By Dr Saulat Nagi
September 04, 2012
The expression of Islamic fundamentalism, or for that matter any religious fundamentalism, is altogether grotesque. It is a calculated rightwing interpretation
Terminologies and notions do not thrive in a vacuum. They owe their origins to certain causes, if not concrete motives, that terminate only after attempting to accomplish predetermined ends. In the mid-1980s, terms such as obscurantism, extremism and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ were interred from the caverns of history, thereby giving a new lease of life to the chagrin of enlightened minds. This period overlapped with a stagnating, rather a staggering Soviet economy. The west was overawed to see the eagerness with which its foe was committing hara-kiri, a self-abnegation and annihilation unparalleled in the history of mankind. The Soviet empire was falling like a house of cards. The thought of losing an enemy — formidable or otherwise — presented as an animus for more than half a century was a serious cause of concern for the capitalist system that demands blood and iron for its survival. Following on the same premise, the demise of state capitalism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe did not augur well for those countries and social classes that were financed by global capitalism to oppose the ‘socialist’ mode of production, South Korea, West Germany and Japan, as examples. All of a sudden, they had outlived their utility and now their future role needed to be redefined. The exposure to unsullied European and Russian markets had created quite a dilemma for capitalism: a devastating struggle for hegemony within the capitalist block, lunging it back to the pre-World War era of open hostilities or else a peaceful re-organisation of its exploits by evolving a mechanism through which all stakeholders could be gratified. Due to the US’s economic might, the latter solution was imposed. A bigger share of the markets (along with the status of a global hegemony) was awarded to the US while the rest was divided amongst the other capitalist states. For integration of the world capitalist market, and to maintain its dominance, the role of NATO was expanded beyond its mandate. Seemingly, all was settled peacefully, although the anarchy inherent in capitalism irrevocably proved its nemesis. Over-production and loss of profit, not to mention the incongeniality of imposing wage cuts during peacetime, compelled it to find markets in pre-capitalist areas.
Capitalism needs an enemy for its accumulation and realisation. In the post-Cold War era, in order to utilise the accumulated piles of weapons and ammunition and pave the way for its reproduction, invention of an invisible enemy with a blurry face and hazy fence was considered as an appropriate substitute for the former foe. Hence, in pre-capitalist societies, akin to Pakistan, Afghanistan and many countries in the Middle East, a tendency towards a puritanical form of belief was encouraged. The dominant ideological, political and cultural trends of imperialism propped up political Islam. Societies are not alien to political religions. These artificially created religious forces keep lurking at their fringes, though they normally remain anaemic and in limbo. Leaving the US exception aside, which is deeply religious and equally reactionary, even the most secular western societies are not immune to it. The ruling Christian Democratic Union of Germany is one such example that continues to persist with a nomenclature that is not commensurate with its political character. In the west, the presence of priests, churches, philanthropic movements such as the Salvation Army, etc, allude to the fact that capitalism does not mind preserving the caves of ignorance, though eclipsed by science in an atmosphere uncongenial to their survival (if not altogether hostile).
In countries with a Muslim majority, the religious industry has always been tolerated for at least two reasons: to decimate the Marxist forces and to provide an instrument to the west to befool and horrify its own people in times of need. In the Cold War era, it thrived, although meekly, under the covert guardianship of the ruling classes in connivance with the west. Against the Soviets in Afghanistan, they were allowed a free rein wherein they proved instrumental in “defeating a government” that according to William Blum was “committed to bringing the extraordinarily backward nation into the twentieth century.” In the post-Cold War era, the western powers constructed and promoted the vague expression of fundamentalism to delineate and discern the western-friendly political Islamic movements from the non-conformist ones. The spoon-fed extremism was now coming home to roost; the enemy was taking a definable shape. The west always lived cosily with every kind of religious extremism; the US-Saudi cordiality is a case in point. But now it was different. Realisation of capital necessitated fragmentation of Islam into enlightened and obscurantist sections. Yet another gimmickry, an exercise in deceit! However, the line that separates them is rather blurry as in a given condition one complements the other. Hence, the expression of Islamic fundamentalism, or for that matter any religious fundamentalism, is altogether grotesque. It is a calculated rightwing interpretation coined merely to impose the same primitive, decayed and crumbling order upon the people in the guise of one form of religion or another. Having no economic structure of its own, it is in fact a continuation of the existing order. A severe economic distress can help foster such a reaction amongst people. The tribal ethics of the dark ages without nullifying existing property relations are sometimes likely to fascinate and mislead those people who have no answer to their economic woes to return to their ‘glorious past’. The concepts of nation and religion may prove instrumental as a unifying force. Such a movement, if developed, has the potential of conflating all the dissenting voices into one expression, that of fascism — religious or political — thereby resulting in an extremely reactionary cross-class movement that fits the interests of the big bourgeoisie. Indeed, it acts as an instrument to quell the intense class struggle simmering beneath the surface.
Having a penchant for terminologies offered by the ruling classes, the capitalist intellectuals enthusiastically embrace them. But, alas, the politics in any society is conditioned by the struggle of real social forces having a material existence, not by jargon. Such abstractions tend to turn an objective process into a subjective description. There is a tendency in the western media and among the apologists of political Islam to equate it with liberation theology that was at one time in vogue in Latin America. However, instead of theologies based on liberation, human beings need to be liberated from theologies that enchain their minds. It can be argued that in various Muslim-dominated countries, such movements of political Islam were, to begin with at least, a reflection of the struggle for national liberation. However, one must not forget that within these movements, the economic factor, and power struggles between the privileged and the dispossessed always remained a dominant feature. It is equally imperative to distinguish between Arabian Islam and Arab imperialism as well as the historic relation between the two through which the hegemonic Muslim empire evolved, an empire, which under objective compulsions, became a replica of the Byzantine Empire.
(To be continued)
Dr Saulat Nagi is based in Australia and has authored books on socialism and history. He can be reached at email@example.com