Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 9 February 2006

What we think

Worldwide 'cartoon' backlash:

Socialists must build a united workers' movement to fight divisions

Protests in London, photocredit Marc ValleeTHE PUBLICATION of cartoons depicting Mohamed in various European newspapers has provoked worldwide Muslim protests.

Muslim's protest. Photos by Marc Vallée

The disparaging images have added to the enormous anger amongst Muslims against Bush's 'war on terror' and the occupation of Iraq.

However, the issue that has sparked off these protests and their character has renewed discussion about a 'war of civilisations' or of 'cultures'. These developments are a sharp warning of the divisive tensions that can develop in the absence of a strong workers' movement offering a socialist alternative.

Millions of Muslims, embittered by the policies of Western imperialism, have seen these cartoons - which suggests Muslims are terrorists - as the latest in a long series of provocations and aggressive acts, not least the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq and the toleration of Israel's settling of more and more Palestinian land in the West Bank.

In a number of Arab countries the protests have taken on at least a partial anti-imperialist character, although it appears that the Syrian regime has, for its own interests, used the protests to give a warning to the west and at the same time reassert its interests in the Lebanon.

In European countries, including Britain, there is also a groundswell of resentment amongst Muslims against a perceived increase in anti-Islamic feelings, greater police surveillance and harassment.

Right-wing agenda

In Denmark, where the cartoons were first provocatively published in a right wing paper, many Muslims feel threatened by a series of special tough anti-immigrant laws that have been passed since 2001 by the Rasmussen government.

This government, which depends upon support from the far-right Danish People's Party, has banned immigrants under the age of 24 from marrying and is also excluding from Denmark the husbands or wives of Danes who are not citizens of an EU country.

Faced with what they see as a continuous campaign of vilification in the media and increasing harassment many Muslims have protested against the publication of these cartoons.

The fact that it has been mainly right-wing journals which have republished them is seen as confirmation that there is a deeper right-wing political agenda.

However the character of some of these protests, coming after a series of terrorist attacks on Western civilian targets, has reinforced the tendency of deepening divisions between Muslims and non-Muslims in a number of countries.

In Britain, the extremely sectarian religious placards threatening "death" to non-Muslims carried on the small 3 February protest in London can deepen racial and religious divisions, as well as providing the government with arguments to justify its authoritarian and anti-terror laws.

This is in a situation where already there are European-wide pressures and tensions produced by the transfer of jobs and forced migration resulting from the effects of capitalist globalisation and the bosses' ongoing neo-liberal offensive.

Political alternative

From all sides opportunists, religious sectarians and racists have jumped in to exploit the situation. In Arab countries, right wing Islamic religious leaders are taking the opportunity to reinforce their claim to be leading the opposition to imperialism and also strengthen their grip on society.

The official attempts to calm down the situation may have an effect in the days ahead but the underlying tensions will not be removed by soothing words and appeals to reason.

What has been absent in the last few days has been a powerful socialist voice that can independently intervene in this situation and prevent its exploitation by religious sectarians or racists. Unfortunately this is not surprising given today's political weakness of the workers' movement in many countries.

But, unless the workers' movement internationally can offer a way out, the next period of social crisis could see societies being torn by a myriad of divisions involving religious, ethnic and national conflicts.

What then should be the socialist response to the current wave of protests and the attempt of conservative and some right-wing Christian political leaders to claim that they are defending free speech?

Firstly, socialists stand completely opposed to the oppression based on religion, race, nationality, gender or sexual orientation and socialists support the right of the oppressed to defend themselves. We work to build a united movement of working people to fight oppression, capitalism and start to create a socialist future.

This means we oppose the production of any material that is used to create or deepen religious, ethnic, national or sexual divisions. This includes countering the continuous anti-immigrant racist propaganda or sub-text that can be seen in parts of the mass media in almost every European country.

At the same time, it has always been the workers' movement that has been in the forefront of the struggle to win and defend democratic rights, including free expression and the right to vote.

While opposing the production of racist or fascist material, socialists defend the right to make criticism, even sarcastic criticism. The same cannot be said for the main established religions that have all, at various times, stamped upon the free expression of ideas.

The attempt to say in Europe and the USA that what is developing is a 'clash of civilisations' between Christianity and Islam, with Christianity representing freedom, is completely false.

For the majority of their existence the tops of all the established Christian churches were quite happy to be part of the elites running dictatorial societies. As even the Financial Times commented: "The 'Christian' west won through to modernity in the teeth of clerical reaction."

