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December 07, 2013


Ralph Musgrave

“the sympathy some (a few?) leftists have for reactionary Islamism.” It’s more than “some” or “a few”. The standard Guardian line is that any strident criticism of the far right characteristics of Islam amounts to racism or xenophobia.

Threatening the lives of cartoonists, treating women as second class citizens, homophobia, holocaust denial, etc etc.: they’re minor blemishes in Islam which should be swept under the carpet as far as The Guardian is concerned.

Brandon Badger

To answer the question in the second paragraph, one might ask, how much of a credible existential threat did the nation of South Africa pose to our way of life?


"All of us, to some degree, have an element of tribalism in our political views"

Quite so, but one of the pleasures of this blog is that the author seems to have a fairly low degree of political tribalism.

I think 70s/80s Tories also saw South Africa in civilization vs barbarism terms. South Africa traded racial inequality for a comparatively civilized society compared to Idi Amin, the Emperor Bokassa and other eminences of that era.


The strength of pro-SA feeling among many Tories in the 70s and early 80s cannot be explained by pragmatic anti-communism alone. For them, the defence of the republic was as emotionally engaging as Spain had been for anti-fascists in the 30s. They didn't feel as strongly about Chile.

For some (like Mr and Mrs Thatcher) this was a matter of kith-and-kin and post-imperial resentment, though this was moderated as the "anglo" big capitalists came to see Apartheid itself as the problem by the late 70s, leading them to press the Afrikaaners to negotiate.

What gave the pro-SA camp their last, viscious lease of life was the growing right-libertarian influence in organisations like the FCS. For them, SA was a land of extreme Lockean property rights and natural hierarchy.

The glib racism was incidental, which is why so many of them found it easy to reinvent themselves as Tory modernisers, though the mask occasionally slips when they address areas outside the M25 as if they were Bantustans.

gastro george

"The standard Guardian line is that any strident criticism of the far right characteristics of Islam amounts to racism or xenophobia."

Citation, please. I can't think of any "leftists" who have "sympathy" for reactionary Islamism who aren't idiots.

For example, people might oppose the crushing of democracy in Egypt, but that's not an endorsement of every policy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Something that people like Cohen never seem to understand.

George Carty

Ralph Musgrave,

I think Chris is trying to suggest that Tory apartheid-symps are in some ways similar to the leftist "useful idiots" which became apologists for Stalinism in the 1930s, in the sense that they only saw what they wanted to see when they examined the foreign society in question.

The attitudes of liberals and left-wingers to Islam are rather different, based more on the fact that they are intimidated by the sheer tenacity of Islamic belief (NOT by Muslim terrorism may I emphasize). Note that no Muslim population has ever abandoned Islam -- "de-Islamization" of lands (such as the Iberian peninsula and much of the Balkans) was only ever achieved by outright ethnic cleansing.

In its bluntest form, the liberal-left attitude to Islam could be described as "better a dhimmi than a génocidaire".


The face that the ANC really was dominated by Communists also drove Tory support for apartheid, but the ANC's Marxism was completely understandable for three reasons:

1) After the civil rights movement was brutally smashed post-Sharpeville, it looked like violent revolutionary struggle was the only way forward. And that would require help from the USSR.

2) The "capitalism" of the apartheid regime was hypocritical. Like the Gulf Arab states where citizens live in luxury on the back of brutally exploited immigrant workers, apartheid was in practice Peronism for whites, paid for by semi-slavery for blacks.

3) South Africa was a mining-based economy, and such an economy naturally lends itself to statism. You can hardly move a mine to a lower-tax area!

gastro george

"The attitudes of liberals and left-wingers to Islam are rather different, based more on the fact that they are intimidated by the sheer tenacity of Islamic belief (NOT by Muslim terrorism may I emphasize)."

A problem with this kind of argument is that it tends to a view that Islam is monolithic. Which it transparently isn't.


All interesting stuff. It's not clear to me that Apartheid era SA was a bastion of free-market capitalism. Mr Worstall's blog links to, but expressly does *not* endorse a view that apartheid owed as much to white unions as anything. I, like him I think, disagree with that, but it does raise the question of why (some) right wingers were so supportive of SA.

I genuinely don't know btw. My recollection of Conservative student activism at the time is a combination of Eastern Europeans such as Radek Sikorski campaigning against the USSR, and the FCS trying to get head cases to speak on campus to goad "lefties" into banning them.


David Friedman

While I agree that South Africa was neither a free nor a democratic society nor, for that matter, very capitalist, it seems to me that the hypocrisy was greater on the other side of the fence. People on the left treated South Africa as a pariah state while ignoring the fact that many of the black ruled states were less free, less democratic, and massively more murderous. The Republic of South Africa killed people by the hundreds. A number of other African states killed them by the hundreds of thousands.


How can a regime be more undemocratic than apartheid since apartheid was the exact antithesis of democracy, i.e. the unelected rule by a tiny, tiny minority of the population?


Plus, 'people on the left' didn't ignore other, barbarous regimes in Africa. Many people on the right ignore the hundreds of thousands that have been killed in say the Congo over the last 10 years. I haven't heard anyone call for an invasion there though.

Deviation From The Mean

"The Republic of South Africa killed people by the hundreds. A number of other African states killed them by the hundreds of thousands."

And the USA and Britain kill people by the millions and the hypocrisy of the right remains unrivaled.

RIP Mandela, a true modern hero.


"the sympathy some (a few?) leftists have for reactionary Islamism."

None, actually.


" The Republic of South Africa killed people by the hundreds."

Domestically this may have been the case, but the government of South Africa killed many, many more when pulverizing Mozambique and Angola from 1975 onwards. Joseph Hanlon's book 'Beggar your Neighbour: Apartheid Power in Southern Africa' is a good introduction to this.

Churm Rincewind

GastroGeorge has it right. Islam is not monolithic - homophobia, racism, sexism, etc - can just as easily be identified in reactionary Christianity and Judaism. Nick Cohen is not a reliable guide in this area.

Ralph Musgrave

George Carty,

You attribute to the liberal left the view "better a dhimmi than a génocidaire". I’m sure sanctimonious lefties are keen to advertise their concerns about genocide. Unfortunately that doesn’t quite explain their enthusiasm for Islam. Reason is that lefties have always been keen to ENCOURAGE immigration to the Europe from Muslim countries (or at least to castigate as “racist” those who oppose such immigration”). I.e. lefties don’t JUST want to prevent the forceful repatriation of Muslims to Muslim countries: they actually favour Islamising Europe.

So rather than summarising the leftie view of Islam as “better dhimmi then genocide”, I’d summarise it as, “We’re too dim to produce a significant number of clever and constructive ideas, so with a view to bolstering our anti-establishment credentials, we’ll back any anti establishment creed no matter how bigoted and moronic it is: particularly where the relevant adherents have brown faces, because that also bolsters our anti-racist credentials”.


Another possibility is that many Tories are Little Islanders disinterested in foreign intervention, unless their direct interests are threatened. Conservatives like the status quo and dislike change. They prefer the devil they know.

And if that sounds awful, remember how many people of the Left held similar objections to intervention in Libya and Syria.

I think the 80s Tories were utterly wrong on South Africa, so I don't make this point to defend them. But I do understand where the attitude came from.

gastro george

Beyond parody, Ralph.

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