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(en) Red & Black Revolution #7 - The trouble with Islam by Andrew Flood

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 15 Dec 2003 10:59:40 +0100 (CET)

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The September 11 attacks, the Afghan war that followed from it and
the ongoing war in Israel/Palestine have once again raised the issue
of Islam in the minds of many anarchists in Ireland and Britain. Not
just because of the role Islam has in shaping those conflicts but also
because militant Islam has become a far more noticeable presence on
solidarity demonstrations.
In Ireland we have seen the Hezbollah flag flown on demonstrations
in Dublin and chants of 'God is Great' raised. On some London
demonstrations it has been reported that chants of "Slay the Jews"
and "Death to the socialists" have been raised. Another report on the
same demonstration revealed that "ultrareactionaries of such
organisations as Al Muhajiroun, ... held placards reading, 'Palestine is
Muslim'. They chanted, "Skud, Skud Israel" and "Gas, gas Tel Aviv" ..
In Trafalgar Square they hurled abuse (and a few missiles) at Tirza
Waisel of the Israeli group, Just Peace."[1]

The left in general has not responded to this. Some groups like the
British SWP have gone so far as to describe left criticism of the
Islamic religion as 'Islamophobia' echoing the official line of their
government which insists "The real Islam is a religion of peace,
tolerance and understanding." While there is a real need for the left to
defend people who are Muslims from state and non-state
victimisation in the aftermath of 9-11 this should not at any time imply
a defence of the Islamic religion. Freedom of religion must also allow
freedom from religion! At a SWP organised anti-war meeting in
Birmingham, England it was reported that Islamic fundamentalists
there "segregated the meeting, guiding/intimidating Muslim women
into a women's only section, apprehended a Muslim looking woman
because she had allegedly been drinking, prevented the critics of
Muslim fundamentalists from entering the meeting and used violence
against them."[2]

The left in Ireland has been unsure how to rise to this challenge,
although on the Palestine solidarity march in Dublin on April 27th
2002 anarchists did march with placards reading 'End the occupation:
Support Israeli refuseniks' in English, Hebrew and Arabic and chanted
'No Gods, no Masters, no States, no Wars". But otherwise
fundamentalist chants have remained unchallenged.

Over 130 years ago the anarchist Micheal Bakunin wrote "I reverse
the phrase of Voltaire, and say that, if God really existed, it would be
necessary to abolish him." Writing of the Christian churches in
Europe, he said "In talking to us of God they propose, they desire, to
elevate us, emancipate us, ennoble us, and, on the contrary, they
crush and degrade us. With the name of God they imagine that they
can establish fraternity among men, and, on the contrary, they create
pride, contempt; they sow discord, hatred, war; they establish
slavery." These words today are applicable to Islam.

This hostility to organised religion and the promotion of a material
rather than spiritual understanding of the world is common to most of
the anarchist movement, although there are exceptions. It was
developed in the face of Christian state-church systems that often
bore similarities to the Islamic State rule found today. Anarchist
hostility to religion tended to be strongest in those countries where
the church and state were almost inseparable, in particular in Spain.

Islam in general believes that no "division between matters social,
political and religious should exist." The idea of Islamic government
and Islamic law is not something confined to what is called 'Islamic
fundamentalism' but is an expected belief of all Muslims. Under
Shari'a (Islamic) law the penalty for Apostasy (Muslims who reject
Islam, for instance they "might state that the universe has always
existed from eternity"), is execution for men and life imprisonment for
women. So, if anything, Islam today attempts to maintain a much
tighter control of the thoughts in people's heads than Christianity has
done since the time of Galileo.

Islam insists that the Quran is almost entirely a document dictated by
God to Muhammad. Like most 'holy books' it is full of absurdities and
cruelties which are well documented on the web by Muslim
apostates. For instance in Quran 5:33 God commands "The only
reward of those who make war upon Allah and His messenger and
strive after corruption in the land will be that they will be killed or
crucified, or have their hands and feet on alternate sides cut off, or
will be expelled out of the land." God also dictates that women are
second class citizens, in Quran 4:34 he dictates "Men are in charge of
women, because Allah has made the one of them to excel the other,
and because they spend of their property (for the support of women).
So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah
has guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion andmonish
them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they
obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High,
Exalted, Great."

