Notes towards an analysis of inter-sub-imperialist conflict in the Middle East and the role of Islamic fascism

For many years now, I have been interested in better understanding the rise of Islamic fascism/political Islam as a movement (political, social and military) and its ideology, and thinking about what a revolutionary perspective should be towards said movements/ideology. What appears below is not a well-developed position, but in fact a series of notes that I have started to take in my studies of this topic. There are a series of conceptual problems that any such study has to consider: 1) how should one identify these movements ideologically and politically?; 2) how ought one discuss the role of the Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar which often fund these movements?; and 3) how ought to discuss these movements in the context of imperialism and capitalism as a whole? As I said, these are notes and I do not have clear answers for any of these questions.

1: I realise that the casual observer will find my use of the term “Islamic fascism” troubling inasmuch that it is a term that is most commonly affiliated to far-right discourses. However, the term, despite its currently dubious currency, especially in the context of the “war on terror”, is useful inasmuch that it reminds us that we are in fact dealing with a reactionary ideological movement which has often targeted quite brutally all opponents including revolutionary leftists. Also, it is vital that we remember that the people must directly harmed in their attacks are other Muslims. Furthermore, I have never hesitated in my political work to speak of Christian fascism (the Bush regime, for example), or Hindu fascism (the BJP in India), and thus feel the term can be extended to political Islamic variants inasmuch that they exhibit all of the same traits. I would like to make it clear that I am not speaking about all Muslims, or even a majority of them, but admittedly a large section of them as will become evident from the list I develop below. The size of this movement should seriously give us pause inasmuch that it begs the question: why has the left been unable to make any in-roads in these countries? Many will argue that it is dangerous to use the term because of the prevalence of Islamophobia in the centres of imperialism, however, as I think will be demonstrated below, the rise of Islamic fascist movements has been closely related to the sub-imperialist interests of a few states like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iran. I, however, do recognise that the big exception to this of course is the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

2: I am tentatively inclined to argue that today one can regard Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to be sub-imperialist powers that are currently engaged in varying levels of inter-sub-imperialist conflict. This conflict is not only “cold”, but is actually quite hot in a number of countries, including: 1) Iraq; 2) Syria; 3) Egypt etc. However, I do realise that the term “sub-imperialist” typically is not used in the Maoist milieu, with most groups preferring to use either “imperialist” for countries like Russia, or “expansionist” for countries like India or Brazil. I would be very interested to know what people think about this. I intended to read a lot more about sub-imperialism in the coming months before settling on a properly scientific concept.

3: Regarding the relationship between these movements and imperialism, it seems to me that there is a danger in rendering the problematic to simplistic “clash of civilisations” model in which, to use the terms of the debate on this very theme a few years ago between the International Socialist Organization (USA) and the RCP,USA, McWorld vs. jihad. Indeed, the RCP,USA was correct to point out that we as revolutionaries must pick neither and articulate another road: a revolutionary road that emphases the need for New Democratic Revolution. Indeed, it becomes vital to side with progressive and communist revolutionaries in these countries, and hope that they grow and develop into viable alternatives. However, before we can get to that step we need to examine how jihad fits into the world imperialist system, hence the importance of the question of sub-imperialism and imperialism.

Anyways, here are some notes that I have taken on the specific tendencies that exist in Islamic fascism:

2 main political-ideological factions in Salafi Jihadism (variant of Sunni Islam):

1. Muslim Brotherhood (Ideologues: Hassan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb): Important groups in Palestine (Hamas), Egypt (Muslim Brotherhood); Bahrain (Al Menbar); Jordan (Islamic Action Front; supported political change in 2011 and has since become estranged from the monarchy); Iraq (Islamic Party; current Iraqi VP is a member); Saudi Arabia (Muslim Brotherhood; has significant influence in the educational and cultural spheres of the country and is considered one of the most significant potential threats to the monarchy. It had a falling out with the Saudi regime when it promoted political reforms in the country in 2002, and disputes over the policy towards the Iraq war. In 2014 declared a terrorist organisation by the Saudi government). Present in serval other countries like: Islamic Group (Lebanon); Hadas (Kuwait), Justice and Construction Party (Libya); National Congress (Sudan); Al-Islah (Yemen). Important to note that while Qatar supported the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, it has recently expelled the Muslim Brotherhood from the country because of their advocacy for democratic government reforms.

2. Wahhabism (Ideologues: Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Sayyid Qutb): Ruling ideology of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Is promoted internationally by the Muslim World League which is funded by the Saudi government and spreads the message around the world. The Saudi government through its Wahhabi network is able to spread its political influence. Wahhabism splits into two significant trends: starting in the early 1990s: Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda decide that they no longer need to look to the Saudi monarchy for political and religious leadership, although there continues to be a convergence of interests. Furthermore, the Saudis continue to allow for the movement of monies, support and people to groups like the different Al-Qaeda affiliates, despite the monarchy formally disavowing support for the organisation. Indeed, the Saudi government is caught in a balancing act between its own regional sub-imperialist aspirations which require American military support, but simultaneously rely on the Wahhabi networks – which are anti-American – for domestic stability. The Saudi’s also initially supported ISIS but stopped because of ISIS’s own claims to political sovereignty in Saudi Arabia. Qatar more recently has supported its own armed-military groups, namely: Al-Nusrah Front (Syria)

a. Saudi Arabia

Political supporters: Al-Nour Party (Egypt); Islamic Salafi Alliance (Kuwait); Taliban (Afghanistan), Al Asalah (Bahrain);

Financial-military support: Fatah al-Islam (Lebanon and Syria); Lakshar-e-Taiba (Pakistan); Al- Shabab (Somalia); Boko Haram (Chad, Niger and Cameroon); Caucus Emirate (Russia); Al-Qaeda affilitates

b. Al-Qaeda (Ideologues: Sayyid Qutb and Ayman al-Zawahiri): Al-Qaeda broke formally from the Saudi government due to the latter’s support for the US invasion of Iraq. Although the organisation has formally broken from the Saudi government, it continues to receive the majority of its funding from Saudi Arabia, and the Saudi government has tacitly permitted this. It is affiliated to: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Algeria);  Ansaru (Nigeria; splinter from Boko Haram); Al-Mourabitoun (Mali); Al-Shabab (Somalia)

c. Islamic State (Ideologues: Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Sayyid Qutb and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi): a split from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula due to disputes around areas of operation, leadership and strategy. Strategic differences included Al-Qaeda simply wanting to goad the Americans into attacking Muslim states; the Islamic State wanted to build a territorial state piece of land by piece of land. Currently has territory in Iraq, Syria and possibly eastern Libya. Also has active members in Algeria, Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The Islamic State has a military alliance with the Baathist “Military Council for Iraqi Revolutionaries” and the Sufi “Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation” (these two groups are Baathist in political orientation and this alliance is opportunist).

1 main political ideological faction in Shia Jihadism:

1. Islamic State of Iran (ideologue: Ruhollah Khomeini): Ruling ideology of the Iranian government. The Iranian government, like the Saudis, has supported and armed groups in the region to broaden its own sub-imperialist influence in countries with a sizeable Shia population. Furthermore, it tried to provoke armed uprisings in countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the 1980’s, although it does not seem to be operating in those countries anymore.

Political supporters: Al-Muwatin (Iraq); Al-Sadiqoun Bloc (Iraq); Islamic Dawa Party (Iraq; limited because of political disagreements);

Financial-military support: Hezbollah (Lebanon); Promised Day Brigades (Iraq); Asa’in Ahl al-Haq (Iraq); Kata’ib Hezbollah (Iraq); Islamic Jihad (Palestine); Hezbe Wahdat (Afghanistan).

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4 thoughts on “Notes towards an analysis of inter-sub-imperialist conflict in the Middle East and the role of Islamic fascism

  1. This article really made me think a little about some frustrating experiences I had with leftists of the Communist/Anarchist bent.
    Why do leftists always approch Islam as a problem to be dealt with? Their analysis of Islam often trapped in crass orientalist distortions and they flatly ignore Muslim thinkers, other than a select few Islamists as Qutb and Al-Banna, they can never conceive of a ‘Political Islam’ that is anything but reactionary. Of course there were a whole host Socialist/Marxist leaning and Existentialist thinkers whose ideas had strong religious components, but they are either ignored, brushed aside as bizzare oddities or the Islamic incarnation of liberation theology.

