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7th Anniversary of Tunisian Uprising Marked by Protests.

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Front Populaire on the March in Tunisia Today.

Tunisia protests mark seven years since Arab Spring uprising

France 24.

Tunisia, shaken by days of nationwide unrest over price hikes, is marking seven years on Sunday since the North African nation drove out its long-time autocratic ruler.

Tunisians are calling for peaceful protests on the anniversary to tell the country’s new leaders that they have failed to fix problems that stirred the revolution.

President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled into exile on Jan. 14, 2011, transforming the country into a budding democracy that inspired the Arab Spring – then defied it by being the only country to keep its transition peaceful.

Now, protesters are driving home the message that they believe that six governments in power since then have crushed hopes of social and economic justice, and left them feeling betrayed.

Citizen’s Against the Right-Wing Islamist Party.

On this 7th Anniversary the trade union, L’UGTT, has called for a march in the centre of Tunis. They will be joined by the left wing Tunisian alliance, the Front Populaire (FP) has described government measures taken in response to these protests, which include a minimum wage for the poorest, and universal heath care,  as a “masquerade”. They do not satisfy the needs of the people. The FP has called for continuing demonstrations against the Finance law – austerity.

Al Jazeera has just published an interview with people from Fech Nestannew.

Al Jazeera spoke to Tunis-based protest organiser Warda Atig, 25, about how the Fech Nestannew movement came about, its demands, and whether the Tunisian government may revise its economic policies.

Al Jazeera: What is the idea behind Fech Nestannew?

Warda Atig: Fech Nestannew is a movement created by Tunisian youth after the government’s finance act of 2018 came into effect. Following this act, the prices went up and the state stopped recruiting for public sector jobs.

That’s why we decided to create this movement, in order to push the government to cancel this financial measure.

Al Jazeera: How did your protests begin and when?

Atig: When we first heard about this law, in November and December of last year, several youth factions from the different progressive political parties organised discussions [about] what the law was and what the impact of the law would be on society.

We were waiting for the government to make the law official and we chose the date of our first action to be January 3. The date is very symbolic because, on January 3, 1984, there was the Intifada al-Khubez (bread uprising) in Tunisia [over an increase in the price of bread].

On January 3, we made a declaration in front of the municipal theatre [on Habib Bourguiba Avenue in downtown Tunis] and we distributed pamphlets with our demands. We were about 50 activists.

Al Jazeera: What are those demands?

Atig: We want the government to end the increase in prices, cancel the moratorium on recruiting in the public sector, provide security and healthcare, end privatisation and put forward a national strategy to counter corruption.

These demands [are in response to] decisions taken by the government … [and] they are within the context of the finance act of 2018. So we are asking [the government] to cancel this act.

If they don’t cancel it, they will privatise national companies, they will not fight corruption, they will continue to increase prices. We are explaining to people that we have to say no to this act.

Al Jazeera: Protests have taken place across Tunisia. How did these different regions get involved in your movement and do you have a coordinated strategy?

Atig: First, we created a group on Facebook. Then, there were many reactions from people in other regions. People started to ask themselves, “What are we waiting for?”

People from student unions and other young people who were very active regionally also got involved.

It started here (Tunis) with different groups, including student unions and groups of unemployed graduates. Everyone here helped spread this campaign … and what happened in Tunis happened in all the other regions.

This isn’t only [a movement] for Tunis; it’s for all of Tunisia.

More via above link.

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Written by Andrew Coates

January 14, 2018 at 12:30 pm

Third Night of Riots in Tunisia: Front Populaire Backs Peaceful Protests and Denounces Violence.

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Fech Nestanew: Young Tunisians in latest protests against Austerity.

Le Monde reports:

Tunisia is governed by a working arrangement between a President Beji Caid Essebsi, his republican centre Nidaa Tounes party and the rightwing Islamist Ennahda party.

Agence France Presse reports,

200 arrested, dozens hurt in Tunisia unrest.

More than 200 people have been arrested and dozens of police hurt during clashes in Tunisia, the interior ministry said Wednesday, as anger over austerity measures spilt over into unrest.

The North African country has been hailed for its relatively smooth democratic transition since a 2011 revolt that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings, but seven years after the revolution, tensions over economic grievances are high.

Tunisia has seen rising anger over hikes in value-added tax and social contributions after a tough new budget was applied at the start of the year.

Interior ministry spokesman Khalifa Chibani told local radio that 49 police officers were wounded during a second night of clashes across the country Tuesday to Wednesday and that 206 “troublemakers” were arrested.

Properties were damaged, he said, including a branch of the Carrefour supermarket chain in a suburb of Tunis that was looted.

After a calm day on Wednesday, residents said demonstrators in the evening took to the streets of Tebourba, a town west of the capital Tunis where a man in his 40s died in unrest Monday night.

On a visit to a nearby town, Prime Minister Youssef Chahed condemned acts of “vandalism” that “serve the interests of corrupt networks to weaken the state”, pointing the finger at a leftist party that called for protests.

