2001-11 Islamic fundamentalism: from Iran 1979 to today
by A. Azad (probably the Anjoman Azadi group) in News & letters
With his armed attack on Afghanistan Bush has shamelessly declared that
there is "no neutral zone" for anyone, that we must side either with him or
the terrorists. Bin Laden, meanwhile, has warned that his fundamentalist
followers are going to kill more Americans. One thing is certain: neither
Bush nor bin Laden have any concerns for the lives of innocent people.
This is not war between good and evil or Christianity and Islam. If it was,
Iran’s Islamic government would be on bin Laden’s side, instead of moving
closer to the U.S. So what is this war about? I believe this is a war of
greed, a war of power. It is an imperialist war between a superpower that
wants to hold on to everything and claim a new world order vs. those who
want to share part of this power.
Bush and bin Laden claim to have different philosophies, but they use the
same language. One tries to go back to the past by using the name of Islam.
The other tries to go back to the past by using the rhetoric of justice and
freedom. The real danger is not what they are doing against each other, but
that they are trying to involve all of humanity in their dirty war.
ROOTS OF FUNDAMENTALISM
During the Cold War the Western powers welcomed the formation of an Islamic front against Communism through the formation of a "Green Belt" of Islamic allies in the Middle East. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were major parts of this and they had a variety of intelligence coalitions with the U.S.
In Pakistan the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) was instrumental in
creating the Afghan mujahedeen. The ISI worked alongside the CIA, setting
up training camps and supplying weapons to fight Russia after it invaded
Afghanistan in 1979. The ISI trained 83,000 mujahedeen from 1983 to 1997.
It continued its operations even after Russia left.
But the CIA or ISI did not create Islamic fundamentalism. Its roots lie in
social conditions in the Middle East. The collapse of Russian Communism,
the confusion of the Left, the seeming lack of any revolutionary
alternative to capitalism, have all created conditions for retrogression,
for the return back to religion.
In Iran, Islamic rule arose in 1979 as a form of counter-revolution that
arose from within the revolution itself.
Before the 1979 revolution, the Shah’s secret police (SAVAK) arrested a
large number of Islamic fundamentalists. But the regime always treated them
much better compared to secular or Marxist political activists. Whereas
many genuine leftists were killed by the Shah’s regime, the fundamentalists
survived and were able to eventually bring down the Iranian revolution.
During the Shah’s time a Marxist group called Fedayeen guerrillas engaged
in armed struggles against the regime. The Shah was an absolute power in
Iran and his secret police strangled any movement before it could take
shape. The Fedayeen were influenced by theories from Cuba’s successful
revolution. With armed struggle they wanted to show the people that they
were not weak and that the Shah’s power was not absolute. They thought that if they could start an armed struggle, masses of people would get involved in revolutionary activity.
In contrast, today’s terrorists use their activities to kill people, to
kill freedom, to help rulers to limit our freedom.
It is true that today’s Islamic fundamentalist groups often use
revolutionary methods, such as the party form of organization (except now
"the Party" is the "Party of God," and "the Leader" is the Imam, or "God’s
Messenger") as well as revolutionary language (slogans like "Down with
U.S.," "Down with Imperialism," "Down with Israel"). YET FOR THEM
REVOLUTION MEANS WAR. THEY ARE REPLACING REVOLUTION IN PERMANENCE WITH PERMANENT WAR. In her article "What is Philosophy? What is Revolution?" (October 2001 N&L) Raya Dunayevskaya asks, "What is anti-imperialism?" She shows how the Islamic fundamentalists in the Iranian revolution used anti-imperialist slogans to kill the revolution. Today we have to be rooted in the second negation in order to distinguish fundamentalist or counter-revolutionary tendencies from the real movement for liberation. It is not enough to know what we are against, we also need to know what we are for. The reason that the Left in Iran failed to recognize Khomeini’s counter-revolutionary and fundamentalist ideas is that it was not clear about what happens after the revolution.
In order to move in that direction we, in the Middle East, have to break
our silence and not to blame everything solely on outside forces, in this
Edward Said wrote in his "The Necessity of Skepticism": "We must start
thinking about ourselves as responsible for poverty, ignorance, illiteracy,
and depression that have come to dominate our societies. How many of us
have openly and honestly stood up for secular politics and have condemned
the use of religion in the Islamic world as roundly and as earnestly as we
have denounced the manipulation of Judaism and Christianity by Israel and
the West? We can no longer hide behind the injustices done to us, anymore
than we can passively bewail the American support for our unpopular
leaders. A new secular Arab politics must now make itself known, without
for a moment condoning or supporting the militancy (it is madness) of
people willing to kill indiscriminately. There can be no more ambiguity on
We can start by supporting forces like the Revolutionary Association of the
Women of Afghanistan. The United Front/Northern Alliance, which is working with the U.S., is not any better than the Taliban. They have a history of corruption and the rape of civilians. They are as anti-women and
reactionary as the Taliban. We have to promote internationalism at a moment
when Bush is raising a banner of nationalism.