A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 5 – sectarian war in Syria

Sectarian STRATFOR Map of Syria

By Belfast Plebian

Over the summer months we were given to believe by reports in the western media that a more suitable, moderate army might be recruited and equipped to fight in Syria, the army of the oppressed Kurds. For a few months we listened to upbeat stories about how the Kurds were pushing back the Wahhabi fighters, of pictures of liberated Kurdish women not secluded in veils but dressed in military uniforms. This only lasted as long as NATO’s ally, Turkey refrained from attacking the positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK) and destroying the Kurdish People Protection Units

At the recent G20 gathering to discuss, supposedly, how to beat back Islamic State, we find the same western politicians standing shoulder to shoulder with the political leadership of another ultra conservative Sunni Islamic Party, only this time of a rediscovered ‘moderate’ one, the justice and development party or the AKP, led by what the English Guardian Newspaper likes to call Turkey’s dependable strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The recent election in Turkey took place at the same as a massive military onslaught on the Kurds was taking place, crossing the international border into Syria. The raid was so big that the Strongman had to go the Americans to plea for a renewal of his diminishing stock of bombs. The strongman is so committed to beating back the Islamic State their fighters were able to explode two massive bombs directed against the AKP and other non-sectarian political opponents during the election campaign

The party of the strongman supplies and equips its own legion of fighting Sunni sectarians across the border called the Ahrar al Sham. The strongman then ordered attacks on Rojava, the free part of Syria held by the Kurdish forces. It was reported in the Wall Street journal that Washington wanted it to be known that it was anxious to keep the territorial ambitions of the Kurds in check to fit with the interest of its NATO partner Turkey, and suddenly stories in the western media supportive of the army of the oppressed Kurds quickly faded away again.

It is generally accepted that Turkey is also buying oil and gas on the cheap from Islamic State. So it seems that the Kurds are not to be the West’s fabled boots on the ground after all. More and more the western governments are looking at Turkey as their agent of change in the region; we will have to wait to see how this turns out.  On the face it one might expect the western diehards to recalibrate their order of priorities, given that they have no willing army to substitute for the seventy thousand Wahabbi mercenaries already fighting and failing in Syria. The conflict is no longer a noble one, between the ‘just’, protesting on behalf of democracy and the ‘unjust’ who want to retain the dictatorship, it is an ignoble anarchy of competing local, regional and imperial interests all wrapped up in a frightful sectarian garb.

Syria is currently divided into at least four political territorial units. There is the part still held by the ‘Arab Socialist’ regime that is being backed by Iran and Russia. There is the part held by Islamic State that is being facilitated by Turkey and still being financed by sectarian backers in the Sunni Gulf States. There is the part that is in the hands of the partners linked to the western allies who still call themselves the Free Syrian Army, even though there is no unified army command any longer, and is endorsed in some fashion by the International Community i.e. the UN humanitarian agencies. Then there is the part that is in the control of the Kurdish factions, which have now to become self -sufficient. I don’t know how it will all turn out.

It should be mentioned that with this example I have only emphasised the strategic pact operating between the Western governments and the Wahabbi theocracy of Saudi Arabi, yet there is another side to the imperialist intervention, the pact between the Theocracy in Iran, the Arab Syrian dictatorship and the ruling element in Russia. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has claimed that Russia is waging ‘a holy war’ to preserve Christianity in Syria, a view backed by Putin. The Iran regime has called for a worldwide Shite jihad to protect the sacred religious sites of the believers in Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran has rallied thousands of foreign fighters to protect the golden domed Sayyeda Zaynab Mosque of Damascus which is said to contain the remains of the granddaughter of the Prophet, and who is also the daughter of the martyred third imam Hussein. As many as 5,000 Lebanese Hezbollah have entered the sectarian fight, also thousands have come from Iraq, they all fight under the slogan ‘Bashar is not our concern, it is the Shiites.’ The India media report they think as many as 30,000, Indians Muslims could be involved. For every youtube video and facebook page placed by Sunni fighters there is another put there by the Shiites. If anything the Sunni foreign have met their match on the battlefield at the hands of the foreign Shiite fighters

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 4 – Wahabbi Islam

wahabimages

by Belfast Plebian

The ruling authority of the Saudi Princes can be traced back to a pact made in 1774 between one dominant Arab tribe and a Shia hating religious sociopath called Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (1702-1792). The encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that :

‘ Abd al Wahhab’s teachings have been characterised as being puritanical and traditional representing the very early era of the Islamic religion. He made a clear stand against all innovations because he believed them to be reprehensible, insisting that the original grandeur of Islam could be regained if the Islamic community returned to the principles as first enunciated by the prophet.’

