Last month almost entire Muslim world witnessed protests of varying sizes. What triggered these protests was the short internet version of a film (The Innocence of Muslims) which is clearly based on Islamophobia containing insult and contempt against Islam and its prophet. That this freak film which is worthless from both an artistic and intellectual point of view has had such repercussions and caused a million times more reaction than it deserves, provides important clues about the nature of the period we are passing through.
It is a clear fact that this film is an imperialist provocation, that the main actors to blame for this provocation are the imperialist warmongers in the US and Israel. However they are not alone in this provocation to tell the truth. Actually the film did not arouse any interest for a long time and tended to fade away despite all efforts of the sponsors, distributors, and promoters in the internet. The film was first presented to the audience in a cinema in Los Angeles in June and there could not be any further screening despite all attempts. After that the owners dubbed the film into Arabic and put this version in the internet. But again the result was a complete failure! At last the man comes out of Egypt who was able to make this provocative film achieve “success”. Sheikh Khaled Abdallah, who is doing a show in an Islamic satellite TV channel, Al-Nas, based in Egypt, “discovers” the film. A suspicious man with shady connections, he broadcasts parts of the film on 8 September and called on Muslims to protest the film, pointing towards Christians (Copts) in Egypt! Thus the protests started and became widespread. While in some countries they were peaceful ones, in others there were violent clashes where tens of people were killed. Coincided also with the anniversary of 11 September, the most striking was of course the one in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador was killed. Then the protests tended to fade away with the help of the calls of Islamist governments for “calm”.
This provocation has neither been the first of its kind nor will be the last. Before its repercussions came to an end now those cartons mocking the protests against the film and containing sexual insinuations about the prophet of Islam are being published in France under the guise of “freedom of thought”. And the billboards in New York subway are decorated with Islamophobic posters portraying Palestinians and thus Muslims as savages. And this happens with the approval of US supreme court. In the posters it says: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.”
It is not difficult to see that Islamophobic attempts that portray all the people in Muslim countries without distinction as barbarian, ignorant, backward, impatient, intolerant, irrational, primitive, willing to be provoked by any agent will keep on increasing and be more reckless. It is possible to outline the goals that are intended by this racist and fascist approach. First, to help psychologically and ideologically legitimise military intervention to the Middle East which occupies a key place in the current imperialist carve-up. Second, to break the unity of the western working class by targeting the immigrants in western countries coming from Muslim countries and provide a stronger ground for fascist demagogy.
Islamophobia as a vehicle of imperialist intervention
US imperialism’s designs about Syria and Iran are no secret. It is also clear that these designs cannot be implemented through peaceful-diplomatic ways. However, in order to launch military attacks against the two countries the public opinion needs to be manipulated by every possible means and persuaded to give their consent for a war. And this brings along every kind of imperialist conspiracy, false news and forged intelligence reports along with an ideological war. There is no big imperialist war that is not guised by various ideological justifications. In the case of the First Imperialist World War some imperialist powers put forward the lie that they were fighting for liberation of colonial peoples. The Second World War was presented as an anti-fascist war for freedom and democracy. And the current new big imperialist war, though it is not yet very much generalised and spread over, is presented as against “international terrorism” for freedom and democracy and its ideological background is formed by the thesis “Clash of Civilisations”. And for the time being the poles of this “clashing civilisations” are constructed as Islam and the West. Accordingly, in the “Western” world hostility towards Islam (Islamophobia) is recklessly pumped by the Western bourgeoisie, and its political agents, who pose as modern and civilised.
Islamophobia justifies imperialist attempts to eliminate “the danger and threat” by portraying Muslims as dangerous people. Moreover, by presenting Muslims as barbarian, they normalise and rationalise massacring of hundreds of thousands of them in imperialist interventions. Thus, while hundreds of thousands of people massacred in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine are nothing more than numbers on paper and covered in the media in this way, any “civilised westerner” who lost their life in an attack by Islamist organisations will be presented as a valuable person with a story behind. The way Palestinians waging struggle against Israel are perceived in this “civilised” world is a good demonstration of this fact.
