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Friends fall out over Danish cartoons

23 March 2006

Andrew Johnson

The ‘islamophobic cartoons’ issue has caused heated dispute among various republican and left currents locally, sparked by the decision of ‘The  Blanket’ to carry the cartoons.  Below we give Andrew Johnson’s take on the dispute and publish the elements of correspondence we have been able to collect, leaving the last word to James Daly.

The correspondence around Anthony McIntyre’s decision to run the Danish anti-Muslim cartoons on his Blanket website has been a rare glimpse into the mindset of what passes for republican and left radicalism here. Especially interesting has been the letter of protest to Daily Ireland from three members of the Socialist Workers Party, Brian Kelly, Eamonn McCann and Barbara Muldoon, all three of whom had been regular contributors to the Blanket.

McIntyre’s own rationale for publication, which he expressed in an interview with UTV News was that he was resisting “censorship” and upholding “Enlightenment values”.  Reproducing images which were originally published in an immigrant-baiting Danish tabloid, reprinted in mass circulation newspapers across Europe, from the Berliner Tageszeitung to the Irish Star, and which can be found all over the internet, is hardly a daring blow against censorship, no matter what you think of the cartoons themselves. And what McIntyre’s self-promotion has to do with his pretentious referencing of the Enlightenment beats me – the letters of congratulation from sundry racists and Christian fundamentalists seem to suggest that few of McIntyre’s defenders believe the ideas of Voltaire and Rousseau are at stake.

But the reaction of the SWP comrades is worth examining. For a start, they seem to be surprised at McIntyre’s action. Yet McIntyre has been absolutely politically consistent. So we read in the Kelly/McCann/Muldoon letter that they had “hoped, for a time, that it might play a positive role in pushing forward the coalescing of a principled, anti-sectarian left in the North of Ireland.” But why would they think that the Blanket could be a vehicle for left regroupment? The Blanket emerged from discussions about republican regroupment following the first IRA ceasefire, where those interested in regroupment founded Fourthwrite magazine and McIntyre, who even then was moving rapidly to the right, split from the Fourthwrite group. 

Having rejected any constructive political project, McIntyre’s mantra became “open debate”. But, without any idea that debate might lead somewhere, what the Blanket became was not a forum for debate but a Tower of Babel, where all sorts of reactionary tosh could be published under the rubric of “open debate”. Our SWP writers seem to have taken a while to notice this. They write that “the quality and the political integrity of The Blanket have been visibly deteriorating for some time” – but this is the first time they have said anything about it. The Blanket could, and frequently did, run articles by members of the UVF without the SWP batting an eyelid. Nor did the SWP comrades, normally so sensitive to any criticism of their organisation, appear to notice McIntyre’s virulent red-baiting of the left, including their own group. Did Brian, Eamonn and Barbara read the Blanket?

Now the comrades write that “the recent decision of editors Carrie Twomey and Anthony McIntyre to republish deliberately provocative, racist anti-Muslim cartoons… is a step too far. In our view, their publication marks the end of any positive role that The Blanket might play in a world saturated in anti-Muslim prejudice, a world being dragged from one bloody war to the next in the name of superior ‘Western civilisation’.” And they petulantly demand the removal of their past contributions from the Blanket archive. Do they expect anyone to believe this nonsense?

The whole affair would be Greek tragedy if it were not farce.  The protagonists have stuck doggedly to their nature and, in doing so, made the final clash inevitable.  In this case their nature was their fixed refusal to explore a principled policy on the Irish National Question and pose an alternative to the Good Friday Agreement. 

McIntyre walks away from republican regroupment.  The SWP ignore the Fourthwrite dispute because they are walking away from the same issue in a different direction with an opportunist left unity project which, it quickly becomes clear, is partitionist in conception.

The lack of principle leads both to an association in a series of secret meetings with the PUP/UVF aimed at setting up a new ‘left’ party. One leading SWP figure emerges wide-eyed to exclaim that he had been unable to tell the Republicans from the Loyalists.  This is the significance of the phrase in the Kelly/McCann/Muldoon letter that they had “hoped, for a time, that it might play a positive role in pushing forward the coalescing of a principled, anti-sectarian left in the North of Ireland.”  The project fails.  This is hardly surprising when one considers that the UVF make Danish racists look like pale-pink liberals. Both groups continue their trajectory, having learnt nothing.  The Blanket continues to publish rabid right-wing tosh.  The SWP look for more opportunist alliances, ending up with Islam.  The inevitable falling out occurs.  Meanwhile sections of loyalism have advanced from intimidating migrant workers to openly and shamelessly demonstrating their racism.

Any workers who bother to take an interest will find that sections of the Irish left get more thin-skinned about the sectarian division of the working class as they get further and further from Ireland.

The Socialist Workers Party

To Carrie Twomey and Anthony McIntyre:

As writers and activists who have contributed in the past to The Blanket and who had hoped, for a time, that it might play a positive role in pushing forward the coalescing of a principled, anti-sectarian Left in the north of Ireland, we write to disassociate ourselves completely from the journal, and to request that the editors immediately remove from The Blanket archives any articles or letters submitted by us in the past.