The pact intended that the clergy would be responsible for all religious-educational matters and the Al Saud warriors would be responsible for all political and military matters, including spreading an interpretation of Islam devised by Add al Wahhab. Unfortunately he describes both Christian and Jewish believers as sorcerers and devil worshippers, although he saved his real hatred for the other Muslim sects ie the apostates.

I am going to defer here to a historian who has written on these matters. I have on my book shelf a best selling book that I bought about five years ago by a historian called Reza Aalan called No god But God : the origins, evolution and future of Islam. He tells us that if it had not been for extraordinary political circumstances, Wahhabism would have passed away as a marginal and superficial sectarian idiocy.

‘Not only was this a spiritually and intellectually insignificant movement in a religion founded principally upon spiritualism and intellectualism, it was not even considered true orthodoxy by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Yet it had two distinct advantages, first it had the good fortune to emerge in the sacred lands of the ARABIAN PENINSULA, where it could lay claim to a powerful legacy of religious revivalism. Second, it benefited from a willing and eager patron, who saw in its simple ideals the means of gaining unprecedented control over the region. That patron was  Muhammad ibn Saud.’

The historian of Islam then tells us some important facts concerning the alliance between the two men, some of it is legend and untrustworthy but what we do know is:

The two men first met as Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were tearing through the ARABIAN PENINSULA, demolishing tombs, cutting down sacred trees, and massacring any Muslim who did not accept their uncompromisingly puritanical vision of Islam….Abd al Wahhab’s holy warriors burst into the Hijaz, conquering Mecca and Medina and expelling the Sharif. Once established in the holy cities, they set about destroying the tombs of the Prophet and his first companions, including those pilgrimage sites that marked the birth place of Muhammad and his family…they set fire to every book they could find save the Quran. They banned music and flowers from the sacred cities and outlawed the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of coffee. Under penalty of death they forced the men to wear beards and the women to be veiled and be secluded.’

Then when much of the peninsula had been terrorised ‘they marched north to take their message to the Sufi and Shi’ite infidels. In 1802 on the holy day of Ashura, they scaled the walls of Karbala and massacred two thousand Shi’ite worshipper.in an uncontrolled rage they smashed up the tombs of Ali, Husayn and the Imams, giving particular vent to their anger at the tomb of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima.

What happened next was that the Ottoman Caliph sent a massive army to annihilate the Wahhabis. After some fierce battles, the Ottoman army restored the old order, ‘the Saudis had learned a valuable lesson; they could not take on the Ottoman Empire on their own. They needed a stronger alliance. …The opportunity to form such an alliance presented itself with the Anglo-Saudi Treaty of 1915. The British who were eager to control the Persian Gulf, encouraged the Saudis to recapture the ARABIAN PENINSULA from Ottoman control. To assist them in their rebellion the British provided them with shipments of weapons and gold. Under the command of Ibn Saud’s heir, Abd al-Aziz (1880-1953) the plan worked…After publicly executing 40,000 men and imposing Wahhabism over the entire population, Abd al-Aziz renamed the Arabian peninsular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….Here there was no debate between Modernists and Islamists, there was no debate whatsoever. Nationalism, Pan- Arabism, Islamic Socialism- none of these vibrant movements had a significant voice in the Saudi Kingdom. The only official doctrine that was tolerated was Wahhabi doctrine, any deviation was violently suppressed.’  

Now here is another BBC  iplayer film for the reader to take a look, it is called Bitter Lake. It tells us something of the still developing story of the connection between western imperialism and the ideological politics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At about 25 minutes in to the film we are presented with colour film footage of a meeting that occurred at the end of the Second World War, in February 1945 on a warship on the Great Bitter Lake, a part of the Suez Canal, between President F.D.Roosevelt and Saudi King Abd al Aziz. The voiceover says and I am paraphrasing a bit:

