admin/upload/files/THE MIDDLE EAST:
Under the reign of imperialism and
December 2004, I travelled to the Middle East
as part of my research exploring Kurdish women’s struggles for democracy and
justice. I was unable to go to the Kurdish region of Iraq, where I had visited four
years earlier. In Turkey,
however, I visited several women’s centres in Istanbul and three
Kurdish cities, listening to and learning from enthusiastic and dynamic Kurdish
women activists about their visions and aspirations for transforming their
lives and societies.
women were fully conscious of the many dimensions of their problems and
struggles. Many are organizing against violence rooted in the ancient
institution of patriarchy, both in the private sphere of the family and the
public sphere of the state.
challenges are enormous. Women and men are suffering from many forms of
violence including war, militarism, poverty, national oppression, displacement,
forced urbanization, army and police brutality, and environmental destruction.
In all of these cases, the Turkish state and the US are seen as main actors, in
spite of the fact that the media, educational system and official propaganda
treat the state and its army as sacrosanct. More significantly, though, the
state and its international supporters are not the only sources of trouble.
State power is exercised with all its brutality in the midst of the equally
brutal exercise of power by the male gender, religion, tribalism, feudalism and
capitalism. Women are the main target of this combination of powers.
dealing with the Middle East, be it Afghanistan, Israel,
some activists on the left are not willing to comprehend the significance of
domestic regimes of exploitation and oppression. They see only one centre of
destruction: Western imperialism. They generally ignore the domestic order, and
how it is tied to imperialism.
politics is politically destructive. It separates domestic exploitation and
oppression from global capitalism. It minimizes or ignores domestic repression,
and, in the case of Iraq and Afghanistan, confers on reactionary and repressive
forces the status of freedom fighters (in Middle Eastern political culture as
in Marxist traditions, the words “reaction” and its derivatives are borrowed
from the French Revolution of 1789. As I use it here, it refers to a host of
political agendas that advocate the perpetration of ethnic and nationalist
supremacy, tribalism, feudalism, patriarchy and religious superstition). Paved
with the good intention of forging solidarity with the targets of imperialist
aggression, this politics inevitably moves away from internationalism and enters
into the realm of ethnocentrism and national chauvinism, as I will explain.
DOMESTIC REACTION OFF THE HOOK
of politics has a long history on the left. The most recent case is the
approach of some of the left to Iraq,
where there is a widespread and bloody resistance to the equally bloody US occupation.
It is difficult to understand exactly what is going on in the resistance front.
One can claim with certainty, however, that the great majority of non-Kurds
resent the occupation. In the beginning of the third year of occupation, many
Iraqis (especially non-Kurds) who were brutalized by the Ba’thist
regime now long for the past.
economic fabric of Iraq,
which had been disrupted during the Iraq-Iran war of 1980-88, was further
destroyed by the 1991 US
war, a decade of sanctions, and two years of war since March 2003. The forces
of tribalism and feudalism, which had been reinforced by Saddam Hussein during
his wars against the Kurds and Iran,
have been further unleashed by the current war. Different sects of political
Islam have unleashed a brutal war against women and others. If women could walk
in public places more or less freely under the previous regime, now they can do
so only in hejab and in the company of male relatives
to protect them. Secular voices are being systematically silenced by part of
this “resistance,” which exercises real power in the streets. The Shi’ite leadership, which is a major power block in the
elected parliament, continues to demand a theocratic political order.
this “resistance” uses methods such as blowing up civilians; their goal is to
prevent the occupying power from establishing its client regime in the country,
using any possible means. This is a war between two repressive orders: one is
made up of political Islam and Ba’thists and the
other is the US
occupying power. Both sides use similar methods of warfare that qualify as war
crimes and crimes against humanity. Two years is long enough to predict what
kind of regime each side wants to impose on the peoples of Iraq.
losers in this war are the majority of Iraqis, especially women, workers,
peasants, secular people and the urban poor. The winners are a minority,
although they are diverse and wield power, including Islamists, tribal and
feudal lords, clergymen, new mafias and smuggler rings. The Ba’thists
are removed from the seats of state power, but they
are everywhere, and the US
may eventually negotiate a settlement with them.
the left is unable to see the symbiosis of local reactionaries and imperialism
despite a long history of similar experiences. For example, the prominent US
socialist James Petras argued in the Winter 2005 Iran
Bulletin: Middle East Forum for unconditional support of all the Iraqi
“resistance” in his article “Third World resistance and western intellectual
FUNDAMENTALISM AND RESISTANCE
wars in the Middle East, US
imperialist power and Islamic fundamentalists are not on the opposite sides of
a conflict. They do not form a contradiction. Historically and politically,
Islamic fundamentalism and Western capitalism form a symbiosis, not a
contradiction. The two sides have coexisted and benefited from this
relationship, much as slavery and capitalism or democracy and racial apartheid
coexisted in the West for about three centuries. Islamic fundamentalism and
capitalism coexist, cohere, coincide and collude.
significant is that there is no convergence of interest between the peoples of
the Middle East and theocratic political
Islam. There is, however, convergence between fundamentalism and capitalism in
their patriarchal, militaristic, despotic, imperialistic and misogynist
politics. Both rely on a culture of violence and fear.
Western imperialist states foster mythologies such as “they do not have a
democratic tradition,” much of the left inadvertently plays into this game by
denying or forgetting or remaining uninformed about a century of struggles by
women, workers, peasants, students, journalists and others in the Middle East.
