We live in turbulent times. The present epoch is characterised by startling advances on the one hand and conditions of extreme socio-economic retrogression and distress on the other. This situation represents a severely uneven and yet deeply intertwined socio-economic development on a world scale. This has created unprecedented convulsions which are exploding right across the planet.
In this post cold war epoch one of the most significant phenomena which has come to the fore is Islamic fundamentalism. There are several forms of fundamentalism linked to movements of revivalism of various religions, yet internationally Islamic fundamentalism is more pronounced and widespread. In large parts of Asia and Africa it has become the focal point of political activity in a unipolar world rapidly spinning out of control of the "sole super power" (US imperialism).
From Egypt to Algeria it has increasingly become a threat to the existing social order. In the socio-political quagmire of the Middle East it has become an increasingly dominant factor. In Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and other "Islamic" countries of the far east it has started asserting itself more vigorously in the context of the decaying social order. In the Indian Sub-continent it has surfaced in the chronic national ad ethnic conflicts which have marred this unfortunate land. Its resurgence in Central Asia has created anxiety and stress amongst the regimes in Moscow and Beijing. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan are in the stranglehold of different versions of this phenomenon. Pakistan stands at the threshold of fundamentalist barbarism.
But what is Islamic fundamentalism and what are its real prospects? Although it is not a new phenomenon, in recent times it has attained a vicious and virulent character. Modern fundamentalism in reality is a reactionary culmination of the trends of Islamic revivalism in an epoch of modern world economy and politics. After the European Renaissance and fall of the 800 year Muslim rule in Spain in the late 15th century, a period of long and protracted decline began for most of the Muslim world . Due to various socio-historical factors the Islamic movement against slave society began to stagnate. The advances it made in science and technology, such as the invention of algebra, started to lose momentum and ultimately came to a halt.
This led to the colonisation of most of the Muslim world by resurgent western imperialism. The industrial revolution in Europe laid the economic and military basis for this colonisation. The rotting feudal regimes in these Islamic countries had become fetters on social development. There were several movements based on Islamic revivalism against these feudal monarchies and later against the colonial rulers.
There were some progressive elements, but based on the ideology of social relations of a primitive period in history these movements could not make much headway. Some of these movements were in the Congress of the East organised by the Bolsheviks in September 1920 at Baku, Azerbaijan. This congress was mainly anti-imperialist in content and was organised to unite and inspire the struggle, mainly against British colonial rule. With the peculiar patterns of socio-economic development in these countries under imperialist rule, it had a deep impact on the nature of the anti-imperialist movement and these Islamic revivalist movements in particular. These movements split along different ideological and methodological lines.
The Russian Revolution of October 1917 had an even greater impact on the anti-imperialist struggle in these Islamic societies. It gave a new vision and hope to the most enlightened elements even within these Islamic revivalist movements. For example, one of the main leaders of the Deoband school (a Sunni faction), Obaid Ullah Sindhi, was so inspired by the Bolshevik Revolution that he developed a passion to meet Lenin. He travelled to the Soviet Union for this purpose in 1921. Ironically the present heirs of the same school of thought are the main leaders of the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and similar movements elsewhere.
Another Islamic scholar Maualna Hasrat Mohani was so inspired by the Bolshevik revolution that he moved to the left and ultimately became the general secretary of the Communist Party of India in 1924. He was a poet and a revolutionary. He went through imprisonment and torture in the struggle against imperialist rule.
Even during the independence movement against imperialism the newly emerging proletariat in these countries, together with left ideology, dominated the struggle. It is only due to the criminal role of the Stalinist two-stage theory that these movements of national liberation could not culminate in social revolutions. It was entirely possible that had the Stalinist leaders of these parties not relied on the so-called "national bourgeoisie" the whole outcome would have been different. If the Communist Parties had kept an independent class stance and adopted the policy of the united front within the national liberation struggle, this could have grown into the social revolution.
The examples of India, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Algeria, Indonesia and several other countries are too glaring to ignore. It was due to the class collaborationist policies of the Communist Party leaders, and their lack of trust in the virgin and vibrant proletariat, that these revolutions were aborted and in some cases, like Iran, these policies actually led to the imposition of Islamic fundamentalism.