While the quality and the political integrity of The Blanket have been visibly deteriorating for some time, the recent decision of editors Carrie Twomey and Anthony McIntyre to re-publish deliberately provocative, racist anti-Muslim cartoons, commissioned originally by the right-wing Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, is a step too far.  In our view, their publication marks the end of any positive role that The Blanket might play in a world saturated in anti-Muslim prejudice, a world being dragged from one bloody war to the next in the name of superior ‘western civilization.’

The Belfast Telegraph commented yesterday that The Blanket was “known for its anti-establishment views,” but this decision is just the latest confirmation that it has instead been transformed into the cyber-darling of an establishment now set on permanent war footing.  We will not allow ourselves to be associated with such an endeavor at a time when people are being assaulted in the streets, subjected to harassment by governments across Europe, hunted down by Iraqi ‘death squads,’ kidnapped and tortured in far-flung concentration camps, subjected to aerial bombardment and chemical warfare, and shot down in their homes under the guise of bringing ‘civilization’ to the Muslim world.

Brian Kelly (Belfast)
Eamonn McCann (Derry)
Barbara Muldoon (Belfast)

The authors expressly forbid this letter from being reprinted or reproduced in any form in The Blanket. It may be reprinted in any other publication.

Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Dear Editor

In the Sunday Tribune of the 12th March (page two) Suzanne Breen reports that the controversial anti-Islamic ‘Danish cartoons’ are to be published yet again on the Net by one Anthony McIntyre. As spokesperson for the Belfast Branch of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign, of which to date he is still a member, I wish to place on record that we utterly repudiate his intended action. He took this decision without informing any of his fellow activists, despite the fact that the insulting nature of the cartoons might adversely affect our continuing dialogue with the people of Palestine. We find his action frankly inexplicable but would like to make the position of our organisation absolutely clear.

The Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign is a non-party, non-denominational organisation. In principle we support freedom of speech and are opposed to censorship. However, we are also opposed to racism in all its forms and we regard these cartoons as racist. They conform with and reinforce the racist stereotype of the Muslim (and by extension the Arab) as terrorist. We reject as dishonest the claim that their publication serves some progressive purpose. Given their offensive, provocative nature, one wonders what on earth they were meant to achieve. It is doubtful whether the Danish newspaper which first published them wished to initiate a serious debate, any more than the 19th century Punch cartoonist, who depicted Irish people as violent simians, wished to have a dialogue about Irish freedom!

Years of self-serving , imperialist interference in Arab affairs have had disastrous consequences for the peoples of the Middle East, consequences most dramatically demonstrated in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan. It is hardly surprising, therefore, if the Muslim world views these cartoons as adding insult to injury. The Irish people, with their long experience of colonial oppression, should understand that.

Caitlin ni Chonaill
Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign
c/o Centre for Global Education
9 University Street
BT7 9FY.

Belfast Anti-Racist Network Statement on Blanket
(The Socialist Workers Party again)

On 12th March the online Belfast based magazine “The Blanket” became the first publication in Ireland or Britain to republish the Dutch anti Muslim cartoons that have sparked worldwide protests.  The ARN together with others, including the Islamic Centre and journalist Eamonn McCann had made last minute appeals to the magazine’s editor not to publish the cartoons.  ARN member Barbara Muldoon says “The cartoons are not just deeply offensive to Muslims, they are deeply racist.  One of the cartoons depicts the leader of the Muslim faith with a bomb in his turban.  This is clearly designed to stereotype Muslims as terrorists.  I am surprised that it is a magazine that is concerned mainly with a discourse on Irish Republicanism that has decided to republish these cartoons.  Have people forgotten the racist anti Irish cartoons that were published during the 1970s by newspapers such as the daily Mail?  These cartoons did nothing except stoke up racism against Irish people and excuse the British government bringing in a whole raft of repressive legislation against people here”.

Ms Muldoon adds that those who say that this is a question of free speech are missing the point.  “Muslims all over the world are suffering dreadful racism.  Attacks on Muslims living in Ireland and Britain have shot up in the wake of the publishing of these cartoons.  We have seen the humiliation of Muslim prisoners in Abu Ghraib and the force feeding of those who are being held indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay.  We have seen what is happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine.  A young Brazilian man was shot in London for looking like a Muslim.  The world leaders who are responsible for this are promoting an idea that Muslims require “civilising” by the West.  These cartoons do nothing more than promote that notion” So far The Blanket has published one of the cartoons.  They say that their intention is to publish all twelve, one per issue.  Ms Muldoon says “even at this late stage we would ask the magazine to review this decision”. 

A last word from James Daly

One of the signatories of this “anti-totalitarian” manifesto (used to justify the blanket publication) is the famous “new philosopher” Bernard Henri Levy, whose previous “anti totalitarian” campaigns included fundraising for the “freedom fighters” of the Contras in Nicaragua in 1985 as well as Afghan “freedom fighters” during the 1980s and 1990s. It is remarkable how a one time advocate of Islamic rule in Afghanistan now stands against muslim reaction...Recently he embarked in a campaign against the totalitarian rule of the FARC in Colombia.
One reason I don’t read “The Blanket”.

J. Daly



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