Fresh clashes broke out Wednesday night in the northern town of Siliana, where youths threw stones and molotov cocktails at security forces. Police responded with tear gas, an AFP correspondent said.

There were similar scenes in Kasserine, a town in Tunisia’s neglected central region, with protesters burning tires to block roads and some throwing stones at police.

The army has been deployed around banks, post offices and other government buildings in the country’s main cities, the defence ministry said.

There have been no figures given for the number of protesters injured in the clashes.

On Tuesday night, hundreds of young people took to the streets of Tebourba for the funeral of the man who died.

In the central town of Sidi Bouzid, the cradle of the protests that sparked the 2011 uprisings, youths blocked roads and hurled stones, and the police retaliated with tear gas, an AFP reporter said.

The recent unrest started with peaceful protests against the austerity measures last week, but escalated into clashes with police in the night of Monday to Tuesday.

On the back of the protests which Libération describes as the result of a general state of anger (un «ras-le-bol généralisé») at the country’s conditions, racist Islamist elements have been involved (Guardian)

Among the hundreds arrested on Tuesday were two radical Islamists who had helped storm a police station in Nefza town, the interior ministry spokesman said. In Tunis, a crowd stormed a Carrefour market.

On Tuesday, petrol bombs were thrown at a Jewish school on the southern tourist island of Djerba, home to an ancient Jewish community.

Front Populaire.

The left wing alliance, the Front Populaire, (15 MPs out of 217) has stood by the protests and called for street demonstrations. Le Front populaire appelle à la mobilisation de la rue pour le retrait de la loi de Finances 2018.

The leader of the left wing Front Populaire Hamma Hammami (English link) criticised the government and its response to the protests while making it clear that they do not support the violence of “milices criminelles” who are exploiting the unrest.

In response to statements by Youssef Chahed, Head of Tunisia’s present government, which accuse them of encouraging the “troubles”  he stated yesterday that one should not confuse peaceful mass movements, which his alliance backs, and acts of vandalism and violence carried out by criminal organisations. (“la confusion entre les mouvements militants pacifiques que nous appuyons et les actes de vandalisme et de violence que font des milices criminelles” Huffington Post).

They have called for an independent inquirty in the repression and violence.

After asking whether these groups which had been involved in pillaging and exacerbating tensions  had a relation with the mafias and other corrupt forces linked to the government Hammami stated that the Front Populaire would continue to support protests against the economic policies of the state.

Manifestez en étant unis et autour d’un slogan claire qui est la suppression de la hausse des prix et contre ces mesures qui détruisent la vie des Tunisiens”.

Demonstrate in unity around the clear demand for an end to price rises and against policies which are destroying the lives of Tunisians.

More on the young citizens’ movement, Fech Nestanew (what are we waiting for?): Qui sont les militants de « Fech Nestanew », qui mobilise contre la vie chère en Tunisie ? Jeune Afrique 11.1.18.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 11, 2018 at 1:38 pm

Slave Auction in Libya, After Outrage, Protests Begin.

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This morning on Europe 1 there was the harrowing testimony of a 17 year old man, Arnaud,  from Cameron who had escaped from slavery in Libya.

“Chaque jour, il y a des tortures, des bastonnades, des électrocutions et des travaux forcés”

Every day there were tortures, beating, electrocutions  and forced labour.

“”Tu deviens un objet. Ce qu’on nous a appris à l’école sur la traite négrière, tu comprends que c’est revenu”,

You become an object. What you learnt at school about the African slave trade, you can see that it’s come back. 

Arnaud, now a refugee in France added,

“En Libye, le mouton vaut plus que l’homme noir.”

In Libya a sheep is worth more than a Black Man.

In France there has been a strong moblisation against Slavery in Libya.

Manifestation contre l’esclavage, à Nouakchott, en Mauritanie, le 29 avril 2015.

Paris, des milliers de personnes ont manifesté samedi à l’appel du Collectif contre l’esclavage et les camps de concentration en Libye (CECCL).  (Le Monde. 23.11.17).

Rwanda has announced that it is willing to take 30,000 victims of the slave markets, (Jeune Afrique,Marché aux esclaves en Libye : le Rwanda prêt à accueillir 30 000 migrants africains“).

Background:

Video Of Migrants Sold In Apparent Slave Auction In Libya Provokes Outrage Worldwide

“I am horrified,” the UN secretary-general said.

After a video surfaced showing migrants apparently being sold at auction in Libya, people worldwide have been calling for action.

Last week, CNN published a report on modern slavery in Libya, featuring a video that reportedly was shot in August and appeared to show a man selling African migrants for farm work.

“Big strong boys,” the man said in the video, according to a CNN narrator. “400 … 700 … 800,” he called out the mounting prices. The men were eventually sold for about $400 each, CNN reported. The Libyan government said it has launched an investigation into slave auctions in the country.