‘No one could possibly imagine the consequences of this meeting…The King knew that America needed oil ,Roosevelt wanted to forge an alliance between American industry and the Saudi King…The king was aware that there could be dangers posed to the customs and religion involved…we will take your technology and your money and political protection, on one condition, that you leave our religion alone’

wahabbi1

The pact in a nutshell was that America accepted the centrality of an unreformed Wahhabi religion in Saudi Arabia in return for unhindered market access to the oil and gas reserves it required for its industries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents an extreme form of what Leon Trotsky once referred to as the combined and uneven development of capitalism. A peculiar characteristic is the standing side-by-side in the same place of the very modern – advanced technology – and the pre-modern, ancient religion and barbarous customs

There is an aspect of this that is of some importance for our understanding of contemporary culture, the great divide between theoretical science and distribution of useful things. It is still the case with world culture that many societies appropriate all of the practical successes of science e.g. air travel, computer technology, phone technology, medicines, while blocking out all the theoretical innovations of the sciences that makes the many useful things available to everyone

This occurs even in America itself, most Americans are well clued into the various uses of technology, but a substantial number of them manage to completely neglect the theoretical claims of the sciences. The best example is the theory of evolution; in some surveys up to seventy per cent of Americans have dismissed it as real science. It is a happy accident that for such anti-intellectual people making use of the successes of science does not require them to know or care for the underlying theory. One result is that Wahabbis get to use modern technologies while screening their mind off from scientific theory, like evolution or the big bang. In our time we can experience the successes of science and technology without us making any intellectual effort.

The Saudi King and theocracy then decided that the Arab ‘socialism’ of Egypt’s Colonel Nasser was the new enemy to be contained. He had attempted to defy Britain and France by nationalising the largely British owned Suez Canal Company in 1956. The British and the French sent an army to take back the canal after conspiring with the government of Israel to instigate a phoney invasion of Egypt.

Hoping to take advantage of the instability in Egypt the Saudi’s began assisting the Muslim Brothers – who had been expelled from Egypt and from the other main Arab ‘Socialist State’ Syria. Our historian tells us that ‘the Muslim Brotherhood discovered more than just shelter in Saudi Arabia they discovered Wahhabism, and they were not alone. Hundreds of thousands or poor workers from all over the Muslim world began pouring into the Kingdom to work in the oil fields. By the time they returned to their homelands they had been indoctrinated into Saudi religiosity.’

‘Religious adherence to the Saudi model became the prerequisite for receiving government subsidies and contracts. The vast sums the Saudis paid to various Muslim charities, the foundations they established, the mosques, universities and primary schools they built – everything the Saudis did was inextricably linked to Wahhabism. In 1962, their missionary efforts gained momentum with the creation of the Muslim World League, whose goal was the spread of the Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Muslim world…since the creation of the Muslim World League, the simplicity, certainty and unconditional morality of Wahhabism has infiltrated every corner of the Muslim world. Thanks to Saudi evangelism, Wahhabi doctrine has dramatically affected the religion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mawdudi’s Islamic Association, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to name only a few groups.’

The next episode brings us right up to date. During the American led 1991 Gulf war to turn back the ‘Arab Socialists’ conquest of Kuwait, then commanded by the dictator Saddam Hussein, a small group of alienated Saudi aristocrats calling themselves al Qaeda began to agitate for to return to the original founding doctrines of Wahhabism and turned against the Saudi Royal family itself, for permitting the corrupt treasure seeking American Crusaders open entry onto the holy land of Islam. They then defied the historical authority of the House of Saud by sending mostly Saudi born suicide fighters to crash civilian airplanes into the Twin Towers building in New York, starting a trans-national holy war against ‘Crusader Imperialism’ that has spread right across the Muslim world.

The Saudi rulers have a political/religious interest in common with the west in seeking to destroy the last bastion of ‘Arab Socialism’ in Syria. Western hostility is based on the fact that the regime is allied to both Iran and Russia. However the fighting boots on the ground that the West requires are all too frequently boots supplied with the stamp of the Wahhabi ideology imprinted on them

Today when the Gulf States are asked to explain their strategy to inquisitive western journalists about the removal of Assad and his regime they maintain that they are only financing and equipping foreign legion fighters who are deemed to be moderate in their religious belief. They say they are not helping Sunni extremists and mention various Sunni armies and militias they are not assisting. The distinctions are of little importance for it is the Wahhabi version of the Islam that unites all the fighters directly or indirectly connected to the Saudi political-religious theocracy. The division of moderates and extremists is a disingenuous western spin on the Wahhabi ideology. Behind the endless strife between many factions, micro distinctions and personal rivalries, there stands an intolerant and sectarian ultra conservative ideology.