In the post World War II era Islamic fundamentalism became a totally reactionary and counter-revolutionary phenomenon. It was mainly used by US imperialism to crush the left wing and progressive movements in the Muslim countries. The main current of modern fundamentalism was based on Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen (Muslim brotherhood) in Egypt and other countries of the Middle East and the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. The Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen was founded in 1928 in Egypt by Hasan al Banna (1906-1949). Jamaat-e-Islami was a continuation of this process. It was founded in 1941 in British India by Maulana Abdul Ala Moudoodi (1903-1978). As compared to Sufism and other moderate currents of Islamic revivalist movements, the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen and Jamaat-e-Islami were of a virulent character with strong neo-fascist overtones. This led to the growth of a more fanatical version of Islamic fundamentalism in the decades to come.
In the 1950s, '60s and '70s there were strong left wing currents in the Islamic world. In Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia and other Islamic countries, there were left wing coups and the overthrow of rotting feudal/capitalist regimes which led to the creation of proletarian bonapartist, or deformed workers states. In the others there were strong waves of mass movements with left leaning populist leaders emerging on the crest of these waves. In the climate of the cold war some of these leaders even defied western imperialism and carried out nationalisations together with radical reforms. The Moscow and Peking bureaucracies did not really approve of, or condone, these acts.
One of these leaders was Jamal Abdul Nasir who became the president of Egypt riding on the wave of mass popularity. Although the bureaucracy in Moscow rejected his offer to join the Warsaw Pact and nationalise the largest economy in Middle East, he still went ahead and nationalised the Suez canal which was in stark contrast to the interests of imperialism, especially those of the British and French. This culminated in the Suez war of 1956 in which the British and French suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of Nasir.
There were other similar developments in the Muslim countries, which sent shock waves through to Washington and other centres of imperialist power. One of the cornerstones of US foreign policy was to sponsor, organise, arm and foment modern Islamic fundamentalism as a reactionary weapon against the rising tide of mass upsurge and social revolutions. The Jamaat-e-Islami and Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen were singled out for the job mainly due to their viciousness and fanatical neo-fascist character. After the Suez defeat the imperialists gave top priority to this policy. Large sums of money were dished out by the special operations department of the CIA and the Pentagon. They provided assistance in devising the strategy and training of these religious zealots .
However, in these societies the fundamentalists were finding it difficult to get a base of support, as wave after wave of left wing currents swept across these countries. They had no alternative but to fall into the lap of imperialism for their survival and existence. Most of these states were also of a reactionary nature and unstable. These regimes were also heavily dependent on US imperialism to quell the mass revolt they were facing from below. Hence in several countries the Islamic fundamentalists became stooges of these feudal/capitalist states in connivance with imperialism. They carried out espionage, vandalism and the murder of left wing activists. They ransacked left newspaper offices, harassed women and carried out acts of thuggery. The vigilante gangs of these Islamic fanatics became a major tool of reaction and counter-revolution in these countries.
The next major conflict came in Indonesia, which had the largest Communist Party outside the former Soviet bloc. Again due to the absurd and historically discarded theory of "two stages" the leadership of the Communist Party went into Popular Frontism with class collaborationist policies. In spite of this the CIA could not tolerate the rising revolutionary tide from below taking place in Indonesia. This would have wrecked all their plans in the Pacific rim in Asia. It would have meant a devastating blow to their interests on a world scale. Thus in the bloodiest counter-revolution of the 20th century more than a million communists and their families were annihilated through genocide organised and planned by the CIA. Again the major tool in this operation was the Indonesian offshoot of this modern Islamic fundamentalism, the Sarakat-e-Islam party.
During the 1971 civil war in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) the terrorist outfits of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Al-Shams and Al-Badar played a similar role in league with the Pakistani army. Leading to the assassination of hundreds of thousands of Bengali left wing activists, workers, students, intellectuals and peasants. More than a hundred thousand women were raped and made pregnant. These victims mainly belonged to the JSD and the soviet (workers' council) thrown up by the revolutionary upsurge.
The largest covert operation carried out by the CIA involving Islamic fundamentalism was in Afghanistan. This began after the overthrow of the reactionary Daud regime by radical army officers through the Saur (Spring) revolution of 1978. During this operation the imperialists spent more than US$32 billion on arms, hard cash, logistical support and military efforts. But the truth is that the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1988-89 and the fall of the left wing Najibullah government in 1992 were not due to this CIA sponsored Jehad (holy war), but to bureaucratic policy bungling and internal faction fighting within the PDPA (People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan).
