Hamza Ali Shah is a millennial of Palestinian descent in his twenties. He is a Muslim socialist, a London based writer and political researcher, who has written for @tribunemagazine @novaramedia @Dazes @BylineTimes @LeftFootFwd and @The_NewArab. Hamza explained that he writes to raise awareness and explore matters that the mainstream media would not report on. I became aware of Hamza in March 2021 when he wrote a tweet that pointed out a very simple yet unavoidable truth.
Asked how his political opinions were formed, Hamza replied:
“I’m Palestinian so, as both my mum and dad are Palestinian, there was always a feeling at home that you need to have a sense of the world, to know what’s going on, I almost had to be political by default.” One of four children born and raised in the UK, for Hamza and his siblings talking about current affairs was a family tradition: “I picked up an interest from being really young reading the Mirror, the Guardian etc… although the Guardian is no longer allowed in our house (laughs).” The family culture was one of interest in politics, so Hamza picked up habits like watching News at Ten, Al Jazeera, Question Time, Newsnight and other current affairs programmes, as well as constantly asking questions. “It wasn’t a conscious choice that I became ‘plugged in’ so young when all those around me had an interest. In childhood, I became political without really knowing it, but when I went to college, then university, those views were sharpened. I became more knowledgeable but also more anti-establishment, striving for social justice and thinking more about the possibility of collective prosperity.”
One of Hamza’s early memories of resistance was aged 7 when he attended a protest march against the Iraq war with his family. “People were marching against the injustice, the imperial approach taken by the west, and I could sense a real purpose there. That moment was like a watershed moment for me, I felt like I was part of something big, a movement. I felt empowered. We were speaking out, resisting, being a part of raising awareness and pushing against injustice. I learnt then we have a duty to protest, because we can’t always sit back and accept what politicians say or believe the media.”
At various moments during university, Hamza was also inspired by different writers and economic theorists, such as Marx and Lenin. He absorbed the works of more recent scholars too, “like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, who are also very much outspoken critics of the imperial legacy of the west regarding Israel and Palestine.”
But Jeremy Corbyn had a massive impact on Hamza’s national and world view. “I was about 21 or 22 during the 2017 election and at that time I was just leaving university. I had all those theories I’d read about in my head, but always got the sense they were impossible to implement. Then along came Jeremy Corbyn, and suddenly I was thinking yes, this is acceptable, this is achievable. Corbyn was the turning point, he metaphorically put flesh on the bones. He went against the orthodoxy, giving me and others the possibility of hope.”
“The first time I ever voted in 2015, it was Milliband and at the time I was happy with that. But in the two years between 2015 and 2017 I realised there was a big difference between what was on offer then and what Jeremy Corbyn offered”. Hamza felt that Corbyn’s demand for a fairer future was the key for so many people. By contrast and comparing the opposing stance of our ex-labour leader to our current political situation, Hamza feels we now have two neoliberal parties that essentially agree: “they have the same basic framework, but just tinker around the edges a bit”.
Hamza views capitalism as the pursuit of profit, and as such “it’s ultimately about mass extraction. The thing is, yes everyone wants to make a bit of money, everyone wants to do well for themselves, but I think capitalism as an economic system is inherently dysfunctional and it just isn’t sustainable.” Hamza feels the post World War ll consensus that led to a democratic capitalist orthodoxy isn’t sustainable because the goals of democracy and capitalism fundamentally conflict. “A system that allows a minority to retain power and keep hoarding the wealth, keep damaging the environment, creates this never-ending destructive cycle.”
On the other hand, “Socialism is one of those words that means different things to different people dependent upon your background or your interpretation. It’s about common ownership, fairness, equal opportunities, distribution of wealth and resources; it’s basically everything that capitalism isn’t.” Hamza said he is a huge fan of Gramsci, who wrote the theory of hegemony, which states the masses have a capitalist world view imposed on them by cultural institutions, so much so, most are not even aware of the alternatives. He agrees with Gramsci on “the need to change our mindset and our perceptions. We should all educate ourselves on socialist philosophies because they all resonate to some extent.”
“The environment is the global issue that is concerning everyone currently and the lack of any real political concern. You don’t have to agree with the methods that protesters use, like what happened in the gallery with the Van Gogh painting for example, to recognise and support their message.” Hamza believes another national and international problem is the total lack of empathy shown by political institutions. “Look at how people are demonised or chosen to represent the enemy, whether it’s the working class, or whether it’s migrants, it’s a really worrying tactic. It’s a trend that doesn’t really fail either as there’s always someone to scapegoat. But the more people latch onto this simplistic rhetoric, the harder it is to form a robust message.” Hamza feels that the reason for a lack of empathy and the obvious fascist surge is that those on the right vote, they shout loud, and their voices are amplified by the media. Many however, “who don’t agree and are put off by it, don’t vote.” Hamza sees that as problematic for our democracy and for the future.
Hamza, who follows the Islamic faith, feels that socialism and his own religious beliefs are very much in tune. Some examples of the values that guide Hamza’s day to day actions include “putting the needs of others before my own and the gains of the collective over the gains of the individual. I just feel that that should be the ethical norm. When you’re at home your parents teach you to look after one another, be kind, generous, sensitive to the needs of younger and older siblings and the elderly. One of the worst legacies of capitalism is this idea of individualism. The idea that it’s okay for some to succeed at the expense of others. The dog eat dog, rat race mentality.” Alternatively, “if you take a step back, it’s better for society if you both succeed, but with a lot less hoarding of wealth in the process.”
Looking to the future, Hamza is afraid that people may now be running out of hope. “Since the 2017-2019 elections, I get the sense talking to family, friends, neighbours, people who aren’t even political, that we can no longer expect to have such high hopes for our future. That higher taxes for the rich are too unrealistic, we shouldn’t expect the NHS or education to be fully funded, housing for the homeless and feeding the poor are impossible tasks. People are falling into the trap that they can either have bad, or terrible. They’re settling for x or y because they’ve been told they can’t aim any higher. There are a minority who say, ‘just get the Tories out’ but it matters what Labour do, what they offer really does matter. Labour have veered so far to the right that just last week Starmer was saying we need to stop foreign workers working for the NHS… the leader of the opposition using that sort of racist language on national television!”
Speaking to Hamza, it quickly became apparent that his Palestinian heritage and his family’s interest in politics have been hugely influential. A young man of integrity and a deep thinker from an early age, Hamza has consistently sought answers to questions on issues of global justice and fairness. Whilst at university he honed his knowledge regarding political philosophy and theory to better understand and analyse the world around him. As a Muslim, Hamza views his religious beliefs, and his values as a socialist, as mutually compatible. He has chosen to use his talent for writing to critique western capitalist orthodoxy and, like the initial Tweet that drew me to his work, Hamza gets directly to the crux of the matter and I’m looking forward to his development and future insights.