The Islamic State: Fundamentalism and Counterrevolution

Rumblings about the nascent peril of Islamic fundamentalism began after the 1979 Iranian revolution that overthrew the brutal US-backed monarchy of the Shah & replaced it with an Islamic republic under Ayatollah Khomeini. It was a popular revolution against an extremely brutal, corrupt regime functioning as a US proxy in the region. For several reasons, including the weakness of revolutionary leadership, the ruling elite of Iran was able to salvage the state under the guise of religion and prevent the popular revolution from advancing further.

The events of 9/11 in New York City moved Islamic fundamentalism from rumblings in academia to a centerpiece of US war propaganda. And yet, in those many years there is little agreement among scholars and journalists on what exactly Islamic fundamentalism, often called Islamism, represents, other than paramilitary violence. That problem is compounded because so many analysts are beholden to US militarism–which is best served by ambiguity and obscurantism.

Of course, now we are told the peril grows and the spread of Islamic fundamentalism encompasses the Middle East as well as South Asia and Africa, especially with the emergence of Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab.

US and European regimes foster the explanation that Islamism is rooted in the Qu’ran, that violent extremism is the political expression of Islamic theology. This generates Islamophobic hysteria making military intervention acceptable. But other explanations have been offered, including radical commentators who see it as anti-imperialism gone awry and a misguided way of coping with colonialism among religious Muslims. We can dispense with contempt the often-cited explanations of evolutionary psychologists who see it as hormonal and genetic to the biology of men–the “warrior psychology.”

The religious character of Islamic paramilitary groups is disputed by Muslims with deep roots in the history of Islamic scholarship who claim fundamentalist xenophobia, violence, misogyny, autocracy, and sectarianism are right-wing appendages having nothing to do with Islamic theology or practice. The extremists are much more likely schooled in the sectarian political conflicts between Sunni and Shia than in scriptural exegesis. And of course that sectarian conflict is exacerbated and fomented by operatives from the US, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to serve their political purposes.

If Islam is a legitimizing factor and not the inspiration of fundamentalism, then is it anti-imperialism gone awry? Tis a peculiar form of anti-imperialism that is armed to the teeth with billions of dollars in armaments, including tanks, Humvees, AK-47s, rocket and grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, howitzers for launching explosives, anti-aircraft guns and missiles, infrared homing surface to air missiles, and machine guns. If we follow the armament trail back to the supply sources–and there is no question US, Saudi, Israeli, and Iranian operatives have done that–we will see who these fundamentalists politically serve–although the standard explanation is the weapons were confiscated from the retreating Iraqi army.

Some political writers characterize Islamic fundamentalist groups from the Taliban to the Islamic State as fascists because of their extreme barbarism and autocratic rule. The term fascism is now used epithetically but historically that designation was not just about the scale of brutality but about the relationship of paramilitary groups and goon squads to state power. In German, Italian, and Spanish fascism, the state bankrolled the goon squads. It isn’t certain what purpose is served by characterizing the Islamic State as fascist when the term is used so indiscriminately today. In many ways, the Islamic State has analogs in Zionist groups like the Irgun and other paramilitary thug squads who violently laid siege to Palestine with the support of European regimes.

What can be said with absolute certainty about the political character of the Islamic State and other fundamentalist goon squads is that they are a counterrevolutionary force in the Middle East and Africa. In that regard, they are a phalanx of US and European military strategy in the region–which explains their early connections to the US military and why they are armed to the teeth. Whether or not they are under direct imperialist sponsorship, their role is to divide Islam along religious lines and exacerbate sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia; create dissension and fracture the unity of ethnic groups; destabilize the region so that US bombers have an excuse to enter the fray.

For decades, the US has successfully worked with fundamentalists in several countries, including most notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt (the Muslim Brotherhood), Afghanistan and Pakistan (the Taliban and Mujahaddin), Somalia, and elsewhere. But the US cannot work with popular revolutions like the Arab uprisings, the Intifada of Palestinians, or the Kurds who defended Kobanî with arms.

It cannot be said the US exhibits a coherent, consistent strategy in the region because they are playing a dangerous game, jockeying the contending forces of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Syria, Egypt, and the Islamic State against popular revolution. Their strategy is necessarily improvised. They have to feed the propaganda front claiming they are militarily battering the Islamic State; they have to make sure those armaments get through the supply lines. They have to extemporize a strategy for fighting the Islamic State in Iraq to maximize the Sunni-Shia civil conflict and another strategy for Syria to maintain the barbaric Assad regime.

The monkey wrench in all of this chaos is Palestinian Intifada which explains the extreme barbarism of Israel in Gaza and the US military support for Israel. Intifada stands as a symbol of revolutionary hope against the counterrevolutionary despair of the Islamic State. Netanyahu repeatedly attempts to equate Hamas in Gaza to the Islamic State but despite the political problems of Hamas, it is Israel that is best served by the Islamic State and counterrevolution. No matter what the rhetoric out of the White House, that barbarism is not at odds with US neoliberal strategy in the Middle East. The proxy bombing of Yemen is to destroy the popular revolution just as the Saudi and Pakistan military in league with the US and UK are trying to do in Bahrain, and as the Sisi regime in league with the US Pentagon did in Egypt.

The tragic dimension in all this is the disintegration of the radical and socialist movements that could provide political analyses, alternative programs for action, and political challenge to counterrevolutionary violence. The democracy and social transformation that millions fought for in the Arab uprisings are being swept into the vortex of counterrevolution and discredited as an exercise in futility. That makes the struggle of the Palestinians that much more important. Because still they stand.

We do not have to stand idle rueing for the good old days of Arab revolution. We can continue to educate, agitate, and organize to oppose US and European intervention into the region, including against the Islamic State; we can build the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel. The Arab revolutions have been set back and maybe for a while; but they have not been unalterably defeated. The deciding element will be international solidarity with the forces of democracy and social transformation.

Long live the Arab revolutions! Long live Palestinian Intifada!

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