Those western governments most engaged in the frequent desert military interventions maintain economic and personal ties to the same Saudi political regime that is primarily responsible for spreading the ultra-conservative Wahhabi ideology across the world Muslim community. The Saudi Princes deposit billions of dollars into western banks and investment funds; they maintain investments in corporations like News International and therefore in Fox News; and they buy up prime real estate like hotel chains, gulf courses and other prestigious sporting assets. At the same time they finance Wahhabi schools, build hundreds of Wahhabi Mosques, insist that only Wahhabi trained clerics staff them, and publish millions of books incubating their own very conservative version of Islam. They are estimated to be spending about six billion dollars per year on spreading educational materials. In September it was reported that the Saudi King had offered to build 200 Mosques in Germany to take care of the religious needs of the new wave of Syrian refugees entering the country.  It may be a good idea for the German government to decline the offer.

This brings me back to war torn Syria. If the Western governments are unable to put fighters on the will resort to all the nefarious techniques of cheating and lying to all participants, manipulating political friends, making political promises they don’t intend to keep, blackmailing strategic allies, rearranging the order of imperial priorities, and even arranging minor carnival stunts like the revenge killing of Jihadi John to save face. Killings ground that they can control, then they will fail to realise their primary ends.  Licensing the Gulf Monarchies to supply a foreign legion of sectarian Sunni fighters is no viable alternative. However the sociopath political leaders of the West are unlikely to quit what they started even though the initial plan has been thwarted. They like this attempt to say to a confused public that we are still on top of all this.

Fighting terrorism after Paris

_86692951_86692950One expression of the dogmatic campaign that has followed the terrorist attacks in Paris is the near hysterical reaction of politicians and media in Britain to Jeremy Corbyn’s reply to a question on support for a police shoot-to-kill policy, that he ‘would not be happy with it’.

This has evoked an opportunist and cynical moral outrage that seeks to marginalise opposition to repressive measures by making everyone feel that, of course, the very idea of opposition to such an idea is crazy.  Yet when you look at the question asked, Jeremy Corbyn would have had to be crazy to answer it in any other way – ‘would you be happy to order the police to shot to kill.’

So a politician orders the police to adopt a shoot-to-kill policy, a licence-to-kill, that, if it were to mean anything other than incoherent frothing at the mouth, would mean rewriting the law by simply ignoring it.

All obviously in the course of defending our liberties and the rule of law.  Giving the police the prior authority to kill in advance ‘of split-second decisions’ (what a contradiction that is for a start) is held up as defence of western civilisation.

Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station on CCTV........pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 07917221968

Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell station on CCTV……..pic by Gavin Rodgers/Pixel 07917221968

Has the name of John Charles de Menezes slipped from everyone’s memory already?  Isn’t it revealing that the same BBC that only five months ago was reporting the tenth anniversary of his murder are demanding  that just such an approach to policing is made the benchmark of a rational response to terrorism. Have the police ever shown any reluctance before to do anything other than shoot-first-ask-questions-later?  How many are languishing in jail for having murdered innocent people?

The great British liberal establishment once again demonstrates every criticism made of its hypocritical self-righteous arrogance to be completely true.  These liberals will wrestle with their conscience and their conscience will lose.  They will defend democratic and civil rights, except when they are under attack.  And they will defend our freedom by ridding us of as much of it as they can get away with.

What has been staggering has been the sheer stupidity of some of the contributions to this ‘debate’, a debate in which no one is allowed to present a different opinion.  One can almost still hear the BBC Radio 4 presenter raise his voice to exasperated levels asking why Corbyn didn’t answer a different question from the one he was asked.

We have a Labour MP saying, and I paraphrase: ‘we have bombed Iraq why can’t we bomb Syria – it would be like bombing Hamburg and not Berlin in the Second World War.’

They’re different bloody countries you idiot!

When you bomb a country you are declaring war on it.  (This blog by Boffy explains.)  Not hard to understand but easily proclaimed by the politically hysterical in the safe and secure knowledge that as long as you bare your bloated chest in moral outrage and demand more repressive measures you will be saved the cross examination meted out to Corbyn or, last night, to Ken Livingstone.

So the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme had some Tory MP and ex-Brit (as we put it in this part of the world) saying that, just like the Prime Minister, we ‘shouldn’t look back’, which was in response to another interviewee pointing out the disastrous consequences of western intervention in the Middle East in the past.  The latter of course is called learning from history, or ‘evidence based policy’ as it might also be called nowadays.