Of course anyone who is familiar with the Old Testament of the
Christian and Jewish religions will know there is nothing in the Quran
that is any worse then what is found there. Even the Christian New
Testament contains justifications for slavery e.g. Matthew: 24:46
"Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he
comes. ... But if that evil slave ... begins to beat his fellow slaves and
to eat and drink with drunkards, then the master of that slave will
come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does
not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the
hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The
difference is that the attempt to impose a Christian state has been
defeated almost everywhere. The fundamentalist movements that
seek to promote the idea may be influential (as shown by their
attacks in the US on the teaching of evolution) but in general do not
attempt to impose their complete religious program.

With Islam however we see the continued existence of religious
states in Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Sudan to name three. We also see
a growing movement that seeks to create new Islamic states, even in
multi-faith countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Israel/Palestine and
which actively seeks to impose Islamic law on Muslim communities
everywhere. In Northern Nigeria this has resulted in high profile
cases where Islamic courts have sentenced women to death by
stoning for 'adultery'. About 1 in 5 of the world's population is Muslim.

The general label applied to this movement is Islamic fundamentalism.
It's not a great label for a wide range of reasons, not least because it
lumps together some very different trends and ignores the fact that
many of the most objectionable elements are part of mainstream
Islam. That said I'm going to use it anyway because there are no
better alternatives that people will readily understand.

The rise of fundamentalism in the modern period owes much to the
struggle against colonialism and the failure of the Arab nationalist
projects to deliver a better life for the working class, including the
peasantry of the region. Frequently it is based on a revolt against
colonial control on the one hand and the westernisation of the country
on the other. The failure of successful national liberation struggles to
relieve the desperate poverty of the masses on the one hand and the
obvious growing enrichment of the westernised elites on the other
leads easily to the idea that the answer lies in a return to 'traditional

The first of these movements to be successful was Wahhabism
which brought Ibn Saud to power in what was to become Saudi
Arabia. In this case, as with the early spread of Islam across North
Africa, Wahhabism was to provide essential glue to hold together a
society created by conquest in a manner similar to nationalism.
Wahhabism was imposed by force with massacres on the taking of
Mecca and widespread destruction of religious sites that were
considered un-Islamic. Religious police raided homes, beating those
they suspected of smoking tobacco. Wahhabism was also pretty
much the only genuine 'primitivist' version of Islam as it was
anti-industrial. When they rose against Ibn Saud in 1927 one reason
for their revolt was Saud's allowing of telephones into the country!
Modern fundamentalists may talk of a return to traditional values but
the societies they seek to create include aspects of advanced modern
technology, in particular if it is of military use!

Saudi came to play a similar role in relation to the export of
fundamentalism that the USSR played in the spread of Leninism.
Particularly with the growth of the oil industry in Saudi large sums of
money were provided to finance the infrastructure of fundamentalist
groups in other countries and a huge network of religious schools in
Saudi itself. Saudi, like Moscow, became the place of training,
support and refuge for fundamentalist activists. And funds could be
exported which provided schools, meeting places and even religious
based welfare systems to the increasingly desperate working class of
the cities and countryside in the Arab world. In the conditions of
desperate poverty that exist this cre - ates the infrastructure that
fundamentalism grows out of.

One Lebanese Marxist, writing of this and the failure of the
somewhat more secular Arab nationalism of Nassar, described the
situation. "Then came the October war [against Israel] with its parade
of intense Islamic propaganda, and the oil boom which enabled Libya
and especially Saudi Arabia to distribute their petrodollars to the
integralist (fundamentalist) groups everywhere in order to undermine
left-wing extremists, or pro-Soviet groups as in Syria. Even at the
time when the modernist statist bourgeois faction was still credible,
Saudi Arabia was used as the prototype by repressed or persecuted
Islamic archaism; and its emergence following the October war on the
ruins of Nassar's Egypt as the leader of the Arab world gave the
Brotherhoods of Sunni Islam not only more subsidies, but the model of
an Islam true to itself. The propaganda pounded out by western media
- depicting Saudi Arabia as the new giant with the power of life and
death over western civilisation - stimulated, in old and young alike,
the nostalgic old desire for the return of Islam to its former

