What made Muslim identity politics particularly appealing to certain sections of a disoriented left was that it seemed to map on to their historic support for Palestinians’ right to self-determination. As a result, it didn’t take much for some leftists to start to seek common cause with Islamism, the most radical form of Muslim identity politics. So, as the 1990s progressed, many leftists were increasingly prepared to overlook the dark, reactionary heart of Islamism in the interests of the global struggle against Western imperialism.
The Prophet and the Proletariat, a 1994 pamphlet written by Chris Harman, the then editor of the Socialist Worker, captures the way in which parts of the British left were starting to cosy up to Islamism. In it, he admitted that Islamism can approximate fascism in its opposition to modernity, its murderous intolerance and its less-than-liberal attitudes to women and minorities. But it’s not all bad, Harman said. Islamists, he wrote, have opposed ‘the state and elements of imperialism’s political domination… Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza have played a key role in the armed struggle against Israel’. Islamism, he concluded, is born of a ‘feeling of revolt [that] could be tapped for progressive purposes’.