As the justified reaction against Islamophobic provocations in Muslim countries are dragged towards the framework of hostility towards the West (which the provocateurs exactly anticipated), Islamophobic demagogy in Western countries is helped. Thus religious and sectarian differences can more easily be instigated and military interventions of imperialists in the region in the “humanitarian” guise will be easier. It is certain that in a climate where scenes of angry crowds with turbans, robes, long beards attacking embassies, vandalizing are aired again and again, the ordinary people in the West would be frightened and develop a sense of being under threat. It goes without saying that those people who feel under threat would be more willing to approve and justify any attack against this threat.
Particularly the picture of the demonstrations spearheaded by radical Islamist groups will help and justify the imperialist-militarist discourse that suggests that the “Arab Spring” has got out of hand, that it is necessary to intervene in these groups, attack Iran and Syria without being too late, reshape the Middle East and Islamic world immediately, etc.. And Israel who certainly has a finger in this provocation gained an important opportunity to narrow the distance between them and the Obama administration, put more pressure on him and accelerate the process of attacking Iran. Those who staged this provocation seem to have attained their goal in this respect.
Moreover, thanks to this the US imperialism forces the conservative or overtly Islamist governments and forces to suppress, or bring under a tighter control, this sort of Islamist groups and movements that are out of control of imperialism or tend to become so. And, under this pressure, these native bourgeois forces immediately set out to issue calls for calm and bring these movements under a tighter control. Turkish prime-minister’s calls in that vein, fatwa by the Saudi Mufti that emphasize friendship with the USA, and that the Libyan government set out to disarm Islamic militias, these are all to be considered as examples of this fact. One of the most striking of these is that Fethullah Gulen and his order were hasty in expressing their condolences for the US ambassador who were killed in Libya. These men, who always talk of Islamic brotherhood misleading poor toilers, have been exposed to be stooges of imperialism in this occasion.
Islamophobia as the ground for fascist demagogy
As the economic crisis and imperialist scramble for division get aggravated imperialist countries step up security measures against class struggle to rise in these countries, enact new anti-democratic laws, and step up their efforts to divide the working class. In this respect, Islamophobia which is being instigated in the US and EU is becoming an important lever in the internal politics in these countries. Thus a perception of danger and threat arising from Islam, not only as an outside factor but also an inside factor, is being created. And this time Muslim immigrants living in imperialist metropolitan cities are being targeted. While new practices and bans offending Muslims are being introduced, new obstacles are being erected in front of the revolutionary struggle of the working class on the basis of these restrictions. On the other hand, in their attacks against Muslim immigrants fascist gangs are rehearsing their counter-revolutionary mission they will introduce in the future. At present Islamophobia has replaced anti-semitism which used to be the popular discourse of the fascist ideology and it has a much greater potential to create a bigger effect.
In this respect European Marxists have before them the task to struggle against racism, hostility towards immigrants and Islamophobia. To evade from this task one way or another will mean to evade from the task of struggling against the fascist threat and imperialist war. “It is necessary for Marxists to be extremely sensitive on religious oppression, discrimination and differences which are potentially much more discriminating, ossified and difficult to fade away. It is one of the tasks of the revolutionary political struggle to be on the alert all the time and wage a systematic struggle against any discriminative, humiliating, prohibitive, insulting practices against religious minorities. A revolutionary movement which does not fulfil its tasks on this question will not be much convincing in defending the fraternity of peoples and proletarian internationalism especially in the eyes of the working masses of the oppressed minority or nation. That means that socialists in Europe have before themselves the task of systematic struggle against Islamophobia. The task of struggling against rising racism and Islamophobia is in fact part of the task of struggling against fascism. However those are not rare in the European left who underestimate the danger of fascism, considering it a thing of the darkness of the past, which is considered a nightmare not to be experienced ever again. And they call themselves Marxist.” (Oktay Baran, “Minare Yasağı, İslamofobi ve Görevlerimiz” [“Banning Minarets, Islamophobia and Our Tasks”], MT, no:58)
Today it is difficult to say that European socialist and working-class movement fulfils this task adequately. Moreover, some would-be socialist groups in addition to trade-union bureaucracy do not raise their voice against anti-democratic, discriminative, insulting practices against minorities, immigrants and Muslims, and in some cases they even defend such practices with incredible arguments. It is not a good sign at all that the attitude of those socialists who back headscarf ban on account of woman rights or consider the reaction against Islamophobic provocations as “unnecessary and extreme” on account of “freedom of speech”. Those who bend the stick towards “the task of struggle” against religion instead of developing a struggle against Islamophobia, ignoring the difference between the oppressor and oppressed, are suffering from political myopia to say the least, ignoring the fact that they live in imperialist countries which are the colonialist powers of the past having the blood of Muslim peoples as well as others in their hands. This attitude amounts to helping imperialism.
