Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Arab left

Hisham Bustani is a Jordanian activist and frequent writer on political movements in the Arab world from the point of view of the traditional (secular) left, which makes him part of the relatively small group of intellectuals (who, in the case of Iraq, include Jabbar al-Kubaysi and the Iraqi Patriotic Alliance, referred to in earlier posts here). The decline of this trend and the rise of Islamism, in recent decades, is something that if you haven't lived it (and I haven't) you can understand perhaps in words, but not viscerally. Bustani, Kubaysi and others naturally concede that Islamism is not only dominant as a political movement in the region, it is the only movement. The secular left for all practical political purposes is moribund, but that doesn't mean the leftists don't understand what has happened and where the region is headed. On the contrary.

Meanwhile, another venerable and temporarily out-of-favor institution, the Monthly Review, this month publishes an excellent translation of an interview with Hisham Bustani, taken from a Jordanian newspaper, providing English-language readers a good summary of what their position is.

In a nutshell: The American programs and policies of divide-and-conquer fragmentation are being carried out most aggressively in those areas where they are meeting resistance to their control, namely Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, while in other areas, where governments are compliant, the potential for fragmentation is still latent (Sunni-Shia in the Gulf; Muslim-Copt in Egypt; and so on). The problem with Islamist resistance groups is that they themselves are susceptible to fragmentation. The Hamas-related Islamic Party of Iraq is one of the mainstays of the puppet regime; Lebanese Hizbullah has been unable to extricate itself from the "vortex of sectarianism where it has been trapped by its opponents since the victory of 2006". (And analgously, the MB outfit in Syria reminds him of nothing more than a Syrian Chalabi; and as for the Jordanian MB they aren't particularly progressive domestically either). In Palestine, Fatah and Hamas both have succumbed to the temptation of participating in an appearances-only governing authority, another cause of fragmentation. (And on the same general lines, I guess one could also cite the weak or non-existent moves to jihadi-resistance unity among the armed Iraqi groups). In any event, Bustani's point is that as things have developed, the Islamist resistance and proto-resistance movements haven't been able to grasp or implement that kind of cross-group and cross-nation unity that would be necessary to make them really effective. Instead they tend to wind up participating as "subordinate" entities in the existing power structures.

The main recommendation is, you might say, predictable:
Islamists who see themselves on the side of political clarity must comprehend the impossibility of attaching a liberation program to a subordinate authority structure, and they must decide on their options by removing themselves from a so-called pragmatic approach that enables containment and manipulation by international and regional powers. Islamists must open up internally to other non-religious forces (Marxist and nationalist) and espouse a civil, secular liberation program; and they must learn from the experiences in Lebanon and Iraq, where the religious and sectarian element was the basis for the game of hegemony and the foundation for fragmentation setting people against each other instead of being united against their common enemy.

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.
The orientation here is similar to that of the recent open letter of AMSI to the Iraqi resistance groups; to the editorializing of Al-Quds al-Arabi about the pitfalls of resistance groups grasping prematurely for a piece of governing power; and, perhaps you could also say, to the AlJazeera/IAI spin on the recent Bin Laden message (whether correct or not is another question) ascribing to that message some kind of a rudimentary opening, under the guise of "admitting mistakes" and avoiding "factionalism". But in any event, certainly Bustani's focus on the need for cross-group unity is not surprising or even peculiar to the secular left.

What is a little more unexpected, as an analytical point, is this: Many people think the US targets political Islam because it is a threat to their client regimes in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere. Bustani says that isn't right. What America targets is resistance under any label: It targets different movements in South America or in SE Asia, for instance. "The common factor is resistance to America's hegemony and agenda for control, not Islam."
In reality, [he goes on] the U.S. finds no objections to dealing with a moderate Islam (such as the "Turkish model" and its copies). It is worth noting that the Islamists of Turkey maintain their traditional strategic alliance with "Israel," and I presume that the Americans favor delivering the Arab region to moderate Islamists for a variety of reasons. Such Islamists represent a force with popular and social extensions; they can speak to people in a language the masses understand; and they can offer operative social/economic/political structures, contrary to the Arab regimes which have nothing comparable. That is why the Arab regimes use techniques of oppression to preserve their authority and U.S. interests in the region. This oppression can, under certain circumstances, cause explosive situations or generate uncontrollable phenomena. Therefore, from this perspective, currying favor with "moderate" Islamists might be seen by the imperialist project to be a more viable and longer-lasting alternative.

This might explain the tremendous fear and loathing the Jordanian and Egyptian regimes have in regard to the Islamic movement (the Muslim Brotherhood), despite the fact that the latter is not completely radical, and still presents itself as a moderate wasati1 movement, still functioning within the "classical" understandings. What is new is the regimes' perception of a more potent alternative being formed. Consequently, they seek to dismantle the Islamic movement internally, while at the same time fighting a fierce public relations campaign externally to convince the U.S. administration that these Islamists are in fact anything but moderate, and therefore part of the target and its bull's-eye in the "war on terror."

In other words, the current US-client regimes fear political Islam could, in the long term, prove to be attractive to the Americans as an alternative to the current clients, as a vehicle for control, and it is in this that feeds their "fear and loathing" of the Islamists, quite beyond what you would expect given the MB's quite moderate orientation.

And if you want to bring the argument full circle, you could say that where existing resistance movements including Lebanese Hizbullah, Hamas/Fatah, and the Islamic resistance in Iraq, have all fallen in one way or another into the "sectarian vortex" through some combination of religious narrowness and the temptations of power, the MB movements in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere represent the same thing waiting to happen, but in those cases it will only come about when the Americans decide to replace their current client regimes in those places. Hence the plea for a return to a common denominator able to overcome sectarianism.


Post a Comment

<< Home