What is happening now, and has happened in the past, in this tragic land is the direct result of US interference and imperialist-fundamentalist collaboration. The so-called Afghan Jehad has not only ravaged Afghanistan but has also become a threat and a source of instability in the whole of southern Asia. The CIA not only gave military and logistical support, mainly to the pro Jamaat-e-Islami faction of fundamentalists, but also patronised and helped to develop the production of heroin and its trade. Along with this drug running and the huge amount of heavy arms littering the whole region, the situation is pregnant with extreme dangers and unprecedented catastrophes. In the event of this civil war spilling over the borders, areas far beyond Afghanistan will be devastated.
It has become a policy of the CIA to use drugs and other forms of crime to finance most of the counter-revolutionary operations it indulges in. It instigates the vigilante gangs of criminal thugs and scum of society into all forms of crime, especially the drug trade. In Vietnam, the anti-communist guerrillas were patronised in their illegal drugs trade. In Nicaragua during the 1970s the Contras were encouraged to smuggle cannabis and marijuana in order to purchase weapons for their operations against the Sandinista regime. Similar instances can be sighted in all the proxy wars sponsored by the USA in Asia, Africa and Latin America.
This drugs policy of the USA in Afghanistan is having a disastrous impact on the youth around the world. Today 70% of the world supply of heroin comes from the Afghanistan-Pakistan Mafia nexus . The modern laboratories on the Pak-Afghan border (which convert raw opium into heroin) were installed with CIA help.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the PDPA regime in Afghanistan US imperialism lost interest in this area. Its usefulness as a front line buffer state had gone and thus they left Afghanistan to rot in the mess they themselves had created. Paradoxically, western imperialism is now using their self-created Frankenstein of Islamic fundamentalism to scare the workers and masses in the advanced countries. Since the collapse of Stalinism the western media has been waging a hysterical campaign to terrify the workers in the west and make them submit to atrocious pressures under a decaying capitalist system. They have blown out of proportion people like Qaddafi, Saddam Hussain, the Iranian Mullahs, the Talibans and Osam Bin Ladin as barbaric monsters who drink blood and eat babies. This is all being done with a specific purpose in mind. The brutalities of the Saudi and other similar regimes subservient to imperialism are criminally concealed.
This hypocrisy is openly admitted to in an article in The Independent (London, 27 September, 2000). Robert Fish while commenting on the report of Amnesty International on Saudi Arabia says the following "what Amnesty does not say - given Saudi Arabia's oil unique relationship with the United States, its political dependence on American arms in the Gulf and its fear of America's "terrorist enemies" - is that not the slightest pressure would be exerted upon its authorities to abide by human rights laws. Even when tens of thousands of American troops were based in the Kingdom after Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait discrimination against women continued unabated."
In the last ten years 28 women have been executed in Saudi Arabia officially by the religious police, six of them in the last 24 months. Hundreds of housemaids, mainly Filipinos, are raped, tortured and lashed under Saudi Islamic laws. Women are not allowed to drive, move freely outside the kingdom or receive a full education according to these laws. It is also true that most of these dictators and monsters were the creation of US imperialism. For example Osama Bin Laden was trained, sponsored and planted by the CIA itself. On 27 August 1998, in an interview with the AFP, Osama Bin Laden confessed: "I set up my first camp in Pakistan where these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudi..."
After the bombing of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya the US fired 70 cruise missiles from the Arabian Sea at Osama's base camp near Jalalabad on the Pak-Afghan frontier. This was more of a gimmick and propaganda exercise than a serious military operation. In the Middle East the Islamic fundamentalist organisations like the Hizbullah, Hamas and others were set up by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad in the 1960s and '70s . They were created to destabilise the PLO and subvert the left radicalisation within the Palestinian movement.
In spite of the propaganda campaign by the western media against Islamic fundamentalism, US imperialism continues to use these religious fanatics wherever it deems it necessary. They will use it again to try and crush revolutionary movements, another thing is whether they will be successful this time.
In 1996 the capture of Kabul was made possible after a secret deal between the US Secretary of state for South Asia, Robin Raphael, the Taliban and the military faction of the former Stalinist general Shahnawaz Tanai. This deal was fostered by the ISI. (Inter Services Intelligence, the Pakistan intelligence agency) Ironically, it was patronised in Islamabad by Benazir Bhutto. This sheds some light on her credentials as a "progressive". The money for this operation to capture Kabul was provided by the US oil giant Unocal. It is not accidental that the former US secretary of state Robert Oakley is an employee of Unocal. In the different proxy wars between imperialist states, especially the French and Americans, the Islamic fundamentalists are being sponsored and used quite conveniently by both sides. This is the case in Algeria, Sudan and several other countries. The French and German imperialists are openly hobnobbing with the reactionary mullahs in Iran, for the interest of their multinational corporations, especially those dealing in oil.
