By Dr Saulat Nagi
September 05, 2012
Taliban in their heyday, as guests of UNOCAL, were equally staunch Reaganites as their mentors (the Saudis) have always been
After the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab regions were ruled by different tribes in isolation from the western world, unintegrated with international market capitalism. The existence of a central government was a distant dream till 1925 when the West realized their importance as energy havens. Ibn Saud, after being forced to concede the territory of Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain to Britain, was recognized as the King of Nejd and Hejaz, but it wasn’t yet the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In February 1945, Roosevelt formally embraced Abdulaziz aboard his ship Quincy afloat in the Red sea. “Oil, God and real estate,” as Rachel Bronson put it, “fell into easy warm agreement.” Capital laid the puritanical (Wahhabi) Islam to rest.
During the Cold War era, the Arab world had its movements of enlightenment though most had nothing to do with religion. On the contrary, they found themselves inspired by the Soviet revolution. Arab nationalism and emerging capitalism portrayed itself in the shape of Nasserism and Ba’athism. Without having the necessary material conditions to build socialism, these movements under Soviet patronage lost their progressive character and turned into oligarchies. Their internal contradictions, in addition to the aggression and expansion of Israel, led to their downfall that resultantly gave an impetus to political Islam. The state of Israel owes its existence not only to the trade routes earmarked by the imperial forces for their hegemony, but also the vast hydrocarbon resources found in the Middle East. This was the only state that could maintain destabilisation in this area to the benefit of western imperialism. The working class Jew was once again cheated; instead of Nazi Germany whose role the Israeli state biblically emulates, the predator this time around was the US. The oppression carried out by the Zionist state on the Palestinians helped foster the resentment amongst the Arabs. Its initial yet potent response was the emergence of liberal, progressive and even Marxist forces (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine founded by George Habash). However, massive US-Israeli repression and the demise of the Soviet Union consequently provided the required space and spur to political Islam. The US aggression against Iraq and Afghanistan has complicated the situation even further, leaving the common folk with a falsified impression that the US is an enemy of Islam rather than being hostile to the international working class.
The presence of religious political parties of the ilk of the Muslim Brotherhood is the consequence of a continued void that has prevailed ever since the Left was stymied. In Pakistan and the Middle East, in the past such parties had no substantial vote bank, and hence were never considered a phenomenon worthy of note, although they always had a nuisance value. For their survival, these parties were dependent more on the hypocrisy and political expediency of the ruling classes, which wanted to present them to the imperialist bloc as a lesser evil than the Left, a threat, a catastrophic alternative to their tin-pot dictatorship subservient to western interests and hegemony. Till recently, this premise has proved right. In Turkey, the Justice and Development Party won the elections and were immediately assimilated into the power structure by the secular army and the west. Consequently, the Islamists fancied their chances in the rest of the Muslim world. A calculated change of face in Egypt brought the Brotherhood to power. Again, this was not merely by chance. In both countries, as one would expect, the Islamists have neither altered the property relations nor challenged western hegemony. In fact, within the capitalist order that they’ve embraced so gleefully, they are confronting and competing with other states over their share of power and influence. With the exception of a few rituals, their political Islam neither provides a defined Islamic jurisprudence nor a scholastic content that could present an alternative to the current global capitalist system. Once in power, it has lost the sheen of fundamentalist fervour, if at all there was any. It cannot do otherwise since religion, despite all its slogan-mongering about the dispossessed, is incapable of providing any economic system. Even the inflexible Islam of Khomeini, a restoration rather than a revolution, neither had the desire nor the stomach to transcend capitalist relations of production. The Taliban in their heyday, as guests of UNOCAL, were equally staunch Reaganites as their mentors (the Saudis) have always been. The confrontational posture adopted against the west by Iran and the Taliban has more to do with the denial of the imperial powers to negotiate a peaceful settlement for their hegemony rather than for ideological reasons.
In essence, religions are neither fundamentalist nor terrorist. Akin to legal, cultural and political relations, they too are merely an expression of the dominant relations (of production) in a given society. In a society, the material changes in the conditions of production such as moving from manual labour to machine (mechanized) labour, from feudalism to capitalism (economic base or the structure), can be seen and measured with mathematical precision. However, the ways and means — religious, legal and cultural (superstructure) — through which people gain consciousness about the nature of their struggle, and ultimately find their expression, can be variable to the extent of being prosaic. Religion “being the sigh of the oppressed creature” is a tangible reality, but fundamentalism — the other name for political Islam — can merely be defined as negative consciousness. The former has its social content and socio-political objectives rooted in the economic conditions of contemporary society, whereas the latter is the consequence of dwindling hegemony of the ruling feudal-cum-capitalist classes, prevalent anarchy in global capitalism and the post-Soviet political-ideological vacuum. Political Islam is a right-wing alternative for the reorganisation of bourgeois rule to confront the working class.
(To be continued)
Dr Saulat Nagi is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org