The role of the west in relation to fundamentalism has been quite
complex. Up to the Iranian revolution in 1979 it was simple, promoting
fundamentalism was seen as a way of advancing the western agenda
by undermining Soviet influence and the various nationalist leaders of
the region who wanted to re-direct some of the wealth towards
development. "M. Copland, the former chief of the CIA in the Middle
East, revealed in his book The Game of Nations that from the 1950s
the CIA began to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to counteract
the communist influence in Egypt." Even after the Iranian revolution,
"French president Giscard d'Estaing, confided to members of his
cabinet before taking the plane for the Gulf in March 1980: "To
combat Communism we have to oppose it with another ideology. In
the West, we have nothing. This is why we must support Islam."[4]

The facts of western support for the Afghan mujheedeen and the more
limited support for the Taliban that followed have been so well
documented since S11 that I don't intend to repeat them here. But it is
important to realise that this does not mean that the fundamentalists
are simply a creation of the west that has gotten out of control. They
have their own dynamic and their own wealthy backers in Saudi
Arabia. Lack of western support would have hurt their war against the
Soviet occupation but the war would still have gone on.

Fundamentalism remains a mass movement. In almost all of North
Africa and the Middle East it is the only mass movement that
threatens the stability of the regimes there in any way. It is nakedly
hostile to the left in all its forms, Hezbollah for instance has carried
out attacks on even the tame Lebanese Communist Party, bombing its
offices. The Iranian revolution in 1979 saw a movement of workers
councils (Shora) emerge that sought to take over the management of
production. "The regime introduced a law aimed at undermining
worker self-management by banning shora involvement in
management affairs - while at the same time trying to force class
collaboration by insisting that management must be allowed to
participate in the shoras." [5] Since then, according to the Iranian
Revolutionary Socialists' League, the "following groups have all been
attacked throughout the reign of the mullahs:

* workers, trade unionists, left-wing and socialist activists
* women and women's/feminist groups
* national and religious minorities
* political oppositionists, including various monarchist, Islamic and liberal groups
* writers, journalists, artists, intellectuals and students;
* peasants and tribal groups;
* homosexuals and others who follow an 'un-Islamic' life-style." 6

For opportunistic reasons sections of the western left are happy to
build alliances with Islamic fundamentalist groups that are not only
essentially uncritical but that discourage others from raising
criticisms. This is sometimes defended by the straightforward
observance that such groups oppose 'western imperialism' and in
countries with large Muslim populations sometimes succeed in
attracting the masses to their organisations.

The problem with this position is that it fails to recognise the hostility
of such groups to the left - a hostility that includes physical attacks
and murder- in the countries where they are strong. This is not terribly
different from the situation with fascist groups in the west. Of course
for the western left with no basis in immigrant Muslim communities
this is easy to ignore - they are not the targets of such activities

Anarchists have a long and proud tradition of fighting the power of
organised religion, including in countries like Spain fighting fascist
gangs formed on a religious basis. While we recognise the freedom of
people to hold a religion we also recognise that there has to be a
freedom from religion - an idea that runs against the basis of Islam.
Anarchists in the Middle East and beyond will need to determine for
themselves the most effective ways of counteracting the influence of
the fundamentalists there. In the west we can at least make sure their
attempts to impose themselves on the immigrant communities are

More information

* Anarchism and religion http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/wsm/religion.html
* Diversity in Islam for Absolute Beginners http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/issues/war/afghan/pamwt/islam.html
* The modern schizophrenia of Islamic integralism http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/issues/war/afghan/pamwt/wt2/islamintro.html
* Why the Reversion to Islamic Archaism? http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/issues/war/afghan/pamwt/wt2/lakhdar.html

This page is from Red & Black Revolution
(no 7, Winter 2003)
Print out a PDF file of Issue 7

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Workers Solidarity Movement

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