Following the CNN report, demonstrators took to the streets in Paris and other cities last week to express their outrage, and Libyans showed their solidarity on Twitter with the hashtag #LibyansAgainstSlavery.

Solidarity!

Written by Andrew Coates

November 24, 2017 at 1:10 pm

La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa: ‘Manufacturing Muslims’.

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La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa. Libertalia. 2017.

In the wake of the Tower Hamlets foster care furore Kenan Malik has written of the “inadequacy of all sides to find an adequate language through which to speak about questions concerning Muslims and Islam.” (Observer. 3.9.17) This inability to talk seriously about these issues as shown in the prejudiced press coverage, risks, Kenan argues, shutting down criticism of outing people in “cultural or faith boxes” and “blurring the distinction between bigotry against Muslims and criticisms of Islam”.

La Fabrique du Musulman (Manufacturing Muslims) is an essay on very similar dilemmas about “La Question des Musulmans” in French political debate. Moussa tackles both the “box” theory of faith and culture, and efforts by those taken by the “anti-imperialism of fools” to align with the “petite bourgeoisie islamique” and form alliances with Islamist organisations starting with the issue of ‘Zionism’. In 147 pages the author does not just outline the left’s political bewilderment faced with the decomposition of the classical working class movement. He pinpoints the “confusionnisme” which has gone with its attempts to grapple with the problems of discrimination against minorities in the Hexagone – its relations with forces with ideologies far from Marxism or any form of democratic socialism.

Indigènes, Race War and the US left. 

Moussa is the binational son of revolutionaries who supported Messali Hadj in the Algerian War of National Liberation. As the offspring of those who backed the losing side in a war that took place before independence, between the Messalists and the victorious FLN, who will not be accepted as French, he announces this to underline that he does not fit into a neat ‘anti-colonial’ pigeonhole (Page 11). He  examines the roots and the difficulties created by the replacement of the figure of the ‘Arab’ by that of the ‘Muslim’. Furthermore, while he accepts some aspects of ‘intersectionality”, that is that there many forms of domination to fight, he laces the central importance of economic exploitation tightly to any “emancipatory perspective” rather than the heritage of French, or other European imperialism. (Page 141).

La Fabrique is an essay on the way the “social question” has become dominated by religious and racial issues (Essai sur la confessionnalisation et la racialisation de la question sociale). The argument of the book is that the transition from the identity of Arab and other minorities in France from sub-Saharan Africa to that of ‘Muslim’ has been helped by political complicity of sections of the French left of the left in asserting this ‘heritage’. In respects we can see here something like an ‘anti-imperialist’ appropriation of Auguste-Maurice Barrès’ concept of “la terre et les morts”, that people are defined by their parents’ origins, and fixed into the culture, whether earthly or not. This, with another conservative view, on the eternity of race struggle, trumping class conflict, has melded with various types of ‘post-colonial’ thought. This is far from the original “social question” in which people talked about their exploitation and  positions in the social structure that drew different identities together as members of a class and sought to change the material conditions in which they lived.

In demonstrating his case La Fabrique is a critique of those opponents of the New World Order but who who take their cultural cue from American enemies of the “Grand Satan” and descend into ‘racialism’.  (Page 18 – 19) In this vein it can be compared with the recent article, “American Thought” by Juraj Katalenac on the export of US left concepts of “whiteness” as a structure of oppression reflecting the legacy of slavery (Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class.) No better examples of this could be found than Moussa’s targets –  former Nation of Islam supporter Kémi Séba, “panfricanist” and founder of Tribu Ka, condemned for anti-Semitism, and a close associate of the far right, recently back in the news for burning African francs, and the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR).

The PIR’s spokesperson Houria Bouteldja, offers a picture of the world in imitation of US Black Power lacing, in his best known text, diatribes against Whiteness (Blanchité) and laments for the decline in Arab virility, more inspired by Malcolm X and James Baldwin than by the nuances of Frantz Fanon. In the struggle for the voice of the indigenous she affirms a belief that commemorating the memory of the Shoah is, for whites, the “the bunker of abstract humanism”, while anti-Zionism is the “space for an historic conformation between us and the whites”. Bouteldja is fêted in Berkley and other ‘post-colonial’ academic quarters, and given space in the journal of what passes for the cutting edge of the US left, Jacobin. (1)

La Fabrique outlines the sorry history of the PIR, highlighting rants against integration, up the point that Bouteldja asserts that the wearing the veil means “I do not sleep with whites” (Page 51). The discourse on promoting ‘race’ is, Moussa, is not slow to indicate, in parallel to the extreme right picture of ‘racial war’. He cites the concept of “social races” offered by Tunisian exile and former Trotskyist, Sadri Khiari on a worldwide struggle between White Power and Indigenous Political Power (“Pouvoir Blanc et la Puissance politique indigène”) (Pages 60 – 61). Moussa notes, is the kind of ideology behind various university-based appeals to “non-mixité”, places where in which races do not mix. One can only rejoice that Khiari has not fused with Dieudonné and Soral, and – we may be proved wrong – no voice on the left France yet talks of a “transnational Jewish bourgeoisie” to complement the picture, and demand that Jews have their own special reservations in the non-mixed world.

