The World After September 11
Part Four: After Afghanistan
Afghanistan: War or Aerial Terrorism?
There is no war in Afghanistan. War logically requires at least two sides. What is currently taking place is the USA's bombing of Afghanistan. In this newfound tactic of the world's sole superpower and self-appointed international sheriff, terror and intimidation on a mass scale have formally replaced war. After Vietnam, it has been decided that American society is not to witness any more soldiers returning in body bags from far away battlefields. The price for this will now have to be paid by the unlucky civilians of that wretched country which, in the half-baked theories of Dr. Strangeloves at the National Security Council and the US State Department, is now deemed to be the bastion of the USA's latest arch enemy and the newest leader of the 'Evil Empire'. The casualties that the US military avoids will instead be taken a hundred times over from innocent civilians who are barely scraping a living in a typically poor and marginal country of the world. One day, it is the Iraqi people who hit the jackpot; another day it is Yugoslavia, Libya or Afghanistan. In the cover of darkness, from high-flying out-of-reach planes and from warships and submarines tucked away in far away oceans, they hurl tens of thousands of tons of bombs and missiles at people and their cities. They boast that they will send the pounded country 'back to the stone age,' and yet they insist that the morally 'smart' American bombs are programmed to only hit the guilty. The aim is to intimidate; to intimidate the whole society; to rule by fear - fear of death and displacement, fear of total destruction of a whole economy and civil society; to the point where society is paralysed and resistance becomes impossible. Today, the US ground troops are only the hounds that are to bring the lifeless prey back after the shooting ends and the dust settles.
No one can condemn a declaration of war on the Taliban - even if it is by the USA and West. The Taliban must go and can only be removed by force and by military action. The enmity between the West and the Taliban is much preferable to their hitherto friendship. No one will stand in the way of the removal of murderers who were first installed by the West itself. But there is a difference between war and terror. The US and UK actions in Afghanistan are terrorism. The bombing of cities and residential areas must be condemned and stopped. Worthless myths about the Taliban's military prowess and Afghanistan's history of bringing superpowers to their knees only reinforce and feed into US and UK terrorist methods. The Afghan Mujahedin was merely a facade for the West and the USA in their war against the Soviet Union. The Taliban is a criminal drug gang that was created by the West with the assistance of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They can turn their switch off and remove them within weeks. But aerial terrorism is safer, more spectacular, more fitting for a superpower, and more likely to teach the discontented people of the world a lesson in the virtues of obedience. We must oppose these inhumane methods.
From Taliban to Political Islam
The US and UK action in Afghanistan, even if it leads to the downfall of the Taliban and Bin Laden's death, will not diminish the threats of Islamic terrorism against the West; it will escalate it. Western leaders are fully aware of this and even publicly warn citizens. However, the choice of Afghanistan as the first theatre for the US 'revenge' for the September 11 atrocity has two fundamental reasons.
Firstly, even if the USA concedes that Islamic terrorism and the anti-Western hatred it nurtures on is a political problem with a political solution, it does not see a solely political response to such a huge physical and military attack inside the US on September 11 as a sufficient and satisfactory response. Militarism is part and parcel of the official ideology in the USA and a foundation of its identity as a superpower. Thus, to the US government, an attack on the USA can only be appropriately answered with an attack on someone else, somewhere else. For the USA, only a military response can 'avenge' September 11, irrespective of the roots and causes of political Islam and Islamic terrorism. This military action must be huge and must represent the 'wrath and power' of the USA; it must display its ruthlessness. A huge military action, however, requires a large theatre. War needs a battlefield. Afghanistan has not been chosen because Bin Laden is there, on the contrary, Bin Laden has been chosen because he is in Afghanistan. There are many like Bin Laden, heads of Islamic terrorism who live openly or clandestinely in Iran, Britain, France, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, Chechnya and Bosnia. The idea that Islamic terrorism has a pyramid structure and a defined hierarchy with Bin Laden at the top is ridiculous. Who believes that [Iranian Ayatollah] Khamanei has been working under Bin Laden in this terrorist hierarchy? The key is Afghanistan, a land that can be the scene of a huge military action. Afghanistan is the only possible theatre for 'US revenge' on the massive and frightening scale promised by the US administration. Today, there is no such military target area outside Afghanistan. And even here, Western leaders complain of the lack of tall buildings and large bridges to destroy.