    Leftists, like Liberals, approach Islam having already jumped to conclusions, ‘Islamic ideology is reactionary’ then cart out Qutb, Al-Qaeda and Hadiths from Bukhrai to affirm that idea. Totally ignoring Marxists like Muruwah and Al-Tayyib or progressive revolutionaries like Shariati and Egypt’s ‘Islamic left’. While they respect Muslims, they are never really willing to allow them to join the debate and constantly push them out when they try bringing their own ideas to the table, forcing down their own diety, liberalism in the case of liberals and dialectical materialism and secular socialism in the case of far leftists.

    Leftists too seem to be obsessed with Islamist ideology and it’s spread, after all how could their own infallible key to liberation crumble to this dank despotic Islamic fascism?

    1. Hi Bahadur,
      Thanks for your comments. I would like to first apologise if my post was also a frustrating experience, it was not intended to be. I cannot speak for all Leftists, but can only speak for myself. I do not regard Islam to be a problem, nor do I think any other religion is a problem that needs to be dealt with. However, I do think that there is the governing reality that my post tried to address i.e. the sub-imperialist rivalry between Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which is closely related to/responsible for the development of what I regard to be Islamic fascist forces and that this includes an ideological component. Indeed, I am sure you would agree that groups like ISIS, or Al-Qaeda etc, do not reflect the majority of Muslims in their beliefs. Furthermore, I am sure that you would agree that, whether we like it or not, the aforementioned states have played an important role in the shaping of the way that Islam is practiced and understood around the world; although as you correctly point out they do not exhaust the possibilities.

      My post was not intended to map out the entire ideological spectrum of ‘political Islam,’ but focus more narrowly on Islamic fascism. I do not think that talking about the Saudi, Iranian or Qatari regimes as sub-imperialist powers or Islamic fascism is necessarily orientalist, although any discussion of such topics must be mindful of orientalist approaches. Now you could argue that I should have focused instead on the whole host of other political Islamists, who are influenced to varying degrees by Socialism/Marxism or Existentialism etc. However, I think you would agree that these forces, at present, do not have a great deal of influence in contemporary geo-politics, which was the focus of the post. Now whether I should dedicate a future post to this topic is a separate question and I would be very happy if you could point to some resources.

      As to your final question: Again I am not concerned with the spread of Islam, rather I am concerned about the way that specific variants of Islam and Islamic fascist movements are being used by sub-imperialist powers in the region to win greater power for their own imperialist projects, and causing grievous harm to predominately Muslims. Again it seems to me that you think I am conflating Islam as a whole with Islamic fascism, whereas I would like to assure you that this is in fact not the case.

      1. Sorry I really let my frustrations get the better of me, I apologise for the off topic rant. The problem here is that you lump a number of very different ideologies into one general camp of Islamic Facism. Fascism is being used very liberally here. There is a big difference between groups like Al-Qaeda and the AK party. If one really is to explore the rise, function, spread, sustainance and use of Islamist ideologies, it requires a great deal of knowledge of Islam, of the conditions of these various societies and their political history. It’s a monsterous task. Your notes don’t really seem to display that level of knowledge and are littered with problems and errors. The definitions are vague and sloppy, the list of ideologues is problematic and it seems as if it’s badly informed by counterterrorism literature, though the intention is positive.

      2. It seems to me that you are particularly interested in defending specific parties I name from the charge of fascism. I disagree. It is indeed true that there are a number of different strains of Islamic fascism, however, I think that they all fit under the broad category. Most of us do not spend a lot of time demarcating the difference between Pinochet, Mussolini and Hitler for example, although they all had different ideologies. I have actually spent a fair bit of time studying Middle Eastern politics etc, but did not intend to write a thesis here. Rather, as the title of the post suggests, they are but notes. It seems to me that you are hiding behind some very vague generalisations about errors and problems etc. Perhaps you could be more concrete about the differentiations that you would like to see, and would like to proffer an analysis of sub-imperialism in the Middle East? Do you believe that there is sub-imperialism at play in the Middle East? Furthermore, where do I mention the AK party?

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