Many of the themes tackled in La Fabrique are specifically French. Britain, for example, has nothing resembling the concept of laïcité, either the recognition of open universalism, or of the more arid arch-republicanism that has come to the fore in recent years. The attempts at co-operation, or more formal alliances with Islamists, and the sections on various moves, between opportunism and distance of those in and around the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (MPA),  intellectuals of the ‘left of the left’,  and the ambiguities of Alternative Libertaire on the issues, though important in a domestic context, are not of prime interest to an international audience. (2) Other aspects have a wider message. The convergence between ‘Complotiste’, conspiracy theories, laced with anti-Semitism, circulating on the extreme-right and amongst reactionary Muslims, finding a wider audience (the name Alain Soral and the Site, Egalité et Reconciliation crops up frequently), including some circles on the left, merits an English language investigation. There are equally parallels with the many examples of ‘conservative’ (reactionary) Muslims who, from the campaign against Gay Marriage and equality education (“la Manif pour tous”), have become politically involved in more traditional right-wing politics, and the beurgeois, the prosperous Islamic market for Halal food and drinks. 

Islamogauchistes.

In one area there is little doubt that we in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries (a term in the book that jars), that is the English speaking world, will find the account of alliances between sections of the left and Islamists familiar, So familiar indeed that the names of the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) are placed at the centre of the debate about these agreements, from the 2002, 2007 Cairo Conferences Against US and Zionist Occupation (Page 74), attended also by Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), to the definition of Islamophobia offered by the Runnymede Trust (Page 87).

If one can criticise Moussa in this area it is not because he does not discuss the details of the failure of the SWP and the forces in Respect and the StWC have failed to carry out Chris Harman’s strategy of being “with the Islamists” against the State. The tactic of being their footstools collapsed for many reasons, including, the SWP’s Rape Crisis, the farce of Respect under George Galloway, and was doomed in the Arab Winter not just after the experience of MB power in Egypt, Ghannouchi and Ennahda in Tunisia and, let us not forget but when the Syrian uprising pitted the Muslim Brotherhood against Assad, Daesh was born, and the British left friends of ‘reformist’ Islamism lapsed into confusion. If the Arab ‘patrimonial states’ remain the major problem, there is a growing consensus (outside of groupuscules like Counterfire) on the British left that actually existing Islamist parties and movements are “deeply reactionary”. (3)

To return to our introduction: how can we talk about Islam and Muslims? We can, Moussa suggests, do without the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ to shout down criticism of the ‘sacred’. The tendency of all religious believers to consider that their ideas make them better than everybody else and in need of special recognition cannot be left unchallenged. They need, “libre examen…contre les vérités révélés, pour l’émancipation et contre l’autorité”, free investigation against revealed truths, for emancipation against authority (Page 143). There should never be a question of aligning with Islamists. But systemic discrimination, and economic exploitation remain core issues. It is not by race war or by symbolic academic struggles over identity that these are going to be resolved. La Fabrique, written with a clarity and warmth that gives heart to the reader. Whether all will follow La Fabrique and turn to the writings of Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Internationale situationniste to find the tools for our emancipation remains to be seen. But we can be sure that in that “voie” we will find Moussa by our side.

*****

(1) Pages 66 – 67, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous. Houria Bouteldja. La Fabrique. 2016. In discussing Fanon few who read him can ignore his sensitive complexity. For example, did not just discuss the ‘fear’ of Black sexuality amongst whites, but the dislike of North Africans for “les hommes de couleur”, as well as efforts by the French to divide Jews, Arab and Blacks. Page 83. Peau noire masques blancs. Frantz Fanon. Editions du Seuil. 1995.

(2  La Fabrique du musulman » : un défaut de conception. Alternative Libertarire. Droit de réponse : « La Fabrique du musulman », une publicité gratuite mais mensongère. Alternative Libertaire.

(3) See on the history of the period, Morbid Symptoms. Relapse in the Arab Uprisings. Gilbert Achcar. Saqi Books. 2016.

Moroccan sit-in Protest against Sexual Assault.

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Hundreds of Moroccans stage mass sit-in protest after teenage boys sexually assault woman on bus.

The Independent.

Around 300 protesters chant ‘We are not afraid!’ as they march in Casablanca.

Hundreds of Moroccans have staged a mass sit-in in Casablanca on Wednesday evening in protest against the aggressive sexual assault of a woman on a bus, in a case that has sparked outrage across Morocco.

The 18 August assault was filmed and posted online, quickly going viral.

Protesters chanted “We are not afraid! Liberate public space!” as they marched in Morocco’s largest city.

In the video, the 24-year-old victim can be seen crying, while a group of teenagers molest her, insult her and tear her clothes off. No passengers intervened to help as the footage was shot.

