilians.

But I object to the way the Al Quds Day marches invariably hijack the Palestinian cause and use the occasion to also support the tyrannical, Holocaust-denying Iranian regime and its fundamentalist, terrorist offshoots, Hamas and Hezbollah – two organisations that mirror the Israeli disregard for international law, human rights and innocent civilians.

Defenders of Hamas and Hezbollah claim that these two movements have popular support. True. So did the Nazis. Hitler won the most votes in the 1933 elections. But that did not make him right or justify his anti-humanitarian policies.

By aligning justice for Palestine with the injustice of the Iranian autocracy, Al Quds Day undermines international sympathy and support for the Palestinian people. While it suits the public relations purposes of the tyrants in Tehran to pose as anti-imperialists and defenders of an oppressed people, Iran’s support for Palestine is the kiss of death.

The London Al Quds march was almost exclusively Muslim and fairly devout, judging by the preponderance of hijabs and beards. I joined the marchers, carrying two placards. See here:
One with a Palestinian flag and the slogan ‘Free Palestine,’ and the other emblazoned with the words: “Oppose the government of Iran, Support the people of Iran.”

The latter placard included a photograph of a 16-year-old Iranian girl, Atefeh Rajabi Sahaaleh, who was publicly hanged in 2004 in the city of Neka for ‘crimes against chastity,’ after having been sexually abused during her early teenage years. Tehran hanged the female victim of abuse, not the male perpetrators. Then the ayatollahs lied that she was 22, to cover up the fact that they had hanged a minor, contrary to international human rights laws that Iran has signed.

This case of state-sponsored murder is, of course, just one aspect of a much wider pattern of human rights abuses by the Iranian regime, including the arrest and torture of student and trade union activists; the execution of Sunni Muslim leaders and ethnic Arabs and Baluchs; the closure of newspapers and detention without trial of journalists; and the arrest of over 100,000 women for the crime of dressing “immodestly” (such as letting a few wisps of hair show from under their hijab).

The Iranian regime has all the characteristics of fascism, albeit in a clerical form. Its suppression of human rights is on a par with Franco’s Spain, PW Botha’s South Africa and Pinochet’s Chile. But whereas the latter three dictatorships provoked global protests, Tehran’s tyranny elicits mostly silence and inaction from left and liberal opinion. Why the double standards?

As soon as I turned up at the Al Quds demo, I was subjected to a barrage of violent, threatening invective from large sections of the crowd. Some started chanting: ‘Tatchell is a Zionist, Tatchell is a paedophile. Get out! Get out! Get out!’

This paedophile slander was accompanied by allied falsehoods that I support “western attacks on Muslim lands” – despite my long-standing opposition to Russia’s war in Chechnya,

The war in Iraq

and plans for a US attack on Iran.

Such lies show the moral depravity of many Islamists, who readily borrow from the tactics of Stalinists and the BNP to smear and discredit anyone who disagrees with them. Indeed, some fundamentalist leaders have admitted that it is morally acceptable for Muslims to lie in order to defeat “infidels” and to advance the Islamist cause.

I was treated to a torrent of hatred all the way from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. Some of the Al Quds marchers shouted things like: ‘You are all Zionists and CIA agents. How much money did Bush pay you to come here today?’ Others claimed: “Stop posing as a supporter of Palestine. You have never supported Palestine” – malevolently disregarding the fact that I was a founder member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in 1982.

Six of the Al Quds marchers made attempts to physically attack me. It was only police intervention that stopped them.

What I found odd is that the people who abused and attacked me were supposedly ultra-devout Muslims. Yet their manner was more thuggish than pious. Like their Iranian mentors, they no doubt claim to represent true, pure Islam. In my view they behaved in a most unIslamic and unreligious way; offering very negative, unattractive caricatures of the Islamic faith and the Muslim community.

Many of the marchers appeared to identify with pro-Iranian Shia fundamentalism, which preaches a gospel of hatred and violence against Jews, gay people and even against other Muslims who disagree with their fundamentalist interpretation of Islam.

None of my Muslim friends believe this bigoted nonsense, and most Muslims in Britain reject such intolerance. In my prison and asylum work, helping many gay and straight Muslims, I am constantly encouraged by imams who show great compassion and tolerance. They happily work with me, despite my atheism and gayness. This is the kind, gentle face of Islam that never seems to be newsworthy.

A different kind of Muslim predominated last Sunday. Many of the marchers were carrying Hezbollah flags and chanting: ‘We are all Hezbollah now.’ When I pointed out that Hezbollah kills innocent Israeli civilians, and endorses the execution of women and gay people who transgress their extremist version of Islam, I was told things like: “That’s good. Society has to have order. These punishments are necessary for the good of society.”

On a positive note, several Al Quds marchers, nearly all women and nearly all wearing the hijab, expressed their support. One confided: “We don’t agree with the Iranian regime either. Killing that young girl was wrong.” Another said: “Islam is about love and peace. Don’t listen to the fanatics. We are only here because we support Palestine.” One other marcher told me: “I am glad you joined us. What you are saying needs to be said. I don’t support anyone being oppressed.”

Such responses were gratifying to hear. It shows that there are progressive Muslims, even on Al Quds demonstrations. Too often it is only the fundamentalist voices that are heard in the media. People are seriously mistaken, and unfair, when they lump together all Muslims as one reactionary mass. As with Jews, Christians, Hindus and atheists, the Muslim community also has its illiberals and its liberals. Bravo for liberals and progressives everywhere – including in Britain, Israel and Palestine.

Since the Iranian regime’s apologists always falsely accuse me of supporting a US attack on Iran, I will preempt their malicious attempts at character assassination by making my position clear:

I am not suddenly taking on the Iranian regime. I have supported the Iranian people’s struggle for democracy and human rights for four decades – first against the western-backed imperial fascist Shah and, since 1979, against the clerical fascism of the ayatollahs.

I do not support a US attack on Iran. Military intervention would strengthen the position of the hardliners in Tehran; allowing President Ahmadinejad to play the nationalist card. Using the pretext of national security and defending the country against imperialism, he would further crack down on dissent.

Some anti-war and left-wing campaigners refuse to condemn the Tehran dictatorship and refuse to support the Iranian people’s resistance; arguing that to do so would play into the hands of the US neocons and militarists. I disagree. Opposing imperialism and defending human rights are complementary, not contradictory.

This Guardian article only makes a brief mention of LGBTI human rights. But it raises issues that have major implications for LGBTI people living in Palestine, Israel and throughout the Middle East.
BTW: I use the term Islamist to mean those who promote political Islam and seek the creation of a theocratic state, based on Islamic Sharia law – which is always bad news for women, LGBTIs, trade unionists, atheists, and Muslims who adhere to the “wrong” sect of Islam.

Islamists betray Palestine and Human Rights

When supporters of Palestine ally with Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah, they undermine support for the Palestinian cause.


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