Secondly, as we said in part III, what is being settled behind the conflict with the Taliban and Bin Laden is the relationship and balance of power between the USA and the West with political Islam. 'The long war against terrorism' is the code name for a show down with political Islam. From the USA's point of view, it is a power struggle, which must sooner or later define the more lasting characteristics of a new world order after the fall of the Soviet Union. Political Islam, a by-product of the Cold War, has emerged as a bourgeois contender for political power in Middle Eastern countries as well as in 'Islamic' communities within Western societies. This force is either in power or has significant political leverage in parts of the world, e.g. in significant countries like Iran and Pakistan. It is a player in the fight over the future of Palestine and Israel. In the former Soviet Republics, it is making mischief close to sensitive nuclear arsenals. In the West, thanks to Saudi Arabia's money, local state subsidies and the corrupt ideology of cultural relativism, it is recruiting the youth in Islam-ridden areas in droves. For the West, this political Islam is no longer the tool and the puppet that served them well in the containment of the Soviet Union, in preventing the Left from taking power in the anti-monarchy revolution of Iran, and in creating problems for Arafat and Arab nationalism. Now, this creature is more ambitious. It has its own agenda. It has come out from under the West's patronage. And on September 11, from the US point of view, political Islam went one step too far. A terrorist attack of this scale in the heart of the USA set off this inevitable power struggle. These events are essentially moments and stages of a power struggle between the USA (& the West) and political Islam. From the USA's point of view, this is a struggle with Islamic states, Islamic parties and the entire political Islamic movement. The Taliban is the weakest, most vulnerable and most hollow symbol of political Islam's power in the Middle East and consequently the most suitable point of entry to a comprehensive power struggle. The USA's victory in Afghanistan does not affect, militarily and practically, the foundations of political Islam's power. They know this. The main centres of power are primarily in Iran, Saudi Arabia and in Islamic organisations in Egypt, Lebanon and Palestine. This is, however, a power struggle, and not a life and death battle. Afghanistan is the only arena, at least in the current framework of the world, where there could in fact be a military conflict between the USA and political Islam. It is the only arena where 'the long war against terrorism' can begin with a dramatic and spectacular military action without causing total havoc.
This is a Political Conflict
'The long war with terrorism' is actually a power struggle between the USA and political Islam. After Afghanistan, the confrontation will be essentially political, even if both sides occasionally turn to specific military and terrorist actions. The USA's objective in this war is not to eliminate political Islam. Contrary to the self-congratulatory propaganda of the so-called Reformist faction in Iran, it is not the political skills of Mr. Khatami that has 'saved Iran from bombardment'. An attack on Iran and such a bombing campaign against that country is not part of the West's agenda at all. The notion that the USA will enter into military conflicts with country after country according to the list of those it has once labelled terrorist is extraordinarily superficial. The USA's objective in this show down is neither to eliminate political Islam nor even to overthrow Islamic governments, but rather to impose its own political hegemony and define the rules of the game. From the USA's point of view, the Islamic movement must know its boundaries. It must limit its field of operation to the region, understand its own place and recognise the USA's special position. Not only can Islamic governments remain in power, but also even terrorism is still permissible on the condition that its victims are the communists and the Left in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey. But an attack on American soil is going too far. The USA wants to take this lesson and this equilibrium to the Middle East.
This is a power struggle and not a confrontation over Islam, liberalism, Western democracy, freedom, civilisation, security or terrorism. This is a battle between the US superpower and a regional political movement with a global reach, which is contending for power in the Middle East. It is a struggle for defining spheres of influence and political hegemony. The West does not intend to establish Western democracies in the Middle East. The USA, Pakistan, Iran and a whole bunch of other reactionaries in the region are already busy plotting to impose another despotic and backward regime on the people of Afghanistan. Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the Gulf Emirates, the most reactionary regimes in the world today, are openly or tacitly on the side of the West in this conflict. Even if Islamic governments fall, the preferred alternative of the West will be the local and regional Right wing and reactionary parties, military juntas and police states.
The USA Does Not Make History
But the West does not determine the future. The current US policy and actions will inevitably shatter the present political framework in the Middle East, but other forces will determine the alternative relations that will take shape. Undoubtedly, the confrontation between the West and political Islam will weaken the Islamic movement, Islamic parties and Islamic governments. But this confrontation does not take place on an empty stage. The Middle East, like the West, is the scene of a confrontation between social movements that have existed prior to the conflict between Western bourgeoisies and political Islam and which have shaped political developments in all societies. The West's conflict with political Islam, despite its importance, is not the engine and the moving force of history. On the contrary, it is itself placed within this history and is defined by it. The conflict over the new world order has more important players. Social classes and their political movements, whether in the West or the Middle East, are facing each other over the political, economic and cultural future of the world. It is these movements that will determine the final course of these events, irrespective of the current designs and demands of Western statesmen and the leaders of political Islam.
As far as the Middle East is concerned, even if the West aims at a mere marginal retreat of political Islam and definition of a new framework for coexistence, the secular, Socialist and progressive movements in the region will nevertheless come to the fore in these new conditions. For example, in my view, political Islam will be overthrown in Iran, not because the West pursues such an objective, but rather because the people of Iran and the worker-communist movement at their head will overthrow the Islamic Republic. The defeat of the Islamic Republic will be the biggest blow to political Islam. If the resolution of the Palestinian question is the precondition for removing the political, intellectual and cultural sources of the growth of political Islam, the defeat of the Islamic Republic in Iran is a precondition for smashing political Islam as a movement aspiring for political power in the Middle East. Without the Islamic Republic of Iran, political Islam will become a marginal and sterile opposition in the Middle East.
The above is a several part article first published in International Weekly 12 October - 26 November 2001 in Persian. The English version is a reprint from WPI Briefing.
Translators: Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya