Are Islamic fundamentalists reactionary?
I was re-reading Slavoj Zizek’s book “In defence of lost causes” for some inspiration as to something I’m writing about Compass and I came across an interesting contention. Zizek mentioned that Islamic and Christian fundamentalists who blow up buildings. launch terrorist attacks or kill abortion doctors aren’t the real fundamentalists: on one level their violence might be motivated by an insecurity that their chosen path is not the correct one. Their violence is the outward expression of an inward fight against that insecurity.
Not being a psychoanalyst myself, or a member of the “Lacanian Left”, I’m unqualified to comment on the veracity of such an intriguing suggestion. However, that comment by Zizek came to mind when reading an article by Ghaffar Hussain which claimed that actually Islamic terrorists aren’t reactionary, they’re pro-active. Their agenda is, says Hussain, one of conquest and the annihilation of Western values. The establishment of the House of Islam across Europe and America.
In making his case, Hussain becomes symptomatic of the continuity and division between the unthinking Left and the unthinking Right on the question of terrorism. Hussain is focused upon the effects and aims of terrorism to the exclusion of all else; he is on the unthinking Right. The unthinking Left focuses to the exclusion of all else upon the social causes of terrorism. Since Hussain is trying to argue in favour of intervention, this lack in his argument takes on a special significance.
terrorists inspired by al-Qaida are not reactionary; rather they are pro-active and have a homegrown agenda, one not just of defence but one of conquest, destruction and subjugation.
In Islamist thought the west is viewed as the very embodiment of evil itself, the great satan to be opposed and fought at all costs in the struggle of good versus evil. The west is presented as one great unified body whose sole purpose is to destroy Islam and humiliate Muslims. According to the former global leader of the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, the late Abdul Qadeem Zalloom: “… when the discerning and sincere people say that the British are the head of kufr [unbelief] among all the other kufr states, they mean exactly that, for they are indeed the head of kufr and they are the arch-enemies of Islam. The Muslims should indeed harbour hatred for the British and a yearning for revenge over them …” (How the Khilafah was Destroyed, page 186)
The idealist elements of Ghaffar Hussain are very visible in these comments: the power of an idea to determine people irrespective of material considerations. Hussain doesn’t ask the question, “Why are people taken in by such rhetoric?” There is no analysis of historical or material currents which might predispose people to become Islamic fanatics, intent on harbouring a hatred for the British. This has a direct bearing on the contention that Islamic terrorists aren’t reactionary.
In fact when one looks closely, one sees a Middle-East transformed by the encroachment of global capital. Ordinary people often benefit from this – but the elite castes of places like Saudi Arabia benefit more. For all the convenience of television and other consumer goods made more readily available by globalisation, this comes at the expense of the collapse of intricate systems of social organisation. The consumer-driven transformation of Middle-Eastern cities is emblematic of this.
Add to this the manipulation of Middle-Eastern affairs by Europe and America and collective resentment finds a focus. Even were the latter to cease, which it can’t because of the crucial position of the Middle-East atop a large lake of oil, its historical reality would still provide a focus for enmity and resentment – unless such emotions could be redirected to where they properly belong, and channelled into hitherto weak or non-existent socially productive routes of opposition – trade unions, socialist parties.
The sort of people who lead the Islamist terrorist organisations are the same sorts who led the anarchist terrorists in Russia in the 1860s and 1870s – declassed intellectuals who lack the roots to perceive just how changes to the structure of society can be effected. Without the social weight necessary for real social change, they turn to ineffective attacks upon the visible signs of the structure itself. Islamists seem like the narodniks of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
Yet even the Narodniks and other anarchists fed off the stirrings of an organised working class – including that beyond the borders of their own nation. The terrorists however can look out at other countries and see reflected only their own despair of change. Such is the decomposition of working class activism and self-organisation. Terrorism is entirely reactionary therefore, both in that it is the absence of a progressive programme, and also in that it is in response to European capitalism and the collapse of socialism.
Despite how clichéd this may sound, the expansion of McDonalds, Gap etc across the world places the new armies of European capitalism at the heart of the Middle-East. Though this cannot excuse fundamentalist Islam its crimes, nor does it suffice to merely dismiss it entirely and to instead impute the free choice of free individuals to associate with terrorists as final cause. Islamic terrorism is a reaction to the economic, political and military supremacy of the West.
Whether one maintains the view that this supremacy is, on balance, beneficial to the world when the alternatives are considered is irrelevant. That Hussain is choked in his analysis by his overall and pre-ordained conclusion that Westernisation is a Good Thing is the final ridicule of this article.