For the educated and discerning liberal, with the memory of a goldfish, there is this article in ‘The Guardian’ which says – yes the west has screwed up the Middle East but (and this is the bit where you need a goldfish memory) Corbyn’s argument is “mangled history without a conclusion, half an argument, the sound of one hand wringing.”

So we begin with this “mangled history”:-

“The charge sheet against western policy dating back a generation is easily drafted. It takes moments to weave a tale of counterproductive geopolitical vandalism, starting from US support for the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan, via the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq, pausing to condemn blind eyes turned and arms sold to Saudi Arabia, whence the theology of infidel-murder pullulates.”

Only for all this to be simply “selective history that adorns jihadi propaganda” at the end of the short article.

This is not unlike some commentary on the Left which, recognising the thoroughly reactionary nature of Islamic fundamentalism and the attacks in Paris, seeks to deny that these acts are at least partly the result of imperialist intervention; as if this rather obvious fact necessarily lends some little bit of legitimacy to the terrorists’ actions.

So they echo in left phraseology the claim that the Paris attacks were solely motivated by a barbaric and obscurantist religious fanaticism, which at the very most uses western actions as cynical justification.

That it was indeed inspired by the former does not exhaust its motivation or that of those who join it.

With a liberal understanding of politics, of moral absolutes that get applied relatively- depending on the circumstances, but rolled out as absolutes again when it suits, it is easy to see the logic.  (A good article pointing out the hypocrisy is here.)

With a Marxist approach it is not.  Those who seek the development of a working class movement don’t have to think twice about denying anything legitimate in, or any progressive impulse within, movements that would happily destroy any manifestation of socialism in societies they control.

The reason all this is important is not really that we must demand fair and balanced coverage from the BBC.  If you’re waiting, hoping or something like expecting that, you must also be expecting a new ten-part series on massive welfare sponging by a long-established German immigrant family in a palace called Buckingham.

The class bias of the BBC is part of its DNA.  While we can expose it and condemn it and even demand it stop, the answer does not lie in expecting this to happen.  Its blatantly biased treatment of Corbyn will become a vaccine to more and more people, and will prove to be the case when the British labour movement builds its own mass media to counter the BBC and the gutter press who manufacture many of the stories it regurgitates.

The real importance of this analysis is the fact that the state that is the author of  the ‘mangled history’ is now presented as our only protector against unmerciful violence.  And the working class movement is in no position to present an immediate and live means of defence as an alternative.

An armed mass labour movement does not exist and will not forseeably for some time so our alternative means of defence starts with political argument.  And prime among these is a fact already apparent to many, that western imperialist intervention in the Arab region has fertilised the soil of Islamic fundamentalism and must share responsibility for the monster it has both directly and indirectly created.

To expect this imperialist state to place the needs of working people above its own needs is a political innocence that needs to be shaken off and renounced.

To win an argument that working people cannot rely on the armed forces of the state never mind agree it be allowed vastly increased powers is a difficult one where we are under direct threat and direct attack.  We should therefore not accept its exculpation of its own sins on the basis that we must simply damn the reactionary terrorists.  The depths of this terrorist reaction is testified not only by the barbarity of the attacks on ordinary working people but by their objective of seeking to make all of us part of the undifferentiated ranks of western decadence and aggression.

This is not the West that really exists just as Islamic fundamentalism is not the Arab world that exists.  There is a unity between the peoples of both that stands separate and above the alliance of western imperialists and reactionary rulers of the Arab peoples.

However far away this might now seem there will be no justice for those murdered through surrendering our own freedoms and cheering the imperialist acts of violence that brought us to where we now seek to escape from.

 

The Paris attacks

paris imagesWhen the events in Paris unfolded last week I initially thought that I was witnessing marginalised and alienated young people involved in acts of reactionary medieval brutality.  However the terrorists, and that is exactly what they were, employing the weapon of violence in order to terrorise into silence critics of their religion, were not young.  Nor was their inspiration.

Perhaps this does not matter.  Seeing them as marginalised and alienated adults is not so very different from seeing them as disaffected youth who are rebelling against an authority they despise.  It does however make it easier to appreciate that not every act of the marginalised and alienated is a distorted expression of progressive impulses.  For the second half of my initial view can hardly be challenged – that the Islamic fundamentalism expressed by the attackers is reactionary and characterised by medieval barbarism.

