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Getting in Touch with Reality
by Patrick Eytchison, Redwood Coast Greens
If the anti-war movement is going to organize effectively it will have to deal with reality. To do this several myths widely held by the “left” need to be dispelled, especially the myth that bin Laden is a creation of the CIA. While it is true that the CIA’s involvement in the Afghan-Soviet war was its biggest operation since World War II, this does not mean that all of the Islamic volunteers who came to Afghanistan to fight with the Mujahedin were CIA puppets. To believe this is the worst kind of chauvinism: the thoughtless assumption that Islamic culture is not able to generate its own resistance movements without Western inspiration, whether CIA or Marxist. The fact is that the Islamic world was characterized by many strong Koranic revitalization movements as far back as the early 19th century, for example the Caucasus war of Iman Shamyl against the Russians between 1840 and 1859 (and by the way Shamyl had derived some of his inspiration from his contact with the Algerian resistance leader Emir Abd al-Qader when on hajj in Mecca in 1829). International “terrorism” is hardly a new thing. Even earlier West Africa was home to a continuous series of reform jihads, the most successful, that of Usman Dan Fodio, which created the Sokoto Caliphate, a state lasting from 1803 to 1903.
The principle of all such Islamic jihad movements and a principle rooted in the teaching of the prophet Mohammed himself is the subordination of economic, governmental and civil life to the Shariah, the application of the Koran and its tradition of scholarly interpretation. During the high point of Western Imperialism, this tradition of Islamic revitalization was fragmented and at the low ebb; to some extent it was replaced by various attempts to adapt socialism to the context of Muslim societies. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the general post-1968 decline of Marxism, however, the original purification tradition has more and more returned as a factor in Islamic politics. Not only bin Laden but many of the current militant Islamic reformers gained battle experience in the CIA financed Afghan war, for example members of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), Armed Islamic Group (GIA), Mohammed Shawky al-Istambouli, brother of the fundamentalist army lieutenant Khalid al-Istambouli who led the group that assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981—and the list could go on.
The point is that from bin Laden’s refuge cave in Afghanistan to the Moro Jihad (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) in the South Philippines, which in its own ideology traces it roots back to resistance against the Spanish occupation of the Philippines in the 17th century, the Islamic world is experiencing a resurgence of a cultural consolidation force organic to its own tradition. Not all, probably not most, of the groups and leaders involved in this upsurge call for violent resistance, but a significant number do; and a significant number of these were involved in the Afghan war. But interpreting this as to claim they were “created by the CIA,” is simply not to face reality. A more real statement would be: the CIA took advantage of emerging Islamic revitalization to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan. There’s a big difference and the difference is understanding what the Bush Administration’s vague, open-ended “war on terrorism” is really about. It’s about the fear that the Muslim world will move from fragmentation to consolidation against the economic interests of the United States. It’s about a realization that—just as in the 19th Century—the most effective leaders of such a socio-cultural restructuring will be those who call for militant opposition.
Effective organizing will mean getting this reality out to the public and building a demand that they be discussed and debated publicly, in the media, in families, in Congress. That will take a lot of organizing.