WHAT A wonderful event the European Social Forum (ESF) was. It was a great success in terms of numbers participating and issues discussed. We should all be proud of what we’ve done.
I was involved in about six meetings that I spoke at and others that I attended.
The numbers at each one were great, and the discussions touched every aspect of the issues that affect us all.
One noticeable and welcome development was the fact that the question of Islamophobia was central to the event, and there was a healthy participation of Muslims from Britain at it.
This is clearly an advance from the last two ESFs in Florence and Paris.
It underlines how the ESF has proven to be far more inclusive than people gave it credit for.
It also showed how, contrary to our detractors in the mainstream media, a very high level of debate characterises our movement.
There was a depth, breadth and confidence of ideas that stands in marked contrast with what passes for official political debate.
I was also very pleased to see that we are becoming more welcoming to and listening to different, even opposing, points of view.
That’s good. It shows we are not here for pleasantries or to get applause. We are here to learn more, to debate, to argue, and to recognise, through that, that our differences are far less than the high ideals that unite us.
Understanding that is urgent. As we were discussing at the ESF, we got news that some of our young men and women from Britain are to be redeployed to the most dangerous areas of Iraq in order to facilitate a US assault on Fallujah.
My organisation, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), came out straight away against it, and it was very important that by the end of the ESF the majority of people there were also calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops.
This is now a critical moment. Tony Blair and defence secretary Geoff Hoon have shown they are completely out of touch with reality in Iraq and here.
But with supreme arrogance they are pressing on regardless. What can we do?
First, we must recognise that our stand is adopted by the majority of people, whether they consider themselves to be part of the left or not.
Secondly, while we have many challenges in front of us, we should remember how successful the anti-war movement has been.
We have brought together a remarkable variety of organisations led by the Stop the War Coalition, MAB and CND.
Now we need to build on that and involve people who may not have been part of any of those organisations, or may even have supported the war initially.
It is imperative that the anti-war movement does not see itself as an exclusive group.
Successes have rightly given rise to a feeling that we have told the truth. And, of course, we now see some politicians who have conveniently decided to change their views.
But there is a genuine revulsion with Blair among the mass of people, and we should try to build a platform whereby these people can play a role, have a voice and be included.
As well as mobilising immediately against the occupation, the forthcoming elections must be used to show the warmongers exactly how people feel about them.
We need seriously to discuss how we do that, especially with our friends in the trade unions.
In the two countries most responsible for the war on Iraq there is a paucity of democracy.
In the US many people are hoping, wishing and praying for a heavy Bush defeat, but I doubt that many people are holding their breath for what John Kerry will deliver.
It’s the same here. The difference between Tony Blair, Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy is very slim.
That means that some people will say there is no point in voting, and others will say that though we are against Blair we will stick with him because there is no alternative.
That is nipping the real argument in the bud. What we have to do is provide a sophisticated answer to how we truly get represented.
We need a lot of debate. That means a lot of meetings and a lot of discussions with all the people who are alienated from Blair and want to see something different.
We will be playing our role in the Muslim community in pursuing that discussion.
But I’m sure everybody would agree that without the backing of trade unionists, the anti-war movement and other progressive forces we cannot bring to the elections a powerful force to represent what we all feel.
We have made a very important start, but we have a long way to go.