The forces mobilised by fundamentalism in such attacks should no more be seen as potential candidates for enlistment in the socialist cause, but who have unfortunately been led astray,  than are those who normally make up the ranks of the lumpenproletarian supporters of fascism.  Not all victims of capitalism are candidates for its socialist opposition.  That has never been the case, nor will it ever be the case.  The basis for socialism is not the most angry, desperate or oppressed but the working class and particularly its most enlightened sections.

These are not people who seek a failed or counterproductive means to an end with some progressive content.  The victory of Islamic fundamentalism over imperialism in countries with a Muslim majority is no sort of victory for the working class.  The enemy of my enemy is not by this fact my friend and the view that the greatest enemy is imperialism does not relegate to minor status the reactionary forces that seek to take society backwards.  This is especially true for socialists in those countries in which fundamentalism is strong and who do not have the luxury of seeing these forces as second order opponents or worse, genuine expressions of some sort of anti-imperialism.

The Anti-Capitalist Party in France states:

“This murderous violence comes from somewhere. It’s created in the heart of the social and moral violence which is very familiar to large numbers of the young people who live on the working class estates. It’s the violence of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and the violence of unemployment and exploitation. This barbarous violence is the monstrous child of the social war that the right and the left are waging in the service of finance. On top of this there are the wars they have started against Iraq, in Afghanistan, Libya, Africa and Syria. . . .”

But we can identify the ‘somewhere’ more accurately, for there is a direct connection between the murderous violence and reactionary social forces in what is called the Middle East, reactionary forces that are the enemy not only of French workers but of young people and workers in the countries of the Middle East.

The Anti-Capitalist Party also says that “there is no answer to the social decomposition of which the crime against Charlie Hebdo is a dramatic expression unless we fight the politics which make it possible.” But this social decomposition has taken the form in this case of Islamic fundamentalism, which must be fought.

The argument that the enemy is imperialism and the task is to oppose it as the root cause of the Paris events cannot excuse the need to respond to these attacks in the appropriate way, to identify the actions as wholly reactionary – the acts themselves, their motivation and their consequences.

In any case imperialism and fundamentalism are not opposites.  State sponsors of Islamic fundamentalism, such as Saudi Arabia, are often supported by imperialism and no general distinction can be drawn between the two such that opposition to one can be fundamentally separated from opposition to the other.  The forces of Islamic fundamentalism are at least partly the direct and indirect result of the actions of imperialism.  That they are only partly the result means that while opposition to one cannot be separated from opposition to the other neither can opposition to one be reduced to opposition to the other.

While some of this fundamentalism now pretends to an anti-imperialism this is the purest opportunism behind which lie reactionary class and ideological interests.  That first great fundamentalist state, Iran, now collaborates with imperialism in fighting a separate fundamentalist movement in the shape of the Islamic State.  The Islamic fundamentalists of Pakistan were for long dismissed by the Pakistani people as the B-team for the army that was the solid ally of the United States.  And we all are aware of the alliance between fundamentalism and the US in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Above all Islamic fundamentalism is an enemy of democracy and socialism.

It is therefore appropriate that the terrorist attacks have been used by the security agencies of western imperialist States to seek greater powers.  Even while the terrorists were known to these agencies and they failed to prevent the attacks.

Ordinary citizens cannot rely or place their trust in these agencies.  Their original sponsorship of Islamic fundamentalism in the war against the Soviet Union cannot be dismissed as a ‘mistake’ nor, as noted, can their continued collaboration with the most barbaric regimes that support various branches of fundamentalism be ignored.  “Saudi Arabia Launches Huge Arms Buying Spree; France to Net Most Orders” is one headline that shows both ugly faces of this alliance.

The restriction of democratic rights in France, Britain or Ireland will not come from these fundamentalists who do not have the power to implement their political programmes in these countries but from security apparatuses demanding greater powers.  It is not that the terrorists seek the implementation of repression in some misguided belief that this will stir resistance.  They do not seek resistance to the restriction of democratic rights because they do not support such rights themselves.  The whole idea of such a motivation would not cross anybody’s mind.

The reactionary character of these attacks is widely understood, which is why in France there has been widespread expression of the view that the division that the attacks seek to create must be opposed.  The latter is a progressive impulse that can only be consistent if it expresses complete opposition to fundamentalist terror and any racist or anti-Muslim response.