There is no doubt that Marxists defend freedom of speech as a fundamental democratic right. In general there is no acceptable side of the attempts to suppress the right to criticise religion, religious philosophy and mysticism in a scientific framework. However it is something completely different to mock religious feelings of people, insult what they deem holy, and, worse still, set out to stage downright provocations on this basis. Both the cartoons crisis and the case of the film have nothing to do with “freedom of speech”. What is at stake is a provocation based on downright humiliation and insult, a reactionary, imperialist attack closely connected with imperialist designs.
Islamophobia and radical political Islam
Every provocation needs not only provocateurs (instigators) but also a mass of people psychologically conditioned to be provoked. Racist fascist provocateurs of the Western world who provide the necessary material in Islamophobic provocations are in no difficulty in inciting the poor Muslim masses thanks to the demagogies of the political Islamist leaderships inviting these provocations. Islamophobics of the Western world and the reactionary milieus of the Islamic world are in fact similar in their general outlook and method. Both of them portray western societies and Muslim world as homogenous communities, united on the basis of religious values, having common interests against the other. For both what is at stake is a clash between “civilisations and cultures”. For both, class divides and polarisations within both communities are either nonexistent or insignificant and irrelevant. They explain tensions and conflicts in their communities and in the world not on the basis of class struggles but as struggles between religions. This outlook obviously serves the interests the bourgeoisie ruling the capitalist world as it both demands the struggle between classes be ended for religious fraternity and leads to dividing of the working classes on the basis of religion and enfeebling it.
Yet the objective reality of the world we live in is in no way compatible with this religious demagogy. There has never been, and will ever be, a lasting compromise between the oppressed and the oppressors, exploited and exploiters in the Muslim world and western world. Entire political history is full of examples of collaboration and complicity of the exploiters and oppressors regardless of their religion against the exploited and oppressed, again, regardless of their religion. And the history of class struggles show that toilers are able to act in unison, organise and wage a common struggle against proprietors, overcoming religious, sectarian, racial, national, ethnic, sexual prejudices and differences especially in periods of rising struggle when class consciousness and organisation is relatively stronger. In fact every big strike reveals germs of this fact. The not so distant example of TEKEL workers fighting for their jobs was a concrete example of this. Another one was in Egypt last year when Mubarak rule was overthrown through mass actions. We witnessed Muslims and Christians fighting shoulder to shoulder. After the fall of Mubarak rule we also witnessed Muslims protecting Copt churches by their bodies when Copts were attacked in provocations to break this unity.
We know that as the Islamophobia poisoning the western working class gains strength, political Islamist demagogy poisoning Muslim toiling masses will also gain strength. Entire Muslim world has suffered dearly from repression, massacres, humiliation, insults, oppression, exploitation, loot, plunder and poverty caused by imperialist powers or other native ruling classes. And these are not just painful memories of the distant past but actual facts imprinted on the consciousness of the working masses experienced on a daily basis. Exploitation and repression strengthened by Islamophobia by foreign and native rulers create a general hostility towards the West and a need to cling more firmly to religious values on the part of toilers in these countries that are backward capitalist countries where religious values are still strong. Islamophobic provocations provide reactionary Islamist leaderships with a golden opportunity to mobilise the masses by abusing this wrong consciousness, recruit new cadres and amass forces. These two currents that are in fact expressions of propertied classes grow as they feed on each other. The relatively easy growth of these currents is due to the low level of working class consciousness and organisation, lack of revolutionary proletarian parties both in the West and Muslim world. And the only way to resolve this dilemma that draws the working masses to blind alleys of religious discrimination, break and exhaust it lies in strengthening class consciousness and organisation.
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