Sexual harassment, violence, and abuse of women is a major problem in Morocco. Nearly two-thirds of women have experienced sexual, physical, psychological or economic abuse, according to a national survey.

This is also not the first time a video showing harassment of a woman has sparked mass complaints. Earlier in August, 10 seconds of footage showing a woman being chased by a group of men in Tangier infuriated rights activists, but also sparked a debate about victim blaming after some Moroccans posted online saying it was the woman’s own fault for wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

 

BFMTV. 24/08/2017 à 06h44

Manifestation à Casablanca contre les violences sexuelles faites aux femmes, le 23 août 2017

 

Background in Libération:

Au Maroc, «la femme dans la rue est une proie potentielle ou une bête à abattre»

In Morocco a woman in the street is either potential prey or a beast to be slaughtered.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 24, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Stop the War Coalition: only way Islamist Murder can be ended is by “campaign against both war and Islamophobia.”

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End Terrorist Attacks By Stopping Western Wars and Islamophobia says StWC.

War, Terrorism & Islamophobia: Breaking The Vicious Circle Stop the War Coalition, also reproduced on the site of the groupuscule, Counterfire, which occupies many of the StWC’s leading positions.

Lindsey German writes,

The threat of Islamic terrorism requires a serious analytical response which cannot ignore the background against which it exists.

Does this involve an analysis of what Islamic terrorism is, the nature of groups such as the Islamic State, their genocidal ideology and practice? Their relation to Salafism, the social and ideological conditions in which they have grown in?

No,

..every serious analysis of the increase in terrorism over the past 16 years has to confront one central fact: that the ill-conceived and misnamed war on terror has actually increased the level of terrorism in Europe, not reduced it.

And,

The terrible consequences of the Iraq war – and subsequent interventions in Libya and Syria – have indeed led to a growth in terrorism both across the Middle East and South Asia.

German does not go further.

She offers nothing about the history of Islamism, from the Iranian Revolution (1979) to the conflicts between Shia and Sunni that mark the greatest number of terrorist atrocities. Or the Algerian Civil War, (over 100,000 dead, 1991 – 2002), an example of religiously inspired violence and state repression which has profoundly shaped the Maghreb, and left support for murdering Jihadism to be mobilised in the present conflicts.

There is equally not a word on the decades long development of Islamism in all its various forms, from the Muslim Brotherhood, back to its roots in the writings and practice of figures such as Sayyid Qutb to cite but one name, that a “serious analysis” would have to grapple with in any effort to explain the intensity, the blood-stained killings that mark the present batch of jihadists.

This is no doubt a large area, a hard reading list even for the learned German, but she could begin here Islamism (Wikipedia). Or indeed with the books reviewed on this site yesterday, notably, The Way of the Strangers by Graeme Wood.

Such a study would show that the violence, the racism and the totalitarian ambitions of the jihadist wing of the Islamist movement cannot be reduced to an effect of Western Intervention.

The invasion of Iraq, and the failed state that the US tried to create, has increased the possibilities for Jihadists to spread, fueled the wars between Shiites and Sunnis, and led to the wholescale religious cleansing of non-Muslims from a large swathe of the Middle East.

But the springs for the terrorist violence in Europe, the mechanisms which organise it, which encourage it, the actual series of intentional acts of murder, lie in the material shape of the Jihadist groups, their ideology and the individuals who carry out the slaughter.

German continues,

It is worth remembering that those countries still reeling from the effects of these interventions face regular terrorist attacks against their own populations, with often dozens killed in single attacks on markets and other public places. These receive scant coverage in the British media and certainly not the emotional responses that mark an attack in London or Paris. But they alone should prove as false the idea that these attacks are about British values. They are political attacks designed to promote the ideas of IS or al Qaeda or other similar groups and their main targets are other Muslims.

This is all too true, which might lead the leaders of the StWC to support those in these countries, Muslim or not, above all the liberals and secularists, fighting the Islamists, and, above all, the Jihadists, linked with, or members of Daesh and Al Qaeda.

But no.

That is there.

Here is here.

And here is, apparently, where the problem comes from.

The first is that the foreign policy which has contributed to the rise of terrorism has to end. These wars are not history but are ongoing. Only this week there have been reports of a US bombing raid on a mosque near Aleppo in Syria which has killed many civilians, in addition to the bombing of Mosul in Iraq – as part of the campaign against IS – which has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths, including 200 in a recent attack.

Such attacks are exactly what has helped feed terrorism in the past.

Sagely German notes that,

The second message is that the response to such attacks cannot be further racism against Muslims.

Those advocating “further racism” take note!

What we can be certain of is that these attacks will continue unless there are major political changes.

This climate of racism here in the UK, and elsewhere in Europe, is only helping to create a vicious circle where Islamophobia leads to a growth in extremism and terrorism, which in turn leads to more Islamophobia. It is a circle which can only be broken by a concerted campaign against both war and Islamophobia.

