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Mansoor Hekmat and the Socialist Critique of Islamism.

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The Worker-communist Party of Iran (حزب کمونیست کارگری ایران‎) is known to many on the international left, but perhaps not well enough.

The party’s central slogans are “Liberty, Equality, Workers’ Rule”, “Down with the Islamic Republic”, “For a Socialist Republic”, and “The Basis of Socialism is the Human Being”.

Maryam Namazie, the prominent secularist, comes from this background.

The Mansoor Hekmat Foundation is an important resource.

Who was Mansoor Hekmat? by Hamid Taghvaie provides a sigficiant introduction to his ideas, and those of their organisation.

Not everybody on the left will agree with the detailed positions of the Worker-Communists, or follow their theoretical and political divisions.

But there is no doubt about their importance for those trying to make sense of Islamism, which they often call simply “Political Islam”  and the democratic and secularist left-wing response to combating its diverse forms.

In this respect Mansoor Hekmat’s 1994 Islamic Terrorism  The World After September 11 are significant documents.

There are other, and important, contributions from this tradition, on a wide range of issues, from class, nation, imperialism, and these are just some aspects of their thought and analysis that I signal.

Socialist Unity: Worst Political Blog, We Wonder why…..

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Thus Spake the Strop.

Phil has published the eagerly awaited list of “Worst Political Blogs 2013“.

Socialist Unity comes tops,

Andy Newman comments,

Over the past several years I have detected a slight hint that this blog, and me personally, are not universally popular, and obviously this has caused me many sleepless nights, and I often burst spontaneously into tears. However, I soldier on, and despite the risk of further damage to my delicate and sensitive ego, it is worth perhaps considering the state of blogging, as revealed by this poll.

Newman is to be saluted as the brave little soldier he is.

He then says (accurately),

The phenomenon of “blogging” has moved on, and probably declined, compared to a few years ago. It has to an extent been overtaken by Twitter and Facebook, and it is rarer for new blogs to be able to break through into the public consciousness. There is certainly less of a sense of a blogging “community”, that used to be evidenced through “memes” and “carnivals” by blogs with shared affinities.

This means that “blogging” has in a sense transformed into a form of hybrid online publishing, whereas it used to be more of a peer to peer exchange. Blogging has ceased to be a “social scene”, and the heroic era has settled down into a much more staid and even formulaic collection of fairly well defined websites, who produce few surprises. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is a different thing.

This is not only true but the debate on the veil on this Blog has been carried out in more detail on Facebook.

For reference (Hat-Tip Rosie), most of the arguments, for or against,  are covered here.

Yes but… the Niqab debate

In its own entry into these complex issues Socialist Unity has helpfully reminded us of its mettle.

A certain ‘John’ – no doubt related to John Wight the roaring apologist for the Iranian regime – comments on this post,

“Fascism in our midst courtesy of the Sun”

This is on the Sun’s hostile views on the face-veil.

A certain ‘John’ comments,

there are some on the ‘left’ who will approve of the Sun’s campaign. They need to be spurned and unveiled as the racists they truly are.

Who approves of the ‘Sun’s views’ is left unsaid.

But we can guess that this inaccurate claim is aimed somewhere.

Is it Jean-Luc Mélenchon?

Or somebody closer to home?

Whatabout the women?

These are John Wight’s views on women’s rights in Iran,

Following the Revolution the status of women changed. The main social group to inherit political power– the traditional middle class – valued most highly the traditional role of women in a segregated society. Accordingly, laws were enacted to restrict the role of women in public life; these laws affected primarily women of the secularized middle and upper classes. The attire of women became a major issue. Although it was not mandated that women who had never worn a chador would have to wear this garment, it was required that whenever women appeared in public they had to have their hair and skin covered, except for the face and hands. The law has been controversial among secularised women, although for the majority of women, who had worn the chador even before the Revolution, the law had only a negligible impact.

No democracy is without its imperfections. Under the Islamic Republic, Iranians, no matter where they happen to live throughout the world, have the right to vote in elections. Women are debarred from standing for office, which is certainly regressive in itself. However, this differs from democratic elections in the West only in the sense that debarment here is based on economic status rather than gender. In effect this ensures that only the wealthy within western societies have any meaningful chance of holding high office.