The indiscriminate murder of writers and journalists and any person that was in the Charlie Hedbo offices can also therefore only be seen as an attack on the right to freedom of speech, in this case the right to criticise Islam.  The attack was not an attack on Islamophobia or on racism.  The political programme of Islamic fundamentalism does not care for the equality of religious affiliation but regards non-believers in its faith as infidels.

In this sense statements that express the view that the “cartoons such as those published by Charlie Hedbo do nothing to advance the cause of freedom of speech. Rather, they amount to hate speech” do not change the nature of the attack.  In this situation it is necessary to identify clearly what has happened without fear that it compromises some political standpoint, which by virtue of being compromised demonstrates its misconception.

Such rights are purely bourgeois democratic rights?  Of course they are.  Is France not a capitalist country?  Bourgeois freedom of speech leads to the expression of views we dislike, even abhor?  How could it be otherwise?

But is it not better, much better, for French workers of all religions and none to have such democratic rights?  Are we only to defend freedom of speech when it is to our taste?  And for how long would that position be taken seriously?

The anti-Islam cartoons did not advance freedom of speech?  But were they not an expression of it?  And if there were no more cartoons ridiculing Islam, what would that be an expression of?  Is the Marxist critique of Islam also to be subordinated to the view that the oppression of Muslims means that the religious sensitivities of that people must not be offended lest their oppression be enhanced?  Where then are these peoples’ route out of oppression?  How are socialists in ‘the West’ to point out the hypocrisy of Christian support for war if religion is above criticism?

Perhaps it is only the religion itself that should be spared criticism but not its institutions?  But what of states where there is no separation?  Like many where Islam is the majority religion.

So the immediate response must be that of defending democratic rights and opposing the terrorism that seeks to destroy such rights.  It requires opposition to the security agencies of the State and the attempts to turn the actions of fundamentalists against every adherent of the Islamic faith through attacks on mosques and individual Muslims.

Such a defence must raise the banner of democracy against the fundamentalists that would destroy it, the repressive agencies of the State that would subordinate it to their control and to its false friends in the capitalist parties for whom it is accepted only in so far as it does not develop to threaten their system.

Does all this get to the root of the problem?

Is this root the alienation of capitalism or more specifically the imperialist domination and war against countries that are mainly Muslim?  Is it Islamic fundamentalism or religion in general?

I have mentioned a number of times that socialists are defined by what they are for but knowing what you are against is not a small thing either.  In Ireland we have socialists who are sanctimonious in their opposition to religious sectarianism but studiously avoid determining its exact concrete nature.

So yes capitalist alienation is expressed in the acts of desperate people who engage in barbarous acts of violence but we know that this alienation arises from the rather more concrete circumstances of imperialist domination and war in certain Muslim countries.  It would be impossible to effectively fight the violence of the Paris attacks without also opposing imperialist violence in these countries.  But the fundamentalist response to this imperialist violence in Paris and in these countries themselves is itself barbaric and must be opposed, in the interests of the potential victims of terrorism in France and in the Muslim world.

But if we know the causes of this alienation we also know how it has come to express itself in the backward form of Islamic fundamentalism.  We are therefore required to fight this reactionary, obscurantist ideology and programme.

Fundamentalism has grown not just because of the actions of imperialism, and the failure of nationalist and leftist programmes and movements in many Muslim countries, but also because it can more readily gain acceptance due to the fact that the populations are already deeply religious.

Combatting this is no easy task and, while opposition to religion must be a principle, its prosecution can only be carried out with regard to ensuring that those who want to fight for a better world in the here and now are not rejected for their belief in a hereafter world.  Such a fight will involve opposition to the material privileges of religion through its support by the state and through an alternative to the social programmes of well-funded fundamentalist movements.

In ‘the West’ it also means fighting the privileges of religion and for complete separation of church and state, in circumstances where it is rather easier to fight the material and ideological basis of religion.

As in all struggles it is necessary to be with the workers, in this case in their genuine expressions of revulsion at the terrorist attacks and their sincere advocacy of democratic rights, even, if not especially, when these are cynically and hypocritically appropriated by the likes of the dignitaries of such imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism who took part in the million person march in Paris.  At the same time it is necessary to put forward the equally sincere and honest programme that such violence can only be ended by opposition to Islamic fundamentalism, the imperialism that is its partner in barbarism and the irrational belief systems that so easily sanctify both.