This will surely defeat the genociders of the Islamic State.

That is, it would, if Islamism and the Islamic State had been created by ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.

Faced with the depth of the challenge that Jihadism presents this statement marks the inability of the Stop the War Coalition to rise above slogans.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 28, 2017 at 5:16 pm

Islamic State: Fascism, Totalitarianism and Evil.

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Islamic State, Fascism, Totalitarianism and Evil.

The decision of the British Parliament to back Prime Minister David Cameron and join an alliance of forces to fight the Islamic State (Daesh) in Syria has aroused great emotion. Hilary Benn and others have described these Islamists as fascists. They are therefore in the class of the wicked against whom we can all unite.

Others notably supporters of the Stop the War Coalition, assert versions of Terry Eagleton’s different view in On Evil (2010) While the “lethal fantasises” of Islamic fundamentalists (his term) may be “vicious” and “benighted” Jihadist acts of mass murder, like the destruction of the Twin Towers, arise from the “Arab world’s sense of anger and humiliation at the long history of its political abuse by the West.” Terrorism, the cultural thinker opined, has its “own momentum”. – to meet it with violence is to “breed more terror”. (1)

The traction of the ‘anger and humiliation” motor was much used in these quarters in the wake of the slaughter at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Cacher last January. Rules for the correct and authorised use of satire were drawn up, excluding being rude about the humiliated. Little power in this ready-made explanation was left over for the Paris massacre last month. That was simply to be condemned. Much liberal reaction, while often shy of the fascist label, tends to agree that Daesh is uniquely evil. We “all” denounce this barbarity – including within this all, Muslim voices underlining their profound horror at ISIL.

So Daesh is both exceptional, and fascist. Or not, as those keen to proclaim, from an anti-imperialist and Marxist standpoint, that the West has committed worse crimes, not least in the Middle East, and the difference that this “state” “created” by Western intervention in Iraq shows from European fascism and Nazism. Daesh is not, they have discovered, on scholastic authority, a “battering ram” against the workers’ movement; it does not mobilise the “petty bourgeoisie” behind Monopoly Capital, to destroy bourgeois democracy. It is not a response to a crisis of capital accumulation and a strong labour movement challenge to capitalism. It is has little beyond fringe support in the imperialist nations. The priority is the fight against the imperialists, to work together for their defeat. There is no need for a united front in the “struggle against Islamist fascism”. (2)

Fascism and Islamism.

Comparisons with the 1930s, not to mention contemporary far-right populism in Europe, are self-evidently hard to make. The differences between Daesh and European fascism are perhaps better illuminated by Michael Mann in Fascists (2004) tired to draw out common features of these far-right movements and states. In doctrine, he observed, they are marked by: 1) Thus, nationalism, the “organic, integral unity of the nation”, rebirth, 2) Statism, “Fascists worshiped state power”. 3) Transcendence: they attacked both capital and labour, with the objective of the “supposed creation of a new man”. The nation and state comprised their centre of gravity: they hoped to subordinate capital to their goals. 4) Cleansing, “because opponents were seen as ‘enemies’, they were to be removed, and the nation cleansed of them.”5) Paramilitarism, a key value and organisation form, popular, vanguard of the nation. “Violence was the key to the ‘radicalisation’ of fascism.”(3)

Mann argued that Islamism has many common features with European fascism, “The new jihadis (popularly called ‘fundamentalists’) do seek to create a monocratic, authoritarian regime that will enforce a utopian Koranic ideal. This regime will create a new form of state and a new man (and woman), Its predominant organisation is the paramilitary taking various but always dominant forms – guerrilla international brigades in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, armed bands of terrorising enforcers under the Taliban and Iranian Islamists (rather like the SA or SS), and clandestine terrorist networks elsewhere, All this is decidedly fascist.”(4)

Nevertheless they are not nationalist and the state is not an end in itself: its role is to enforce the Sharia. Mann concluded, “Unlike fascism, they really are political religions. They offer a sacred, but not a secular ideology. They most resemble fascism in deploying the means of moral murder but the transcendence, the state, the nation, and the new man they seek are not this-worldly. We might call this sacred fascism; of course though perhaps it is better to recognise that they human capacity for ferocious violence, cleansing, and totalitarian gaols can have diverse sources and forms, to which we should give different labels – fascist communist, imperialist, religious, ethno-nationalist, and so on.”(4)

Mann did not anticipate the more recent argument that Daesh and other jihadist groups such as Al-Qaeda, recruiting from dislocated social layers, in war-torn Syria and Iraq, have created a “religion de rupture” based on a cultural and generational break. The Islamic State, from this standpoint, is, the specialist in Islamism, Olivier Roy argues, “nihilist”. (Le djihadisme est une révolte nihilste. Le Monde 25.11.15) they are “more Muslim than the Muslims”. The ideology, their ‘imaginary’, of Daesh dwells on death and war, the extermination or enslavement of the non-Muslim Kufur, and the killing of Muslim heretics (in Takfir terms, all non-Sunnis, and all Sunnis who do not accept their doctrine). Their objective is less a utopian society, the recreation of an ancient Caliphate, than the Nothingness that Terry Eagleton identified with the Death Drive – a desire hinted in Nazi extermination. (5)

Genociders.