Furthermore, while women in the US and Britain can stand for election, even sit at the heads of their respective governments, the reality is that both of the aforementioned nations have been responsible for depriving women throughout the Middle East and beyond of a far more fundamental right – namely the right not to be slaughtered or see their families slaughtered in the cause of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’.

Syria: Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste Calls to Supply Weapons to Free Syrian Army, A Critical Response.

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Sectarian anti-Shiite Demonstration.

“The Syrian conflict is expected to dominate talks among leaders of the G8 nations meeting in Northern Ireland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet US President Barack Obama during the two-day annual summit for what could be prickly talks, as both leaders now offer military support to opposing sides in the war.” Reports Al-Jazeera.

“UK Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned there is no “palatable option” for dealing with the crisis in Syria.

He told the BBC there were “extremists” supporting both President Assad’s government and rebel forces, but said help would go towards “moderates”.”

Says the BBC.

The French Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA) has joined calls for arming the Free Syrian Army. As the governments of the US, Britain and France, will put this into practice it is worth examining the NPA’s  views. We will  place them within debates on the British left.

The NPA  begins by outlining the present developments in Syria, and the desperate state of the population. They note the self-organisation of the Syrian people, opposed to Assad regime, and assert that they largely do not recognise the authority of the opposition in exile. They then criticise the limited help given by the French, Socialist-led, government, to the resistance to the Baathist state.

Solidarité du mouvement ouvrier et démocratique

15th of June.

Alongside other European governments, the French state always finds  good reasons not to deliver weapons, especially the air defence and anti-tank  rockets demanded by the Syrian people who are bombarded daily. The French government’s response way to shake this off, and, without giving any specific response, to favour  “serious negotiations for peace” in Geneva. This leaves Assad strengthened by its Russian, Iranian and Lebanese allies and ready to accelerate its criminal offensive against his own people.

In this twisted game the fundamentalist Gulf monarchies are supplying weapons – by drips . They thus give  arguments to the Western powers (to whom they are allied against the “terrorist threat”), and Bashar al-Assad is making the civil war into a sectarian religious – confessional –  struggle.

To top it all, while Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Lebanon welcome over a million and a half refugees the French government has restored the need for a transit visa  for Syrians. This helps prevent their escape from death.

Faced with this situation, the responsibility of the international workers’ and democratic movement to demand that our governments immediately provide weapons to the Free Syrian Army, which should be obliged to defend  the Syrian revolution.

Justified mistrust of any direct imperialist intervention should not lead to the abandonment of the Syrian people, but to the demand for the democratic control of supplies and aid, including a greatly increased level of humanitarian assistance.

Our responsibility is to immediately provide all possible assistance to the insurgents,  from our civil society to their civil society,  and to defend Syrian refugees who manage to get into ‘fortress’  Europe.

Jacques Babel

(Rendered into idiomatic English)

The NPA’s position begins from (we summarise) the premise that the war in Syria started as (and remains) a  “massive popular uprising against a  fascist regime that has launched a modern armoured army with all its firepower against the  people.”

One would add that a sense of urgency is propelled by accusations about the use of poison gas (sarin) and the most recent battles.

These are nevertheless some points that arise from the NPA statement.

Before making them I note that one can criticise anybody not deeply familiar with the position on the ground. Yet, when you say what somebody  agrees with this kind of remark is normally immediately  forgotten.