The main reason for the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism is the enormous political vacuum created by the collapse of Stalinism and the left in these societies. In the context of severe socio-economic distress, unemployment and poverty, the masses find themselves in a blind ally. The arrogance and contempt of the monarchs and dictators in the Arab and Islamic world further fuel the hatred and wrath of the masses. The historical betrayal on the part of the left parties, trade union leaders and traditional populist leaderships has added insult to injury. The corrupt and plundering democracies have increased social frustration. With no way forward some backward sections of the masses and petty bourgeoisie have started looking backwards. The strategists of fundamentalism have exploited the vices of the present leaders and system and are offering the illusion of the virtues of a distant past epoch.
The hypocrisy of imperialism and fundamentalism is very reciprocal. These Islamic leaders use the anti-IMF and anti-imperialist sentiments amongst the masses to further expand their base. The massive levels of unemployment give rise to large scale lumpenisation in society. This is capitalised on by the Islamic organisations, who not only provide weapons and money to these hordes of lumpen youth, but also give them sanctuary where they are safely hidden away from the hands of the state machine. Large sections of deprived, frustrated and bewildered youth enter into fundamentalism in the same way as many tries to find an escape in a drug dose. They cannot face the challenges, hence they try to use fundamentalism as a path into oblivion. Sooner rather than later they will have to wake up. A large number of raw youth, especially those migrating from rural to urban areas, are shocked by the social and cultural conditions they find in the cities. They revert to Islamic fundamentalism seeking piety and honesty. They try to find eternal peace in Islam to get solace for their souls and minds. But when these captives of faith face the stark reality of Islamic fundamentalism and it bares its ugly face it is perhaps too late. This comes at the point of no return. In sheer desperation they give themselves away to become fodder of this frenzy and most of them are lost from life forever . Those who survive find themselves as some of the most corrupted and monstrous creatures on this planet.
On the other hand, significant sections of the ruling class who have plundered the state and society also use fundamentalism as a shield. The majority of them are the drug barons and godfathers of black money who classically fit into this fundamentalist approach. On the one hand, they use anti-imperialist rhetoric to save their money from the clutches of the IMF, the mainstream economy and state taxation. On the other hand, they use the "fatwas" of the mullahs to justify and protect their crimes and drug smuggling etc. In countries like Pakistan this cancerous growth of the black economy has far outgrown the body of the so-called white economy. Hence this Mafia has assumed on enormous role in the economy, politics, society and the state. The main source of finance of Islamic fundamentalism is based on huge sums of money from the drugs trade and other sectors of the black economy. This process was initiated by US imperialism. Now this black economy is disrupting the functioning of capitalism itself.
In 1979 there were hardly any heroin addicts in Pakistan. In 1986 the official figure was 650,000. In 1992 it rose up to 3 million and in 1999 the official figure was 5 million. Another dangerous aspect is the involvement of state institutions in the drugs trade, especially the military. The deep penetration of the black economy into the state apparatus is leaving its mark. Some military generals are now involved in the fundamentalist operations and organisations.
The indulgence of the ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) in this orgy of black economy has gone so far that it has become a self-financed organisation. A former chief of the ISI, general Hameed Gul, in an interview to Karachi based monthly the Herald, had said: "If the Marxists can have the first, second, third and fourth International why cannot we have an Islamic International brigade." Hence the operations from the central Asian republics to Nigeria, from Sinkiang (China) to Algeria and from Chechnya to Indonesia. Now Osama Bin Laden is even trying to procure nuclear, chemical and biological weapons to fight its own mentor, US imperialism.
In a society where the state has failed to provide health care, education and jobs, Islamic fundamentalism has used these deprivations to build up its own forces. With huge amounts of black money flowing in freely they have built religious schools (Madrassas) to train and develop fanatics from a very young age to become raw fodder for religious frenzy. In Pakistan the military dictator and stooge of US imperialism, general Zia-ul-Haq, instigated this process in order to quell the mass movement and left wing currents in society. In 1971, there were 900 Madrassas in Pakistan. By the end of Zia's rule there were 8,000 registered and 25,000 non-registered Madrassas!
As the state-run school system steadily collapsed, these Madrassas became the only avenue for the children of poor families to get an education. The poor families cannot feed, clothe or educate their children. They can either let their children suffer the horrors of child labour or send them to these prison houses that breed hysterical fanatics who are prepared to take human lives for causes they don't even understand.
In these Madrassas they are kept in shackles and are often subjected to child abuse by the mullahs. A vast majority of them never even get the chance to see a female human being till they reach adult life. This creates a specifically intolerant and insane psychology which is being exhibited in the streets of Kabul and elsewhere. The Taliban (religious students) emerged from some of these Madrassas in Pakistan, run by a Islamic Deobandi sect under the auspices of its political outfit, the JUI (Jamiat Ulma-e-Islam).
Another important reason for the emergence of this fundamentalism is to be found in the role played by the left leaders and democratic and secular politicians. In their attempts to develop capitalism and its political superstructure, so-called "Parliamentary Democracy", they have brought most of these societies to the brink of disaster. Misery, poverty and disease stalk the land. Their liberalism and democracy has failed to deliver food, clothing and shelter to the masses. These so-called liberals and democrats take pride in being stooges of imperialism and capitalism which only exploits the masses. The Stalinist left has followed this political discourse in search of the 'National Democratic Revolution', which was never possible in this epoch of imperialism and capitalist decay. The economy has never been strong enough, either to complete the formation of the nation state or to hold up the political super-structure of Parliamentary Democracy.
Having come to power and then failing to deliver, these "liberals" and "democrats" resorted to Islamic demagogy. Facing dissent and the mass discontent the kings, dictators and democratic leaders themselves pose as great stalwarts of Islam in a crude bonapartist fashion. They try to sway the support of backward layers of society in their favour in order to uphold their shaky regimes. But once the uprisings begin they seldom survive. The corruption and looting of these democratic rulers further strengthened the basis for Islamic fundamentalism to thrive in a milieu where the revolutionary alternative was nowhere to be seen on the political horizon.
Yet in spite of all this, Islamic fundamentalism has failed to develop a mass social base in most of the Islamic countries. In Pakistan during various elections all the fundamentalist parties put together never get more than 5% of the popular vote. They have no real plan or programme to solve the problems and crisis of huge modern and complex economies. They themselves thrive on corruption, crime and black money. Their methods of operation are fascist and barbaric. But the so-called liberals and bourgeois democrats who shout at the top of their voices about the threat and menace of fundamentalism are the same people who have created the very conditions for its existence. The main cause of their hue and cry is to get further aid from imperialism so as to prolong their orgy of deceit and plunder.
At the same time Islamic fundamentalists are further split into innumerable sects involved in internecine warfare and terrorism. The Shias cannot tolerate the Sunnis, the Deobandies cannot tolerate the Wahabis, and so on. They are also divided on the basis of different factions of black money who are at each others' throats. Even with their deep penetration into the state, once in power they have to subdue their purist utopian ideologies to the dictates of the bourgeois state. This further opens up conflicts between them, resulting in further conflagration and bloodshed.
In reality Islamic fundamentalism is a reactionary phenomenon representing a peculiar phase of a sick capitalist society, a society that has stagnated due to the organic crisis of capitalism. The failure of capitalism to eliminate feudalism and the existence of primitive forms of human society creates a breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism. This combined and uneven development creates contradictions which provide a basis for such reactionary tendencies in a period of reaction and social crisis. Even the billions of petrodollars have not served to carry through the tasks of the bourgeois revolution, that is the industrial revolution, in the oil rich Muslim states. This shows the reactionary characters of these rulers and their historical bankruptcy. At the same time Islamic fundamentalism is a temporary and superficial phenomenon. All the efforts to modernise it have ended up undermining it. Hence the brutality and hysterical frenzy re-emerges to reinvigorate it. Its greatest enemy is history and human civilisation.
Once the working class starts to move, this Islamic fundamentalism will vanish as a drop of water vanishes from the surface of red hot iron. But if the basic contradictions and crisis of society are not eliminated, it will come back again and again in new periods of reaction. It will keep on ravaging and raping society and human civilisation until it is eradicated and the basic cause of its existence, deprivation, is uprooted. It is a peculiar manifestation of the death agony of capitalism. To get rid of this plague will only be possible when the system on which it festers is abolished. This is only possible through a Socialist revolution.