Michael Theodosiadis | 01/10/2012
As this article was being written, almost the entire Arab world was convulsed by violent protests. The release of the “blasphemous” and “offensive” (according to Muslims) video, called The Innocence of Muslims, caused massive reactions. The film was created by the right-wing pastor Terry Jones from Florida, USA, who is known for his anti-Islamic positions, and for the idea to introduce a new bank holiday, the International Judge Muhammad Day, that will be symbolically commemorated on September 11, (on the day of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York). Thus, the Muslim fundamentalist mob chose to express its anger and anti-western fury, attacking embassies of the U.S. and other European countries, which resulted in the death of dozens of people, including the U.S. ambassador in Libya, Christopher Stevens, when furious “protesters” stormed the American Consulate in Tripoli. Muslims protested and in many European cities. In London, in front of the French embassy, they peacefully expressed their opposition to the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (!!!); in Freiburg, Germany nearly 800 protesters gathered in the city centre chanting the slogan “I love the prophet”; and in Athens, a small group of Muslim extremists confronted the riot police forces (who used tear gas in order to disperse them), vandalized shops, while one protester was holding a banner saying “democracy and freedom on death row, Islam is coming”.
Once again scenes of violence and blind religious fanaticism unfolded in the Middle East and North Africa, reminding us of the European Middle Ages, which we ought to condemn if we really aim to the creation of a political realm, in a society of equality and real democracy, where reason rather than violence will be used in resolving differences between citizens. Our first impressions of these sad events are far from encouraging, as we witness the further widening of the gap between East and West: both of the various Christian fundamentalists along with a large proportion of right-wing voters, and of the blinded by religious hatred followers of Islam who will not hesitate to kill anyone who voices opposition to their obscurantist world-view. It is clear that we are called to face not only the narrow-mindedness and fanaticism of either side, but that we are dealing with a complicated issue, which has to be handled with prudence, subtlety, and has to be approached from a different angle. Away from Manichean dichotomies such as Islam vs liberal world, and in light of the conditions prevailing in each of the two sides, which, as human creations, encourage the reproduction of this sterile controversy; especially since power does not reside in the hands of the people, but in the States, Governments, Clergies, multinational companies, and other authoritarian forces, who in the name of profit incite armed conflicts, or schedule geopolitical games for which civilians and innocent citizens on both sides are requested to pay the bill. Even within the Western battleground, opinions are divided regarding the violence in the Arab world:
- On the one hand, the liberals/conservatives, who blame Muslims for extremism, hatred, homophobia, sexism, intolerance, and disrespect to freedom of speech, and consider that it is their religious fanaticism that plagues societies of the Middle East, seem to have forgotten the massacres of Andres Breivik, the crimes of Christian priests against minors, the targeting of Muslim immigrants (and not only) by the right-wing and state propaganda. Does anyone really believe that a large part of the voters of far-right parties, like the Golden Dawn, the BNP, the NPD, will hesitate to imitate the actions of the Norwegian mass murderer? How many times have we heard people using hate speech such as “Hitler was right”, “kill all the immigrants”, mixing their hate rhetoric with conspiracy theories?
- On the other hand, the leftists with their attitude vindicate fundamentalist-nationalist organizations, of the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah. Their point of view stems from their blindly apologetic and dogmatic anti-western attitude, which sees anti-imperialism as an end in itself, closing their eyes to the violence of the latter. This does not come as a surprise, as most of the leftist groups are trapped within an instrumental anti-western logic, ignoring their fundamental principles of their universal revolutionary theory: that human lives are not a disposable material, worthy to be sacrificed on the altar of transcendental ideas. They seem to have forgotten that the so called “anti-imperialist” regimes, such as that of Iran, base their ideological existence upon the ideals of class collaboration, of religious absolutism and many times have sent to death tens of thousands of leftists and Marxists. Have all the neo-leftists forgotten who was the one called the organized religions the “opium of the people”? A means of manipulation, suppression of free consciences, conquest and tyranny? But they don’t seem to understand – neither do they want to understand – that the Western values are not as stagnant as those of the theocratic eastern societies. Despite the right wing turn of the recent years, despite the curtailing of our basic civil rights under the excuse of the “fight against terrorism”, and the hardening of repressive measures from the capitalist States, in view of implementation of laisez fair economic agenda, freedom of expression has not been completely extinguished.
At this point there are some important parameters that must be taken into account: the above criticism of Islamic fundamentalism should not be regarded as an attempt to ridicule or underestimate the anger and rage of middle eastern people. Similarly, the use of the above criticism as “proof of Western superiority”, is inappropriate and completely misleading. It is obvious that many individuals are ideologically manipulated by populists demagogues who work in favour of strong power centres. Nonetheless, the fact that every human being is inherited with the fundamental tendency to associate him/herself with specific concepts that give meaning to his/her life must not be ignored. This concept can be an ethnic identity, a religious or existential theory. A religious fundamentalist finds meaning solely through the concept of God and his divine laws, hence, for him/her, the question ‘is the law right and moral?’ is totally invalid, as long as this law comes straight from God, and, therefore, it is indisputable. In many cases, when critical thinking has not been enabled and the process of putting social values into question is poor, the identification of this individual with these specific values becomes even stronger. Consequently, he/she is trapped into an existential fear: the challenge of his religious values is the challenge of his being. This is a form of heteronomy which cultivates a tautological closure, and results in intolerance and cultural isolationism.