Richard Rechtman traces Daesh’s practice, from the creation of disciplinary machine that enforces the Sharia in all aspects of life, to genocide. He calls them simply, “génocidaires” (genociders), who mark a line between the “pure” and the “impure” – eliminating all who are unclean. (La Violence de l’organisation Etat islamique est génocidaire. Le Monde. 28.11.15) Daesh has “deterritorialised” its genocide. The Charlie Hebdo journalists, the Jewish customers of the Hyper-Cacher, the tens of thousands of martyrs in Iraq, Syria and Africa, are murdered for what they “are”.

Daesh, may have grown as a ‘state’ in the wake of the conditions of the Iraqi invasion and the Syrian civil war and the failure of the democratic aspirations on the Arab spring in that region and elsewhere. It may be marked by its genocidal ambitions. But it is clearly part of a much broader current of political Islam. Gilles Kepel has described the search for divine sovereignty in the aftermath of the First World War and the break up of the Ottoman Caliphate. He states that the central Islamist belief is that sovereignty belongs to Allah only. As developed in what are widely considered the founding writings of modern Islamism by the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb during the 1950s, ““The Muslim umma is a collectivity (Jama’a) of people whose entire lives – in their intellectual, social, existential, political, moral and practical aspects – are based on Islamic ethics (mihaj). Thus characterised, this umma ceases to exist if no part of the earth is governed according to the law of God any longer…”(6) The task of Islamists is to restore this society.

Four Horsemen.

Some commentators assert that Daesh is a new millennialist movement, evoking images of a final battle with the forces ranged against Islam. In this it is clearly not alone. Kepel noted a widely shared Islamist list of enemies, signs of the end times: the “ four horsemen of the apocalypse (who) were: ‘Jewry’, the ‘crusade’, ‘communism’ and ‘secularism’.” He continues, “’Jewry’ is the ultimate abomination. The word ‘Jew’ (yahud) is used in indifferently to apply to both Israeli citizens and other Jews. Israeli citizenship, in fact, is seen as merely an attribute of the Jew, defined ontologically on the basis of racial, historical and religious criteria.” As we have just seen, Daesh has found it easy to move from identifying these ‘attributes’ to calls for genocide. (7)

From the 1928 foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan-Al-Banna, already stamped with hostility to democratic “division”, to Qubt’s ideas, and to the present-day forms of Salafism, Al-Qaeda and Daesh, Islamism is no longer “one” politics or ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood is said to have developed an Islamist ‘constitutionalism’, which incorporates a degree of popular consultation underneath of the rule of religious experts. The Islamic State of Iran is totalitarian in some respects (no political freedom for parties that are not Islamic, interference in private lives, mass political killings) but has a degree of “pluralism” within its oligarchy.  Saudi Arabia is totalitarian but traditional, a ‘kingdom’. Boko Haram is genocidal in way that parallels movements of ethnic extermination. Somalian Islamists are war-lords – a pattern repeated on a smaller scale amongst the smaller Syrian movements. Al Qaeda has attempted to wage a global war to defend the “umma” from Western aggression, although its affiliate in Syria, Al-Nusra, appears fixed on creating something not dissimilar to Daesh, the reign of men working in the Shadow of god over the country. Daesh may be said to be “glocal” – global and local – fighting across the world, and restoring the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria (Genèse du dijhadisme. Nabil Mouline. Le Monde Diplomatique. December 2015).

These are only some indications that Daesh is not cut off from the mainstream of Islamism. Perhaps, if we wish to clarify the nature of these forms of actually existing Islamism, it would be better to use the broad expression “totalitarian” to describe them. We have seen how ‘fascism’ is not a useful term in itself – only to help highlight some common features and to make differences stand out. Specifically no form of Islamism is organised around what Claude Lefort called an “Egocrat” – a Fascist or Nazi ruler who lays down the interests of the Volk or Nation, or the Stalinist ‘Marxist-Leninist’ line. Lefort, abstractly and probably too generally, cited the breaking of a division between civil and political society, and mechanisms to make world ‘transparent’ to the Eye of the Egocrat’s rule. There is no protection against terror; ‘law’ is a constantly shifting game of paranoia and factional dispute. (8)

Islamism has led to new forms of totalitarianism. Worship of state power, and the organic unity of the community have different sources. They could be said to try to restore a pre-modern unity of unquestioned belief and society. But if their sights are set on ‘otherworldly’ goals, they have the presence of scripture, the Qur’an, to rule intermundane existence; they have a ‘law’, the Sharia, which binds the “umma” together without class or other division. This is, as Mann states, a political religion, reliant on modern mechanisms of power to achieve its aims. All wish to encourage virtue, and punish vice, not only by preaching but also by physical coercion. Not only the divine state but god is said to peer into the private lives and minds of their subjects. It can be considered, in its materialised shape, as a political religion wrapped in totalitarian mechanisms.