  • However the uprising began the NPA fails to consider in detail the growing international importance of the “confessional” element in the war. In Britain former violent critics of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood equally downplay the idea that a battle is raging  between their politicised strand of Islam and the Shiite-Alawite, forces lined up behind Assad. This has led, according to many many reports, to vicious religious inspired murders, on both sides.
  • Let us be precise, Al-Qaeda’s direct involvement in Syria  exists. Al-Qaeda affiliated networks are operating in the country, including elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Jabhat al-Nusra, Abdullah Azzam Brigades, Fatah al-Islam and Jordanian Salafi-jihadists. They are said to be “small” but they are gaining strength. This means that  that the armed opposition to the Syrian regime contains a strong Sunni reactionary sectarian element determined to impose its agenda on any future state. They are already supplied, with the other opponents, from Saudi Arabia and Qutar, not to mention less open help from the US, Turkey, Libya and other sources.
  • This political-religious fracture has spread to the heart of Arab world. Egypt’s President Morsi has now taken sides, “Last Saturday Morsi attended a rally by hard-line clerics who have called for jihad and spoke before a cheering crowd at a Cairo stadium, mainly Islamists. Waving a flag of Egypt and the Syrian opposition, he ripped into the Syrian regime, announced Egypt was cutting ties with Damascus and denounced Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas for fighting alongside Assad’s forces.” Associated Press .
  • The Free Syrian Army’s political allies may have a democratic programme. There are (we are reminded in Le Monde and elsewhere) that there remain powerful democratic elements in Syrian civil society. They have protested against sectarian killings. Some of them are on the left. The  National Coordination Committee for the Forces of Democratic Change is one umbrella grouping. It is not recognised by the Syrian Revolution General Commission (SRGC) and has no ties to the  Syrian National Council. It is, in other words, like the rest of the Syrian left, marginal.
  • The British left is largely opposed to any form of intervention in Syria. A section of it  is morally and politically soiled. That the same left has had close relations with the same Muslim Brotherhood in undeniable. The SWP even endorsed voting, in the second round of the country’s elections,  for the Brothers’ President Morsi in Egypt. Socialist Action backed  Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s visit to Ken Livingstone – the same man now calling for “holy war” against Shiites. George Galloway, the vociferous pro-Syrian regime MP,  only recently supported the Bangladeshi extreme right Islamists,Hefazat-e-Islami,  whose views on Muslim heretics are as bigoted as you can get. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) is led by members of Counterfire who appear to think that anything, absolutely anything, that comes from America and the West has to be opposed.
  • There remains the suspicion that opposition to Assad from those backing intervention is motivated by his reliance on Iran and Hezbollah.

Going further into the reasons that lie behind people’s positions on Syria is important.

We could expand them to consider the motives for US, British, French and European government stands, not to mention Russia and Iran.

One can speak for a long time, a very long time, about the very good reasons to fight against Assad, (Anand Gopal discussing  here), but this analysis from North Star indicates a useful initial way of looking at things,

To start with, this revolution was rooted in the countryside where the regime’s abandonment of support for the peasantry created mass hatred for the system. But unlike the cities, where an organized working class could mount mass protests even up to and including a general strike in order to put pressure on the regime, the relatively atomized peasantry had to resort to arms almost immediately since this was the only tenable defense.

Very rapidly, those who had access to guns and the money necessary to defend the masses were propelled into the leadership. This meant for the Free Syrian Army that the owner of a cement factory became a top commander —  his access to funds was critical. In a very real sense, Syria was experiencing a kind of bourgeois-democratic revolution. It also explains the rise of the Islamist militias. With money pouring in from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, it gave the jihadists’ clout.

Yet, he argues,

Even though the Islamists have become a major factor in the Syrian struggle, Gopal pointed to the more secular and more democratic-minded mass movement’s willingness to take them on. He referred to the conflicts taking place in Raqqa, the first provincial capital under rebel rule. Even though the Islamists are trying to impose Sharia law and codes that make women second-class citizens, the secular and democratic-minded residents are not intimidated.

But the main issue remains the one posed by the NPA: should we back the arming of the Free Syrian Army?

What possible help will this bring to the cause of the Syrian people’s freedom?

Seamus Milne, the Guardian commentator, has himself has an ambiguous relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood. He has said of  its right-wing Tunisian branch (he used to call them “progressive” now he labels them ‘centrist’ ), the governing  Ennahda “its newly elected Islamist leaders pluralist enough to lead a successful democratisation and offer a progressive model for the rest of the region” (Here).

But is he wrong to say this?

The reality is that what began in Syria more than two years ago as a brutally repressed popular uprising has long since morphed into a vicious sectarian war, manipulated by outside forces to change the regional balance of power and already dangerously spilling over into neighbouring Lebanon and Iraq.

The consequences for Syria have been multiple massacres, ethnic cleansing, torture, a humanitarian crisis and the risk of the country’s breakup. The longer the war, the greater the danger of a Yugoslavian-style fragmentation into sectarian and ethnic enclaves.

The Assad regime bears responsibility for that, of course. But so do those who have funded and fuelled the war, bleeding Syria and weakening the Arab world in the process. The demand by Cameron and other western politicians to increase the flow of arms is reckless and cynical.

In summary these are further reasons why we are deeply sceptical about Louis Proyect’s call  for “solidarity with the Syrian revolution.

That should be enough: don’t take an active part in that war.

Update,

Comment, ” je l’espère n’est pas la position officielle du NPA”

I hope this is not the official position of the NPA.