The millions killed in warfare between different Christian denominations, the Inquisition, slavery, the slaughter of native Americans and the original witch-hunts are just a few of the historical crimes of the leaders of the Christian churches.

But this is not just the case with the Christian churches, leaders of the other main established religions have played similar roles, whether it be Jewish religious leaders justifying the expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland on the grounds that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews or prominent Buddhists being in the forefront of the attacks on Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka.

While the Western media make frequent references to Islamic fundamentalists, Islam is not by any means alone in having extreme fundamentalists within its following.

Pat Robertson, one of Bush's favourite evangelists, said last month that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's punishment for withdrawing Israeli settlers from Gaza! Last year, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuela's radical president Hugo Chavez.

In India, Hindu fundamentalists have repeatedly led attacks on the Muslim minority, like the 1992 destruction of the mosque in Ayodhya or the 2002 Gujarat clashes.

Workers' unity

Protests in LondonSocialists oppose all racist, religious or sexist attempts to sow divisions. Socialists advocate workers' action against such attempts and strive to achieve a united struggle of working people against oppression and capitalism.

Socialists defend the rights of both non-believers and believers, regarding faith as a personal issue and see no problem in believers and non-believers struggling alongside each other in the workers' movement. On the contrary, socialists strive to unite all working people in common, collective struggle.

But, by the same token, seeing faith as a personal issue means that socialists support the complete separation of church from state, the right to polemicise against religion and oppose the attempts of any religion to dictate to other religions or non-believers.

We defend the democratic rights of all, non-believers and believers, to express their views. This includes the right to produce anti-religious material, whether it is philosophical or satirical.

This is why socialists opposed the attempts of Christian fundamentalists to ban the Jerry Springer musical and the 2004 attacks by some Sikhs on the performance of the play Behzti in Birmingham.

Socialists resist all attempts to stigmatise Muslims but at the same time combat the attacks of vicious Islamic reactionaries against gays and the rights of women.

Equally, we oppose the anti-Semitic material produced under the guise of opposing Israeli policy in many Arab countries.

Most of the Islamic states that have protested against the Danish cartoons are dictatorial regimes with brutal histories of oppressing their own populations.

Today, a critical task before the workers' movement is to prevent divisions amongst working people blocking united struggles.

This means defending democratic rights and opposing repression, while striving to build a unified movement that can challenge capitalism and fight for a socialist future.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation £


Your message: 


In The Socialist 9 February 2006:

End the occupation

Socialists must build a united workers' movement to fight divisions

Bush not going Green

Strike for pension rights

Victory for trade union militancy

NHS - hands off our GP services!

Fighting the far-right BNP

Get organised, get active!

Campaign for a New Workers' Party

Venezuela: Women occupy Caracas factory

Venezuela: We are a mighty river

Sri Lanka: Back from the brink of war?

Are Trotsky’s ideas of socialist revolution still relevant today?


Home   |   The Socialist 9 February 2006   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  

Related links:


triangleNo to terrorism! No to racism! No to war!

triangleNorway: right wing terrorist killings


triangleCondemnation of racist destruction of Muswell Hill Islamic centre in London

triangleLondon demo: Stop the BNP! - updated

triangleNovember 24: International protests against executions and to support political prisoners in Iran

triangleTunisia: Elections mask the growing anger from below


triangleKen Douglas

triangle3rd June anti-racist demonstrations across Britain

triangleBradford Socialist Party: Black lives matter - How we build a fightback


triangleIndia: Modi victory underlines need for real socialist fightback

triangleSri Lanka: No to terrorist bombing


triangleFight racism and class inequality, fight capitalism!

News and socialist analysis

News and socialist analysis



Tories knocked back on schools opening



Battered Tories face divisions and growing anger



Council finance disaster: set emergency no-cuts budgets and fight for funds!



Furlough: We are not 'all in the same boat'



Protect every job, nationalise don't subsidise



"Test, trace, isolate, support" - the Tories' scheme fails on all counts



Lessons from the Corbyn experience



Reckless, lying cheats



United action can defeat Tories' dangerous school plan



Coronavirus pandemic news in brief



More blunders and profiteering in Tory track-and-trace scheme



Care home workers suffer PPE shortage and job loss fears



Black and Asian Covid-19 deaths: an indictment of capitalist inequality



Covid crisis boosts union membership but TUC leaders want to cosy up to the bosses!



Johnson's reckless 'back to school' plans threaten everyone's safety

triangleMore News and socialist analysis articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777


Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 07748 534 891

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041



Alphabetical listing

June 2020

May 2020

April 2020

March 2020

February 2020

January 2020