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Issue #1669      January 21, 2015

Culture & Life

At war with Islam?

The French Prime Minister apparently said in the wake of the barbarous attack on the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, “France is at war with Islam”. But is that in fact the case?

The murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have given excuses and justification to repressive governments all around the globe. And that was the actual goal, even if they themselves were unaware of it.

France is an imperialist power, and the imperialist powers have used – and abused – Islam for a great many years. The Christian empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary allied themselves with the Islamic Turkish Empire in preparing for the great trade war that would become known as WW1.

Their opponents, France, Britain and Russia, who also claimed that God was on their side, numbered many Islamic populations among their imperial possessions, especially in North Africa and Central Asia.

When it suited them, as for instance when they were trying to rally opposition to Revolutionary change in the former Russian Empire after 1917 or in France, Italy and Spain’s North African possessions during the guerrilla wars of liberation in the 1930s through the 1950s, they would happily pose as the champions of extreme bigotry and religious intolerance.

Any religion would do if it had a fundamentalist section that could be riled up with appeals to “defend our way of life” against the atheistic, Godless Communists.

Both Christianity and Islam, at similar stages of their development, have regarded women as the property of their masculine superiors, and have fought strenuously, even viciously, to prevent women from breaking out of those social shackles. The brutal treatment of women in Britain campaigning for the right to vote or the deadly treatment of women in Central Asia who had the temerity to discard the veil in the 1920s is almost identical.

We are not talking here about discarding the delicate piece of gauze that adorns the face of “harem girls” in Hollywood films, but a horsehair veil like a rigid tent that hid the woman from the top of her head to the ground. It took remarkable courage to discard these symbols of “woman as property”; it frequently got the woman killed for her courage. Killed by male relatives who claimed they had been “dishonoured” but who were really upset that by her actions “their” woman had lowered her value, and that reflected badly on them.

The liberation of women was one of the greatest achievements of the Revolution, not just in the former Russian empire but, in the decades after the Revolution, throughout the colonial world. The first woman to discard the veil in Egypt for example was a Communist.

Most religions depend for their success on being the defenders of the common people, of the poor, the oppressed, the defenceless. Imperialism on the other hand regards these sectors of society as so much disposable dross, consumers at best, cannon fodder or slaves at worst.

The blatant anti-people policies of imperialism have allowed populist movements, especially those of a nationalistic character, to gain ground in certain countries at certain times. In Iran, for example, at the time of the overthrow of the Shah. Ayatollah Khomeini could quite rightly label the USA as “the Great Satan”, but the lessons he drew from it were wrong and plunged Iran into a dark chapter.

He was wrong because he did not analyse imperialism’s actions from a class perspective, and so could not see accurately the causes and the effects of the actions of imperialist governments. Attributing the actions of the USA, Britain, France or any other imperialist country, great or small, to religion (or the lack of it) is to make a fundamental error.

Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism. It cares nothing for religion, except as a tool that can be used to achieve – and protect – its profits. Consequently, its intelligence services can be arranging training and arms deliveries to Islamic fundamentalists even as its military are bombing those same fundamentalists.

There is no contradiction here: they are merely keeping a useful conflict going. In the Middle East, ISIS is seriously damaging Syria and helping to break up Iraq potentially into several easily controlled mini-states. In Europe, the UK, North America and Australia, the actions of “Islamic terrorists” – thoroughly brainwashed and indoctrinated – are used to justify the discarding of democratic rights and the imposition of draconian laws so clearly intended to oppress ordinary people that they would never dare to be put forward without the excuse of “a grave terror threat”.

But if you look at where this threat originated, it is clearly a threat designed and engineered by those same imperialist governments that govern on behalf of the biggest corporations, the corporations that are out to corner the world’s energy resources, its dominant food production businesses, its water supply companies.

They are out to rule the world, and if any of us little people get in the way, we will be trampled underfoot. And if religion is of use in that trampling, then they will use religion. And they will stand with head bowed at the floral tributes to victims of the forces they themselves let loose for their own profit, and they will solemnly swear to stamp out this “scourge” and never to give in to “the terrorists”.

But they know that terrorism is the weapon not of the poor but of the extreme Right, of the oppressor classes, of the exploiters and employers. The actual perpetrators might be poor, uneducated, might even be filled with a fervent desire to strike a blow for the poor and oppressed. But their fervour is being used to bolster the position of the rich and the powerful.

It was ever thus. The anarchists who threw bombs at the Tsar merely provided the Ochrana with excuses for arresting and torturing (and executing) opponents of autocracy. The murderers of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists have given excuses and justification to repressive governments all around the globe. And that was the actual goal, even if they themselves were unaware of it.

Imperialism is not at war with Islam. It is at war with the working people of the world. Misguided Islamists are merely one of its weapons.

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