Is it, or isn’t it?

Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. A Secularist Review.

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Joseph Anton. A Memoir. Salman Rushdie. Jonathan Cape. 2012.

In early September demonstrations against the video The Innocence of Muslims, took place across the world. Wednesday the 19th of the month saw the French leftist satirical weekly, Charlie Hebdo published, to more protests, caricatures of Mohammed.

Two days later, Tahar Ben Jelloun argued, in Le Monde (21.9.12) against any concessions to Islamist inspired rage. He began by asking why Islam seemed so fragile that fiction, cartoons, or a bad film, His answer was the some Moslem countries encouraged this reaction to stave off creating states based on individual rights. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was the template for this strategy. It been used by the Iranian regime to quash any criticism of Islam, and to cement an “appartence absolue à la communité” (absolute adhesion to the community). Jelloun had no time for the provocations of Charlie. Yet he recommended ignoring them, and turning to the transcendental spirit of Islam.

Tareq Oubrou, the Rector of the Bordeaux Mosque, wrote on the same Le Monde Débats page, even more clearly against those who wished to suppress ‘blasphemy’. “La liberté de conscience et d’expression est un aquis occidental incontesté et incontenstable. Une avancée et un progrès philosophical-moral réels de notre humanité.” – Freedom of speech and conscience are established, unchallenged, and indisputable facts in the West. This is a step forward and real moral and philosophical progress for humanity”. Oubrou did not just repeat the standard argument (even sued by some Islamists, in the absence of a state ruled by the Sharia) that Muslims should submit to French law. All criticism of writing and art should be within their own terms, “La critique d’art se fait par l’art, la philosophie par la philosophie, and les idées par les idées.”

On the publication of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, at the end that Month Le Monde put the author on the front page followed by a long, respectful, article/interview. It dealt with Rushdie’s criticisms of “Actually Existing Islam” as well as the Satanic Verses and the Khomeini Fatwa that has marked his life.

The present work does not neglect this political-religious theme, “During the worst excesses of Soviet Communism…Western Marxists had tried to distance ‘actually existing Socialism’ from the True Faith, Karl Marx’s vision of equality and justice.” Now, with Communism’s faults there for all to see, “it was no longer possible to believe in a True Faith untainted by the crimes of the real world.” Yet, “as Islamic states forged new tyrannies, and justified many horrors in the name of God, a similar separation was being made by Muslims; so there was the ‘actually existing Islam’ of the bloody theocracies and there was the True Faith of peace and love.” (Page 356) The crisis is profound, and cannot be wished away by this appeal, Rushdie says, “something was eating away at the faith of his grandfather, corroding or corrupting it, making it an ideology of narrowness and intolerance, banning books, persecuting thinkers, erecting absolutions, turning dogma with which to beat the undogmatic. That thing needed to be fought and to fight it one had to name it and the only name that fitted was Islam.”(Pages 356-7) Read the rest of this entry »

From the Ruins of Empire. Pankaj Mishra. A Critical Review.

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Review: From the Ruins of Empire. The Revolt against the West and the Remaking of Asia. Pankaj Mishra. Allen Lane 2012.

Western colonial history is a popular section in bookshops. Attacks on Empire, and modern day Imperialism, are widespread on the left. But the history of  the non-Western intelligentsia’s tangled  and complex relation with the West  is no so well known.  Pankaj Mishra’s Ruins of Empire fills a gap for the wider reading public. Mishra appears on the left by beginning from the way the East was “subjugated by the people of the West that they had long considered upstarts, if not barbarians.” (Page 3)But he draws much wider conclusions, decidedly not left-wing,  from biographical accounts of how “intelligent and sensitive people” in the East responded to the ‘West’s’ impact on their societies.

Intellectuals, notably Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, the Chinese reformer Liang Qichao, and – to a lesser extent – Rabindranath Tagore, are brought to the fore. They were both ‘modernisers’, wanting to change, and defenders of their cultures against the West. Others appear, Indian nationalists like Subhas Chandra Bose and Japanese writers, like Tokutomio Soho. This has the great merit of making these important voices heard. It has the great disadvantage of pinning a great deal of speculation about the shaping of the modern world on the – often extremely general – ideas clustered around these figures. It could be said that Soho, who moved from Western liberalism to unabashed champion of Japanese self-interest, illustrates Mishra’s main claim: the primacy of the Asian Cause against the ‘West’.

1905 Russian Humiliation.

Mishra begins with a flourish. The 1905 defeat of the Russian navy by Japan in 1905 in the Tsushima Strait. The rout of the Tsarist fleet, he says, reverberated around the East. “For many other non-white people, Russia’s humiliations seemed to negate the West’s racial hierarchies, mocking the European presumption to ‘civilise’ the supposedly ‘backward’ countries.”(Page 3) Ghandi, and Mustafa Kemal, to cite but two, were “ecstatic” at the news.

Like the spark that lit the prairie the effects were far-reaching. For nationalists, from Egypt to China, passing by Bengal and Vietnam’s “scholar gentry”, Japan became the symbol of successful resistance to Western Empire building. It gave rise to “A hundred fantasies – of national freedom, racial dignity, or simple vengefulness.”(Ibid) Modernisation could, it seemed, take another guise than a European one.

Mishra side-steps the effect of the defeat on Tsarism, – the 1905 Russian Revolution – the precursor of 1917. This perhaps would have some impact on European imperialism (and the use of the word itself). Anti-colonialism in the later 20th century would be incomprehensible without assessing the role not just of Soviet – Stalinist- Communism as a “messianic doctrine” but a political force. Mishra largely jumps over this, referring – mentions of Mao aside – to the post-1989 era when Marxism-Leninism is “discredited”.

The Western colonial empires were “wholly unprecedented in creating global hierarchy of economic, physical and cultural power through their outright conquest or ‘informal’ empires, of free trade and unequal treaties.”(Page 42) By the mid-19th century they had pushed back the Ottoman Empire, invaded North Africa, made inroads in China, and The sense of European racial superiority – which Mishra demonstrates infected even Woodrow Wilson while pontificating on the rights of nations to self-determination – cast a long shadow.

Subjected peoples were ‘humiliated’. The basis of their civilisations was undermined. Muslims felt, Mishra says, felt that the “cosmic order” had been disrupted. A rival that made them seem outdated and incapable threatened the ancient bureaucratic and literary culture of China.

Ruins of Empire portrays those who tried to grapple with this. There are sketches of Tagore’s complex reflections on Bengali and Indian culture faced with the British Raj, There is Liang Qichao who looked to a new China, and became disillusioned with the West after visiting an unequal America.

But it is the Persian born, wandering intellectual, Al-Afghani (1838 – 1897), who grabs most attention. He argued “the Islamic world needed a Reformation, preferably with himself as the new Luther.”(Page 83) In a variety of forms he advocated a “strong Islamic centre that would beat back the encroaching West.”(Page 89) He fiercely defended the place of scientific and technical knowledge in this renewal.*

Politics of the ‘Anti-West’.

What kind of politics did these figures foreshadow? It is had to tie them – with the very partial exception of Al-Afghani – to any specific party or state. Liang Qichao was pushed aside by Sun Yat Sen, Tagore was a respected poet and writer, but no politician. His wary attitude towards nationalism and reluctance to be politically manipulated were notorious. Al-Afghani seems at different times to be a hard-line (proto) Islamist and an almost liberal modernist. One wonders how exactly their contribution to the ‘shaping of the modern world’ can be gauged.

The reactions against the West, nationalism, and Eastern modernisation – in short the introduction of a full-blown capitalist system in these immense parts of the world – form a vastly complicated history. Mishra, as an essayist, and, biographer, is not obliged to over more than aspects of this. Nor does he disuss what Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit call in  Occidentalism (2004) critics of the West in Europe itself and the impact these had on Asia. What he does it to look through one angle: the rise of ‘anti-Western’ types of modernisation.

After the Great War, when nationalists and anti-colonialists began to have an impact on Asia, Mishra notes the eclipse of liberal democratic thought. Japan, he considers, continued to be a pole of attraction. It was modern, with successful industry and a rising living standards. It was also very authentic – pure – and Japanese, or at least as the majority of the governing class considered it to be. It had admirers across Asia. The authoritarian ‘pan-Asian’ movements became, in their Japanese form, at least according to the Japanese Soho, a racial struggle. As war began he stated, “We must shows to the races of East Asia that the order, tranquillity, peace, happiness and contentment of East Asia can be gained only by eradicating the vile precedent of the encroachment and extortion of the Anglo-Saxons in East Asia.”(Page 247)

The unattractive history of Japanese militarism – which throve on the crushing of the country’s democratic ‘Western’ and indigenous intelligentsia and popular movements – is given favourable treatment. Mishra offers a version of history in which Japan’s invasions and punitive expeditions during the Second World War had some justification. There was, “Revenge for decades of racial humiliation motivated many Japanese un the battlefield.”(Page 247) The never-colonised Japan backed nationalists against the Europeans by running their conquered territories with some help from them.

The initial co-operation between nationalists, in Burma and elsewhere, and Japan illustrates the ‘Co-Prosperity’ Japanese Empire’ was an important movement n the fight for independence in Asia. One would be more satisfied if the influence of the ideas of national independence were explored in more details, The Indian Congress Party, to cite but one case, had support, even founders, amongst the British intelligentsia.

To take a couple of significant cases. Can one say that the Vietnamese, Laos or Chinese Communist Parties took on Marxist language purely to express national demands? The class struggles, the land reforms, the nationalisations, the political upheavals and horrors of these countries – not to mention Cambodia – have their own national histories. But Communism, with its impact across Asia, right to Indonesia and the Philippines, and India as well, which was and is always a global movement, fits askew from Mishra’s simple thrust: the ‘humiliation’ by the West and the ‘revenge’ of the East.

Islamism as the Anti-West.

The rise of Islamism is treated in terms of revenge for ‘humiliation. It has deep roots, perhaps in the human condition and the source of faith itself. Al-Afghani is praised for stating, “a totally secular society – the dream of nineteenth century rationalism – was doomed to remain a fantasy in the West as well as in the Muslim world.”(Page 102) Islam, it turned out, could spearhead an Anti-Western revolt, or at least in the late 1970s. “It is largely due to the Islamic revolution that today the basic principles of the first Muslim Westernised elites – that development entails the rejection of Islamic values in favour of Western ones – lie discredited from Tunisia to Xinjianh, and that Islam continues to serve as a focal point of resistance to authorities regimes in the Muslim world.”(Page 277)

Yet Mishra is less than favourable to the ‘authoritarian’ Islamic political regimes created in the wake of the Iranian Revolution. Instead he looks to Turkey, “Turkey’s success confirms the validity of an ‘Islamic’ solution to the problem of adapting to Western modernisation, and the geopolitical implications of this unique achievement are immense.”(Page 285) This takes some beating. In what sense can the post-Atatürk regimes, the foundation no doubt of whatever success Turkey enjoys, be awarded to ‘Islam’? How exactly? Does the Qur’an run a state? Do the AK MPs’ prayers bolster economic growth? What of its failures? Do the suras inspire the crack down on the free press?

Mishra has written a lucid and stimulating book. We are better off knowing more about Al-Afghani and other figures. But can one understand the world through the principle that the “aggrieved natives always wanted to beat the West at its own game”? (Page 294) The underlying ‘dialectic’ in From the Ruins of Empire rarely rises above these, and other, hackyned thoughts. There is the struggle of ‘Asians’ against the ‘whites’ the ‘Europeans’ the ‘West’. Perhaps we all look the same to him.

Worse is to come. Like John Gray, another doomsayer, Mishra ends on a portentous note. The ‘revenge of the East” which now takes the form of the purist of endless economic growth is a “fantasy”. The global environment is set for “early destruction”. It “looks set to create reveries of a nihilistic rage and disappointment among hundred of millions of have-nots – the bitter outcome of the universal triumph of Western modernity, which turns the revenge of the East into something darkly ambiguous, and all its victories truly Pyrrhic.”(Page 309 – 10)

You have to ask: were these last sentences even worth reading?

* Mishra claims that Al-Afghani challenged the French Orientalist Ernest Renan on Islam. Renan famously believed that Islam has stifled scientific and philosophical freedom – exemplified in his extensive study of the reception and prohibition of the medieval Aristotelian Arab Averroes’s teaching. The Persian pan-Islamist defended, initial Islamic openness to science. Yet while Frenchman undoubtedly had many prejudices about ‘Semitic’ languages and Islamic culture in particular it is much less sure if anybody, Al-Afghani included, could prove him wholly wrong. Islamic authorities did persecute Averroes in Spain, and a much wider intolerance of philosophical heterodoxy was a long-standing feature of many societies based around Islam.

