interesting LBO-talk exchange

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 17 15:58:39 MDT 2002

(The DP immediately below is Dennis Perrin, who worked for Fairness and
Accuracy in Media in the late 1980s. I remember him as a pleasant youth.
Somewhere along the line he transformed himself into an obnoxious
red-baiter and fan of the war on terrorism. He is answered by Chuck
Grimes, about whom I know nothing except that I agree wholeheartedly
with his approach to these vexing questions.)

 In what sense is al-Qaeda's terrorism a "degraded form" of their
"political revolution"? I mean, is there something "revolutionary" in
Sharia Law...? DP


Yes. Obviously not all revolutionary movements are progressive. And it
seems to me, it is critical that the US left figure out the dynamics of
how people can start from a positive source of inspiration, some vaguely
defined and inarticulate idea of making life better, and then be moved
into ever darker and darker realms under ever increasing oppressions.

Take it back say thirty years to somewhere between the '67 war and the
Beirut and the Lebanese civil wars and consider the Middle East in an
era when there might have still been some vague hope (however fantastic)
of building predominately secular representative governments to give
some kind of cultural self-determination a positive expression. Instead
they got endless wars, police states, outrageously decadent ruling
elites, vast swathes of poverty, degradation, and nothing but cold war
military development of their ruling elites. The US and western allies
made sure through their authoritarian surrogate regimes that all
aspiring progressives, socialists, nationalists, and even vaguely
positive reform movements were crushed---hence absurdities like the Shah
or later Saddam. Now pump all that history back into the one marginally
safe way to express revolt, the religious schools and Mosques, where the
only acceptable form of revolt and expression had to be channelled
through a religious tradition into the authoritarian militancy of an
Islamic Jihad, etc.... Al-Qaeda obviously represents some deeply
degraded form of that impulse. And there is the Iranian revolution to
point to, that started in a very similar way within Mosques, schools,
and religious social hierarchies, and used coalitions with vaguely
progressive elements to topple the Shah...

Well, if you don't see some relationship some commonality of themes, you
don't. I can't prove it, because these dynamics don't exist on any
rational level. And I don't have the historical background or sufficient
knowledge of the Middle East to give it, its due. But here goes some
crude sketch...

Instead of national liberation movements with vaguely progressive and
reformist agendas, the multiply stacked oppressions by both the West and
its surrogate regimes crushed whatever ground these kinds of national
liberation movements might have had. In effect oppression erased all
secular ground. So such aspirations turned instead into a whole
collection of heavily marginalized renditions of Islam.

Esposito (Unholy War) uses the armed occupation of the Grand Mosque in
Mecca (1979) as a way to introduce his chapter, The Armies of God.
Here's a brief excerpt:

To Western observers this affair was baffling. An Islamic group was
attempting to overthrow the government of Saudi Arabia, an Islamic state
and protector of Islam's holiest sites, in the name of Islam? The House
of Saud was being judged and condemned as corrupt and un-Islamic by the
Islamic yardstick that it used to legitimate itself....

...The terrorists responsible for the atrocities of September 11, 2001,
are the radical fringe of a broad-based Islamic jihad that began in the
late twentieth century. Islam's power and the idealistic concepts of
jihad have been `spun' to become the primary idiom of Muslim politics,
used by rulers and ruled, by reformers, political opposition, and

Many violent radicals justify the horrors they commit by reciting a
litany of deeply felt Muslim grievances against the West. Historic
memories of the Crusades and European colonialism, the creation of
Israel, the Cold War, and American neo-colonialism---all the actions of
a militant Christian West---get superimposed upon current events: the
second Palestinian intifada, the presence of American troops in the
Gulf, the devastating impact of sanctions on Iraqi children, jihads of
resistance and liberation in Kashmir and Chechnya. These memories feed
resentment, ignite new anger, and deepen anti-Americanism, not just
among terrorists but also in the broader Muslim world...'' (73-4)

Chuck Grimes


Louis Proyect

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