Since the late 1800s, imperial powers in the region have fought these social
movements with all their might. As part of its crusade against communism after
WWII, the US
promoted Islam against the social movements.
in the late 19th century, democratic movements in the Middle
East pursued a project for the separation of state and mosque.
This struggle found its most radical _expression in the Constitutional
Revolution of 1906-11 in
Throughout the twentieth century, most of the resistance against feudalism and
colonialism in the Middle East was inspired
and lead by secular leaders, whether leftist, liberal, or conservative. The
struggle against patriarchy, too, was primarily led by women and men who were
communists and secular liberal democrats.
wake of WWII, the US
gradually replaced the old colonial powers in the Middle East, Britain and France. In order to defeat both
communism and liberal democracy, the US built up despotic military
regimes, conducted coups and opposed freedom of the press and academic freedom.
Part of this suppression of democracy was the US advice to its client regimes to
use Muslim groups and individuals against communism, which in their view
included all social movements.
done in many cases, including pitting the Muslim clergy against the nationalist
regime in Iran in the early 1950s, Saudi Arabia’s use of Islam against Arab
nationalist movements in Egypt, Oman and Palestine, the mobilizing, arming and
training of any Muslim willing to fight the pro-Soviet regime of Afghanistan in
the1980s, Turkey’s use of an Islamic terrorist group against the secular
Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and Israel’s support of Islamic forces against
the Palestinian secular left leadership. When the second revolution in Iran was in the making in 1978, the US and other
Western powers supported Islamic fundamentalists directly and indirectly. They
could hardly tolerate what they feared would be the loss of Iran to
communists, which they associated with Soviet domination over this oil-rich and
anti-communism of the US
impeded the struggle for democracy. It paralyzed the fight for separating the
state and religion. It helped establish new theocracies in Iran and Afghanistan. While fundamentalist
Islamic forces readily compromise with imperialism, they have no intention of
offering any concessions to women, workers, national and religious minorities,
or feminist, communist, or secular politics. Many leftists in the West fail to
understand these dynamics of class struggle. Iraq
“liberated” by Ba’thist terrorists or Islamic
fundamentalist terrorists will be as reactionary as the client regime which is
in the process of creation by the United States. In Iran,
communists paid a heavy price by treating Khomeini as a “progressive force”
only to be vilified and slaughtered by him once he replaced the Shah. Unlike Iraq’s
Islamists and Ba’thists, Khomeini did not yet have
blood on his hands when he replaced the Shah.
leftists descend into ethnocentrism when they fail to treat the peoples of the Middle East as worthy of struggle for socialism,
separation of state and religion, or even liberal democracy. This part of the
left is not conscious about the class and gender dimensions of the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. Iranian theocrats, the
Afghan Taliban and the Iraqi Islamists (both Shi’ite
and Sunni) want to rule over the peoples and countries of the region. Once they
achieve state power, Islamic political forces will conveniently share the booty
with the US
and its client states in the region. This is not surprising in so far as their
main targets are the people and countries they rule or aspire to rule. Since
Khomeini’s 1979 assumption of power, political Islam almost everywhere demands
no less than state rule.
struggle of Middle Eastern peoples against political Islam should not be
confused with the politics of Islamophobia fostered
by the Bush administration in the post-September 11 days. Islamophobia
and anti-Arabism, like anti-Semitism, are forms of racism, which the modern
Western state appeals to in order to maintain its hegemony in times of crisis.
One can oppose both political Islam (by advocating the separation of state and
mosque) and Islamophobia.
struggle against Islamophobia can succeed only if it
is a project of overcoming racism, and preventing the transformation of liberal
democracy into fascism. Marxists, unlike most liberals, believe that liberal democracy
is not simply democracy, it is capitalist democracy. They realize that
capitalist democracy can transform into fascism, as it did in the 1930s in Europe. In Germany the transformation occurred
through democratic elections. This can happen again, especially under
conditions of crisis, or even the perception of a serious crisis. The most
liberal of all liberal political philosophers, Michael Ignatieff,
defended the US war in Iraq, and used
the theory of lesser evil to argue that war, torture and other evils can be
used in order to get rid of the great evil of terrorism. If liberal democracy
transforms into fascism, citizens of Middle Eastern origins and those practising Islam in Western countries can readily become
targets of genocide or end up in concentration camps (as happened to
Japanese-Canadians during WW2). Concentration camps and forced population
transfers can occur even in the absence of a world war.
current world situation is developing in a direction that smacks of more
setbacks for the people of the world, for the planet and surely for socialists.
Capitalism has already divided the world into two types of human beings: those
worthy of living and those worthy of dying. The megacities of the world warn us
of coming disasters: a planet devastated by the forces of capitalism, with
small fortresses in which the rich minority reproduces itself and its rule
through sheer military force. During the last reign of fascism, in WW2,
communists and socialists were the major force in the struggle for freedom,
from the streets of Paris and Milan
to the mountains of Greece
What role are the forces of the left, especially socialists, playing in the
current crisis in which the conflict between reactionaries has overshadowed
class and gender struggles?
this article with my observation about the situation in Turkey,
which-like the worldwide peace marches of February 15, 2003-points in an
optimistic direction. In both cases, we see the power of the people of the
world to resist repression. However, the spontaneous, ruptured, scattered
initiatives of social movements, no matter how powerful they may be, are not a
match for the organized power of capitalism. The words of Rosa
Luxemburg are more telling today than they were a century ago: “socialism
Shahrzad Mojab is Associate
Professor in the Department of Adult and Counselling
Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Director
of the Institute for Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Toronto (mailto://firstname.lastname@example.org).