Britain's Far Left 
Identity Politics: Policing, Not Empowering Voices

David Browne draws on his own experience to highlight the destructiveness of today's far left

BrowneThe issue of so-called “identity politics” has reared its ugly head again many times since the General Election. While the homogenising of identity on which it relies is nothing new, increasingly it has become all the more obvious that the goal of modern, far-left identity politics is not to empower voices, but to police opinions.

The recent Maryam Nawazie affair is quite typical of the way such politics works in practice – Ms. Nawazie had apparently been no-platformed out of fear that she would offend Muslims, as if in the first instance all Muslims can be homogenised into a monolithic bloc who are offended in exactly the same way. Such charges are depressingly common, however; in the wake of both the Muhammad cartoon protests in 2006, and the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo this year, those who decided to condemn the cartoons rather than the violence stated – without any apparent exaggeration – that they believed the very identities of 1.4 billion people had been degraded by publishing such cartoons. This allowed them to explain away the violence as a natural response. Indeed, Stop the War went so far as to suggest after Charlie Hebdo that such attacks should be happening more often because of ceaseless “provocation”, which apparently justifies such attacks.

Of course, nobody could possibly substantiate such grandiose claims, but it doesn’t appear to matter; that’s the box assigned to Muslims by identity politicians. It’s the same box containing the idea that radicalisation is caused by the security services and not radical preachers themselves, and even that ISIS is a reaction to “Western imperialism” – a force evidently so bad that it causes young men on the other side of the world to join a cult of death, suicide and murder which enslaves and rapes women and girls from religious minorities and destroys World Heritage Sites. It’s the same box which considers Mo Ansar – a man who compared Namazie to Anders Breivik and blamed Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” competition for the attempt on her life – and well-known hate preacher Anjem Choudhary (who featured as a contributor in Ansar’s latest documentary on Islamophobia) as more “authentic” voices than Maajid Nawaz. It is a box which Nawaz described as containing the “angry little Muslim” and represents nothing more than the racism of low expectations.

The implication of such attitudes is fairly clear: because one is Muslim, one should subscribe to a radical, “anti-imperialist” discourse. However, Muslims are not the only group to be homogenised by identity politicians. The far-left “liberationist” response to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the US was to attack it rather than celebrate, with the administrators of Oxford-based Facebook Group No HeterOx – a supposedly inclusive platform for the discussion of LGBTQ* issues – attacking the very idea of marriage, and portraying the SCOTUS decision as only benefiting white, middle-class gays. This is a view that goes against liberal public opinion across the globe across all genders and races, given that many LGBTQ* couples have waited years (sometimes decades) for their relationships to be considered just as valid as heterosexual ones, fighting for equal rights and equal dignity rather than the abolition of marriage.

For reasons that remain unknown to me, the response of the administrators of the aforementioned Group to criticism of their stances following the ruling included attacks on Israel, and defending the use of the word “zio” by a prominent Group member; in an Arab-Israeli context, the word was coined by David Duke (Google “zio jews” or “zio Israel”) to refer to all Jews. When this was pointed out by a Jewish member who felt uncomfortable with the term being used (as it was used in such a context), he was told that the word was simply shorthand for “Zionist”, despite the fact that it simply is not used as such. Where normally the highlighting of such slurs would be applauded as a “call-out”, instead it was branded as derailment, and escalated to a purge of all conservatives and (alleged) Zionists including myself, and a declaration by the administrators that the Group was anti-Zionist, among other radical positions. Perhaps, if the administrators were honest in their assertion that there is no one LGBTQ* community, they would change the sub-heading of the zine from “for Oxford’s Queer and Trans Voices” to “for Far-left Anti-Zionists, Ideally Queer or Trans”. The message of the whole affair was similarly clear, however: in the minds of the administrators, a “good” LGBTQ* person should be anti-marriage, anti-police and anti-Zionist purely on account of their identity.

An interesting point of contrast, however, is the reactions of many of the same individuals to Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to include any women in the most senior ranks of the Shadow Cabinet, and his decision to appoint the inexperienced and controversial John McDonnell Shadow Chancellor over the far better qualified Angela Eagle, despite having previously pledged to have at least 50% of his Shadow Cabinet positions filled by women (a pledge he could only honour by creating more positions than those which conventionally exist). When normally the simple fact that certain groups are considered to be under-represented within institutions would be sufficient grounds for imputing actual bias onto the institution in question, we were told that in the case of Corbyn’s senior positions, someone’s identity should not matter and positions should be awarded on merit. It is a point that conservatives have made innumerable times to gales of laughter from the very identity politics activists now making it to defend a politician with whom they agree. This begs the obvious question: is identity politics less about empowering voices and more about pretending that every member of a certain group is or should be a socialist?

Perhaps the best evidence for an affirmative answer is not what has already been discussed, but the treatment by such activists of people who leave the little box which has been prescribed for them. Maajid Nawaz, for instance, has been called everything from “Muslim validator” (of other people’s bigotry) to the startling epithet of “porch monkey”. This is in spite of the fact that, as an ex-extremist himself, he surely knows a lot more about the extremist mindset (and how to defeat it) than your average metropolitan preacher of ‘anti-imperialism’. Similarly, it remains common for right-wing People of Colour to be called “Uncle Toms”, “race traitors” or even “house n*****s” purely for disagreeing with the far-left, somehow suggesting that far-left politics represents ‘loyalty’ to one’s race. This is a shockingly racist attitude which suggests that only the far-left are “real” People of Colour, and everyone else’s identity is somehow compromised. Even those public figures who such activists normally support are not safe when they dare to disagree with some of their stances ; witness the raising of Twitter mobs against veteran LGBTQ* rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and prominent feminist classicist Mary Beard for daring to sign an open letter against no-platforming.

Perhaps one of the most blatant display of outright contempt by today’s far left towards those they claim to represent came in the immediate aftermath to this year’s General Election; the news that the Tories had won the election led to riots in London and even an op-ed in the Guardian calling for democracy to be abolished because it “fail[s] the poor”. The evidence for such an assertion? “The poor” in some pivotal areas of the country (including working-class areas such as Leeds) had decided to vote for a party that wasn’t left-wing enough to satisfy the self-appointed guardians of the working classes, so they must have been brainwashed by the “Murdoch Empire” or just incredibly stupid. Never once did they consider the possibility that working class people might have a better conception of their own self-interest than out-of-touch metropolitan far-leftists.

But what today’s far left forget most of all is that there is nothing about someone’s identity which means that they should inherently be predisposed towards a certain ideology. It is a shame that the self-proclaimed heirs to Foot and Benn lack the intellectual robustness and courage to engage in meaningful intellectual discourse with society as a whole, instead resorting to vacuous identity politics as a means of appropriating voices to their positions by casting far-left politics as inherently wed to a facet of one’s identity. If identity politics was really about empowering voices, it would embrace diversity of opinion within groups, but its treatment of those that stray out of the boxes into which people are put, suggests that it is instead an increasingly brazen and proactive policing of opinion. The real danger to our society lies in its arrogant and bigoted assumption that certain people should hold certain views purely because of who they are, and the subsequent intolerance of anyone who thinks differently that such an assumption generates. If not put to rest, such identity politics will silence the voices of the majority in each case – who are not far-left – and lead to a situation where liberation issues become a laughing stock rather than something to be taken seriously.