Tariq Ali and Islam

11Feb11
Stop the Slaughter in Palestine Demo- Tariq Ali

Image by Loz Flowers via Flickr

From an excellent review of Tariq Ali’s The Obama Syndrome by Andrew Coates:

The East is Green.

The rise of Islamism remains, though not described in these terms, Ali’s impassable horizon. He stated in 2006 that, “A radical wind is blowing from the alleys and shacks of the later-day wretched of the earth, surrounded by the fabulous wealth of petroleum. The limits of this radicalism, so long as it remains captured by the Koran, are clear enough. The impulses of charity and solidarity are infinitely better than those of imperial greed and comprador submission but so long as what they offer is social alleviation rather than reconstruction, they are sooner or later liable to recuperation by the existing order.”(New Left Review. 11.38.2006). Without a “vision capable of transcendental national or communal divisions” such forces, the “Greens”, that is the various Islamist movements of the ‘East’, are at the heart of the ‘resistance’. What these “impulses” and “limits” may be we are not told. What really counts is their opposition to the “compradors”. Or, more crudely, their potential contribution to “imperial defeat.” It is easy to imagine that the more dim-witted followers of Ali’s line will erase all his qualifications and go straight for ‘anti-imperialist’ solidarity with radical Islam.

This framework is alien to Marxism and any form of democratic socialism. It signals a revival of the worst Third Worldist illusions in moral sanctity of the ‘wretched’. It transfers the genuine right of people to resist colonialism onto a very different historical agent: Political Islam. It pits cross-class religious movements with a reactionary edge, and a blood-stained record, against the American Empire. It has absolutely no class analysis of the types pf Islamism, led, in various shapes and forms, by pious national bourgeoisies, and their role in crushing left and working class struggles. It offers the grotesque prospect of offering ‘anti-imperialist’ solidarity to an enemy of all the world’s progressive people, and above all women, the Taliban. It fails to register that even in its most ‘Constitutional’ variety (the Muslim Brotherhood) Islamism aims for an “organic” society that suppresses conflict and independent workers organisations’ rights. In sum its neglect of class, gender and democratic issues is breathtaking.

This is clearly, and painfully, visible in Ali’s treatment of Iran. The West’s incipient casus belli, the country’s nuclear programme, is dismissed in these terms. Enemies surround Iran. Yet, it “has managed little more than primitive gropings toward the technology needed for nuclear self-defence.”(P 55) Domestically Iran is a “mess” after “partially rigged elections”, (though Ahmadinejad has a “base in the popular classes”). It is the target of “every kind of domestic and imperial intrigue, aimed at toppling the unwelcome victory of a popular contest. Meanwhile, those Iranians (including the country’s best-known filmmaker) who once dreamed of ‘liberation’ through US intervention have taken note of the worsening nightmare in Iraq and ditched that particular option.” (Page 53) Perhaps Ali is less than concerned that this filmmaker, Jafar Panahi, is now safely in the gaols of the popular-masses backed Islamic Republic.

We take it that Ali is influenced by “the manifest pro-Americanism of the middle-class and youth layers in the population at large.” (Page 49) Some of these, Iranian democrats, do not fit into an ideal tableau vivant of the popular masses rising up against the Empire, no doubt in alliance with Islamists in tune with their inner impulses of “charity and solidarity”. How can Ali’s 2006 dithyrambic praise of these forces be adjusted to his critical remarks about Tehran’s “Islamic voluntarism”? This, hardly restricted to the Qu’ran’s ability to cage radicalism, is not explained. While we learn that “labour is rebellious” there is no real exploration of working class opposition (underlined by important strikes) to the Theocracy. Perhaps, as they appear to have blown by a different ‘radical wind’ to Political Islam, and appear principally trade unionists, they simply do not count enough.

(Emphases and some hyperlinks added.)

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One Response to “Tariq Ali and Islam”


  1. 1 al-Poum « Poumista

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