Thus as Al-Afghani himself noted, the issue therefore turns on a more general question of how religions relate to philosophy and science.

“Je plaide ici auprès de M. Renan, non la cause de la religion musulmane, mais celle de plusieurs centaines de millions d’hommes qui seraient ainsi condamnés à vivre dans la barbarie et l’ignorance ».

« Personne n’ignore, que le peuple arabe, alors qu’il était dans l’état de barbarie, s’est lancé dans la voie des progrès intellectuels et scientifiques avec une vitesse qui n’a été égalée que par la rapidité de ses conquêtes car, dans l’espace d’un siècle, il a acquis et s’est assimilé presque toutes les sciences grecques et persanes qui s’étaient développées lentement pendant des siècles sur le sol natal, comme il étendit sa domination de la presqu’île arabique jusqu’aux montagnes de l’Himalaya et au somment de Pyrénées. On peut dire que dans toute cette période les sciences firent des progrès étonnants chez les arabes et dans tous les pays soumis à leur domination. Rome et Byzance étaient alors les sièges des sciences théologiques et philosophiques ainsi que le centre lumineux et comme le foyer ardent de toutes les connaissances humaines. »

« Toutefois il est permis de se demander comment la civilisation arabe, après avoir jeté un si vif éclat dans le monde, s’est éteinte tout à coup ; comment ce flambeau ne s’est pas rallumé depuis, et pourquoi le monde arabe reste toujours enseveli dans de profondes ténèbres. »

« Les religions, de quelque nom qu’on les désigne, se ressemblent toutes. Aucune entente ni aucune réconciliation ne sont possibles entre ses religions et la philosophie. La religion impose à l’homme sa foi et sa croyance, tandis que la philosophie l’en affranchit totalement ou en partie. Comment veut-on dès lors qu’elles s’entendent entre elles ? Lorsque la religion chrétienne, sous les formes les plus modestes et les plus séduisantes, est entrée à Athènes et à Alexandrie qui étaient, comme chacun sait, les deux principaux foyers de la science et de la philosophie, son premier soin été, après s’être établie solidement dans ces deux villes, de mettre de côté et la science proprement dite et la philosophie, en cherchant à les étouffer l’une et l’autre sous les broussailles des discussions théologiques, pour expliquer les inexplicables mystères de la trinité, de l’incarnation et de la Transsubstantiation. Il en sera toujours ainsi. Toutes les fois que la religion aura le dessus, elle éliminera la philosophie ; et le contraire arrive quand c’est la philosophie qui règne en souveraine maîtresse. Tant que l’humanité existera, la lutte ne cessera pas entre le dogme et le libre examen, entre la religion et la philosophie, lutte acharnée et dans laquelle, je le crains, le triomphe ne sera pas pour la libre pensée, parce que, aussi, la science, si belle qu’elle soit, ne satisfait pas complètement l’humanité qui a soif d’idéal et qui aime à planter dans des régions obscures et lointaines que les philosophes et les savants ne peuvent ni apercevoir ni explorer. »

 

The point Renan asked, whether Islam when it is involved with politics, to the point where a form dominates a state, can develop ways that leave other faiths – and importantly non- and anti-faiths – with an unfettered influence over political life, remains a live political issue.

This is how he put it – in extremely provocative terms that are clearly racist (evoking the, ‘l’esprit sémitique’)”

« L’islamisme (à l’époque, sens général de « religion musulmane ») ne peut exister que comme religion officielle ; quand on le réduira à l’état de religion libre et individuelle, il périra. L’islamisme n’est pas seulement une religion d’État, comme l’a été le catholicisme en France, sous Louis XIV, comme il l’est encore en Espagne, c’est la religion excluant l’État (…) Là est la guerre éternelle, la guerre qui ne cessera que quand le dernier fils d’Ismaël sera mort de misère ou aura été relégué par la terreur au fond du désert. L’islam est la plus complète négation de l’Europe ; l’islam est le fanatisme, comme l’Espagne du temps de Philippe II et l’Italie du temps de Pie V l’ont à peine connu ; L’islam est le dédain de la science, la suppression de la société civile ; c’est l’épouvantable simplicité de l’esprit sémitique, rétrécissant le cerveau humain, le fermant à toute idée délicate, à tout sentiment fin, à toute recherche rationnelle, pour le mettre en face d’une éternelle tautologie : Dieu est Dieu (…) »