Notes from the front – of the week 20/1/2016

Islamophobia whipped up as economy slows – Tories never change

Cameron’s response to the announcement that the British economy slowed again at the end of 2015 – demonstrating the failure of Tory economic policy – was to initiate yet another campaign to scapegoat Muslims.

On Monday 18 January, in The Times and on the BBC’s Today Programme, Cameron launched a particularly unpleasant attack on Muslims, targeting Muslim women.

He singled out Muslim women for not integrating and not learning English. He suggested there is a link between the lack of English speaking of some Muslims and terrorism, and went on to threaten women could face deportation if they fail a new language test the government is introducing. Having cut English teaching for migrants by £160 million in recent years, he announced just a paltry £20 million of new funds for such classes.

Alongside this he launched a serious attack on the right to wear the Niqab, which up to now has been broadly defended across the political spectrum, apart from among some parts of the far and extreme right. He proposed that public authorities should be entitled to ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab, or face veil, in schools, courts and other public bodies. This is a nasty sleight of hand, whereby on the one hand he can present a liberal image by not introducing a state ban, but remove the right of Muslim women to defend themselves is an institution locally decides to ban their right to dress as they choose.

Cameron also promised a review of religious councils, including Sharia councils and he announced the state will be taking assertive action against social conservatism in the Muslim community.

He also criticised the separate seating provisions sometimes made for men and women in Mosques and at some other Muslim events. He did not point out that this is common to a number of faiths including Islam and Judaism, plus gender separation is widespread in secular institutions, such as sports teams, hospitals, many primary and secondary schools. But of course Cameron is only attacking such cultural practices when pursued by Muslims.

* Unite Against Fascism National Conference Saturday 6 Feb 9.30-4.30 London

* Stand up to racism & fascism – National Demo Saturday 19 March Assemble 12 noon London

The Venezuelan revolution is fighting back

Following the advance of the right at December’s National Assembly elections the Maduro leadership in Venezuela is waging a determined defence of the revolution.

The Chavistas have promised to defend the social programmes implemented this past 17 years and have protected the National Bank by curbing the oversight role of the opposition-dominated National Assembly. They intend to fight the opposition’s plan to privatise state owned housing and are opposing an ‘amnesty’ law which would free opposition figures involved in violence.

The opposition (MUD) coalition have been forced to accept a Supreme Court ruling temporarily suspending four representatives pending investigation into alleged electoral irregularities – three being MUD supporters and one from the PSUV, the Chavista party.

Despite this the new National Assembly President says within six months he will have a plan to oust President Maduro.

Whilst Venezuela, like the US, has a presidential system, the new National Assembly majority has significant powers. It can remove ministers and the Vice President, but removing the Vice President three times in a row can lead to new National Assembly elections. It can also remove the heads of other branches of government, such as the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, and the National Electoral Council (with the approval of the Supreme Court or the Attorney General). Plus it can put proposed constitutional amendments to a referendum and it can call for a constitutional assembly, which also then goes to a referendum.

The opposition might try to organise a recall referendum against Maduro, but doing so would require the collection of 20 per cent of registered voters’ signatures, which amounts to over 3.8 million signatures. To then win sch a recall referendum requires not just a majority vote but more votes than Maduro secured (7.5 million) when he was elected in 2013.

The Venezuelan opposition remains divided on whether to fight within the democratic system or resort to violent street actions aimed at overthrowing the government. Both wings have strong support from the US where the priority remains regime change and crushing of the revolution.

It is difficult for the Chavistas to advance in their struggle against the US-backed opposition without a policy to resolve the economic crisis, which requires urgent attention.

Sanctions on Iran – lifted and imposed

On 16 January UN imposed sanctions against Iran were lifted, following the International Atomic Energy Association’s announcement that Iran had complied with the terms of the nuclear power deal. The immediate benefits for Iran are substantial, with around $100 billion frozen Iranian assets to be released. By 19 January the head of Iran’s central bank reported that $32 billion had been transferred. It is anticipated that Iranian oil exports will rise from 1.1 million barrels per day to around 2 million.

Yet within hours of the UN sanctions being lifted the US imposed new additional sanctions against Iran’s ballistic missile programme, targeting a limited number of Iranian companies and individuals for sanctions. The US government has also retained the body of its sanctions, which prevent US banks from trading directly or indirectly with Iran, and prevent trade with Iran being processed through the US financial system.

Once again the US government’s hostility to Iran asserts itself. Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami had bitter experience of being rebuffed after delivering support for US policy goals. It remains necessary to defend the Iranian people against US imperialist aims in the region.