Contradictions.

The contradictions within the forms of Islamist totalitarianism are marked. How far can they restore the Golden Age of Islam? Maxime Rodinson signaled the problems any form of political Islam faces in trying to reconcile ‘justice’ with the recreation of the mercantile capitalism idealised in their portrait of the early years of the Prophet’s rule (Islam and Capitalism. 1973). This ideal looks even more absurd, amongst the oil, contraband and extortion revenues of the Islamic State.  And what of their ‘moral’ regulation. Islamists insist on the subordinate but cherished place of women, but only some wish to recreate the benign forms of slavery practiced in early Islam. They show degrees of intolerance towards non-believers, the ‘impure’, from accepting the rights of lesser faiths to exist, to Daesh’s programme of all out war. And who indeed has the right to make the rules of the state, from commerce to administration. Is this to be decided by their own reading or by the studies of learned scholars, skilled in deciphering ancient manuscripts?

Is Islamism related to a crisis of capitalist development, its ‘uneven’ growth and the failure of democratic or nationalist regimes to govern in countries with a majority Muslim population? If this is so, it is the case for all political movements in, to start with, the contemporary Middle East. Efforts to claim that it some kind of “diverted” form of class struggle tend to rely on the notion that an ideal ‘revolutionary’ movement is just waiiting there, ready to leap forward when the time is right.

But what is Islamism’s class basis? From the pious bourgeoisie that backs the various wings of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Turkish AKP, the ‘popular’ masses who see in them a rampart against the destructive effects of the modern world and globalisation, to those fearing rival Muslim – Shiite – bands in Iraq to the ‘dislocated’ individuals prepared to martyr others for their own glory – about the only clear thing we can say is that it is not the working class in the traditional or “globalised” sense of neo-liberalism.  If it is opposed to class struggle and its ‘anti-capitalism’ goes with capitalist economics – with Islamic ‘justice’ – these are not salient points in its politics.The key issue remains ‘divine’ sovereignty against secular authority, either democratic or authoritarian.

Islamism, as we have stated, is not ‘one’ movement. There are major and irreconcilable rivalries between those pursing a ‘Gramscian’ strategy of winning ideological hegemony on the road to power, and those who use terror. Above all, there are fights within material organisations, the Islamic State, the ‘micro-powers’ within communities – ‘radical’ Mosques, Islamist and Salafist associations, Islamic courts, official or unofficial, and the Einsatzgruppen prepared to kill across the planet. These are all part of the wider Islamist ‘mouvance’. To claim that there are sharp distinctions between the distinct elements is to ignore the areas of convergence, notably the practice of violently enforcing a code personal mores – which extends to these small-scale centres across the world, including Europe.

Islamist totalitarianism is a real political threat, not an ‘ontological’ evil, a rent in the world, the tragic side of history. Nor is the problem limited to  nihilistic warriors. These forms of totalitarianism have material weight. They are a major political challenge. They are deeply opposed to the notion of ‘human’ rights, the bedrock ideology of most sections of the left, from liberalism to the defenders of workers’ democracy.

Fight Against Islamism.

Those who make alliances with the ‘moderate’ wings of Islamism align with the enemies of socialism and liberal freedoms.  Those who state that they stand with the Islamists ‘against’ the State or ‘against’ imperialism’ are collaborating with our worst enemies. But there are not only attempts at compromise and accommodation, or leftist manipulation in the belief that the experience of the ‘struggle’ will win their new friends over to their side. A fight is developing, from the fighters of the Kurdish led groups in Syria, to the democrats, leftists and secularists combating Islamism on the ground across the world. Our objective is free societies, in which the democratic movement for socialism can organise, develop and win power. In this battle there is one force we cannot rely on: the Western powers, locked into an alliance with totalitarian Islamist Saudi Arabia and with the authoritarian Islamists of Turkey.

Human rights are universal: they are not subordinate to political calculation in the conflicts unfolding in the Middle East. The popular struggle against Islamism is only beginning.

*****
(1) Pages 157 – 159. On Evil. Terry Eagleton. Yale University Press. 2010.
(2) See: The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. Leon Trotsky. Pathfinder Press. 1972.
(3) Page 16. Fascists. Michael Mann. Cambridge University Press. 2004.
(4) Page 373. Mann Op cit.
(5) Page 374. Mann Op cit.
(6) Page 112. Eagleton Op cit.
(7) Page 43. The Roots of Radical Islam. Gilles Kepel. Saqi. 2005
(8) Page 113. Gilles Kepel Op cit.
(9) Essais sur le (yes it is ‘le’) politique. Claude Lefort. Seuil 1986. Un Homme en trop. Réflexions sur l’Archipel du Goulag. Claude Lefort. Belin. 2015 (1976).