Monday, October 29, 2007

Responding to Left-Liberal Islamophobia

There are two recent articles that are worth a critical read because, while from the secularist-left, they both provide a response to left-liberal Islamophobia. Both articles provide a more complex view of Islamic movements, than some of the other outright Islamophobic liberal-leftists.

The first is by Ali Abunimah, titled Engaging Hamas and Hizballah, and the second is an interview of a Jordanian Marxist, Hisham Bustani.

I'll first comment on some of the assertions made by Hisham Bustani and then, in another post later this week, address some of the issues raised by Ali Abunimah.

Bustani correctly concludes his interview with the following:

" Overall and as a prime desideratum, there is a huge and pressing imperative today for Left unity, of all its currents: the left of the Islamic movement, the left of the nationalist movement, and the left of the leftist progressive and revolutionary movement, on the basis of a program of resistance, liberation, and political clarity. The opposing Right of all those currents is already united and taking action."

Bustani recognizes the importance of the secular left uniting with (the left of) Islamic movements - he appears to have some understanding that the secular left is largely irrelevant, and have only a small, if any, mass base amongst Muslims anywhere in the world.

" Of course, there are also opportunist leftists (NGO beneficiaries and Marxists-turned-liberals) and xenophobic nationalists (with fascist tendencies against Iranians, Kurds, and Turks), but these phenomena are only trivial, since their currents are too weak to take the streets and challenge existing power."

The force and power of the secular left-liberal is amongst the anti-war groupings in the US and Europe, i.e within the heart of the empire. More often than not, these left-liberals (mostly Whites) will give voice to unrepresentative secularists from Muslim majority countries, who will then proceed to demonize Islamic groups in a language similar to the neo-cons. This same language (example: "mullah" and "ayatullah" bashing) is then picked up by the left-liberals, and replayed over and over and over again in articles and at supposedly anti-war talks and events.

Because the secularists do not have a mass base, if there is to be "unity" of the sort that Bustani suggests, then we all must also take into account this relative insignificance of left-liberal groups and individuals. The secularist ideology of small (often elite) minorities cannot be allowed to dictate to a mass that obviously has a far more religious social identity. This is the point, over which, Islamic movements will inevitably clash with secularists. There is no way any self-respecting Muslim will hang out with any secularist-leftist group of individuals, who insist on portraying themselves as superior to a religious faith.

Of-course, the Islamic groups are all not the same, and, as Bustani correctly points out, some are indeed outright opportunists, and so this is not to suggest that Muslims should not also take a critical look at the Islamic movements. But such a critical look must be from within Islam, with a goal of moving the movements towards developing a social justice framework rooted in Islam - not towards an anti-religious secular (separate everything) direction, as has been the opportunistic projects of "moderate/progressive/enlightened moderate" Muslims.

Bustani says:

The second prime project in the Arab region is the Iranian project. Its problematic aspect is that it is not a liberation project, but rather it is predicated on an agenda of expansion with nationalist and sectarian aspects. Although it collides with the U.S. and its imperialist orientation, the Iranian regime's struggle with imperialism is on the basis of benefits and spheres of influence, not geared to a politics of liberation.

There is some truth to what Bustani states, but not entirely: There is no question that there are sections of Iranian politics that are indeed sectarian, but if Iran's support of Hizbullah is any indiction, it also true that the movements that may have been once nurtured by Iran are also by and large independent. Notions that one hears from the left, from time to time, that Iran is in control of all politics of Hizbullah (i.e. making it sectarian) do not jive with how indigenous movements evolve and grow - and the fact that they cannot have such wide popularity, and a huge mass base if they were not indigenous.

If Hizbullah does not have as much of a mass following in Lebanon's Sunni communities, then the finger must be pointed to the sectarianism perpetuated by "Saudi" Arabia that has effectively poisoned (at the behest of the US) Islamic discourse amongst many Sunnis. Indeed it was "Saudi" who, recognizing the threat that the Islamic Revolution of Iran posed to their power, and the wide popularity that it enjoyed amongst large numbers of Sunnis, went into high gear, publishing anti-Shi'a tracts, and books that demonized Imam Khomeni's ideological content. In this respect, they were far more successful than the demonization campaign carried out by the United States, and the lslamophobic left-liberals. Infact, we saw the sectarian demonization by the "Saudis" go into high gear again, immediately after the 33 day war, when Hizbullah had gained wide popularity amongst many Sunnis.

Iran no doubt has its flaws, but the Islamic Revolution - as a "project" was "sectarian" only because Iran is predominately Shi'a --- the actual ideological content is, infact, anti-sectarian. If Iran has more recently veered off this path somewhat, then that is a reflection of internal political struggles and factions. And this is where (as Bustani correctly implies) Muslims also need to identify those currents within Iran, and within Islamic movements that are indeed anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist, and pursue the development of an Islamic vision of a socially just society - that is also not based on narrow nationalisms.

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