However, there is also another, important psychoanalytical explanation to ethno-religious conflicts, less sociological or Marxian. Many religious followers become subservient to the answers they receive regarding the eternal question of death and the purpose life. Such answers are given with the help of a messianic doctrines of the religious Holly Books, which with their straightforward, or sometimes over-simplistic, discourses conquer the most basic structure of the human being, the psyche, playing with fear, fantasy, and all emotions. The same, up to a degree, could apply, also, to many political ideologies (which are offsprings of the Western world), such like the laisez-faire myths of self-regulated market where – despite that God is unnecessary (if not dead), and amorality dominates, – there is still a belief (or a promise) that the “invisible hand of market will regulate everything, providing, as if by ‘magic’, shelter and food for everyone”. The Marxist, Leninist, or Nechayevian intelligentsias did not escape this sort of Darwinian approach; they promise a classless society as the natural consequence of capitalist decadence, and their philosophy still reflects a kind of deterministic approach, that history “repeats itself like a farce” (as Marx was saying), obscuring the fact that history is a human creation, rather than an abstract concept ruled by extra-social laws.
Hence, the discussion should not be based upon an alleged Western superiority which, more or less, is indirectly promoted through the liberal analyses and reviews of the eastern imaginary, neither upon an instrumentalized atheism. The total rejection of metaphysics and the abolition of gods is not our direct project. Rather, the end is to remove all kinds of metaphysical beliefs from the public realm (or else, the political realm), and to shun their interference in the political life, given that most of monotheistic religions base their spiritual practice on the individual level, reducing, thus, the significance of public interactions, of the proper space where people can come together equally (freedom is, above all, a political activity), without being subject to oppression. (Besides, the death of God is not a project of the Marxists or the anarchists, but of the bourgeoisie itself. The anarchist and Marxist revolutionaries decided to continue this project, only aiming:
- to highlight some inconsistencies and contradictions of the bourgeois philosophy – who once pretended to support atheism or secularism, but many times [the bourgeois] have collaborated with the Church, or
- in order to speak against the exploitation of the masses by the Christian clergy and all organized religions). The purpose of this criticism is to examine the magnitude of the problem, the dimensions it could take, and the answers that can be given, answers that will not promote the “superiority” of the Western imaginary (which, as we see in practice, slowly collapses), and will neither reproduce a mere apologetically stance in favour of the isolationism of the theocratic societies.
Let’s not forget that the inhabitants of these countries live under squalid conditions. Their everyday life is far from this of the European standards, of the even meretricious comforts supposedly offered by the West, and a great percentage is suffering under the shadow of authoritarian regimes imposed by dictators in the name of territorial geopolitical independence from the Western rule, which assuming the role of the world’s policeman, intervenes openly bombing civilians, plundering natural resources, exploiting cheap labour in order to increase production and maximise profit. Consequently, the Easterners do not easily forget the massacres committed by the colonial regimes, and have every reason to become infuriated by the insolence of the westerners. Henceforth, to some extent, it is the foreign policy of the Western states responsible for the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism: Countries like Afghanistan, for example, before the Soviet invasion, had implemented some secular policies, while the US foreign policy increased Islamic extremism, aiming to fight against the expansionist agenda of the USSR that tried to impose atheism as the dominant State ideology in the Middle East. Hence, Islam was used as a means of resistance against the rival enemy, Communism and the Soviet Union.
Thus, considering the above as a fact and by taking into account the increasingly growing number of secular Muslims, one can clearly understand that Eastern societies can acquire their own foundations against fundamentalism, and that the last thing they need is the bombers of the West to “impose democracy”. The marginalization of the Muslim Brotherhood (Islamic organization with fascist-like ideology as Samir Amin says ) by democratic Egyptian protesters, who abandoned all the religious hatreds and decided to join forces is a vital example: there are various videos and photos, which show moments of solidarity between Muslims and Christian Arabs, during the uprising in Egypt against the Mubarak regime . For this reason we are obliged to not remain inactive when our leaders decide to implement the old known recipe of expansionism, always in order to satisfy the objectives of the economic oligarchies. We, also, feel dedicated to express our solidarity with the movement of Iranian atheists/agnostics/seculars who resist the paranoia of theocratic totalitarianism. At the same time, we have to defend the Syrian anarchists who are prosecuted both by Assad’s brutal dictatorship, and by the jihadist rebels, and show our respect for gay Muslims who have timidly begun to organize in several countries, denying to join in the homophobic and obscene “honour crimes” committed by fundamentalists. We are called to support the voices that do not promote violent division, religious grouping, and backwardness, but intercultural relations and harmonic cooperation. In addition, it has to be well understood that criticism to religious values should never be taken as an offence. Needless to say, that in almost the entire western world, free speech is the fruit of hard struggles that took place within the previous centuries against the omnipotence and absolutism of the Church, the aristocracies and their allies, against irrational myths and superstitions that had been rooted deep in our civilization, superstitions that kept Europe away from the light for many centuries, against the exploitation of the workers and in favour of universal suffrage, for the rights of homosexuals, non-Christians and minorities. Hence, it is clear that these violent anti-Western rampage offers zero contribution to the emancipation of eastern societies, as it obviously awakes the most reactionary elements of the eastern world, which could possibly lead to the establishment of ultra-authoritarian regimes, (as it happened in Iran) that have nothing to envy from the ages of Christian absolutism in Europe.
Finally, the real dilemma is not Islam versus instrumental atheism, but harmonious coexistence or hatred, liberty, democracy, and further more autonomy or barbarism. We will stand against both Islamic fundamentalism and the blind westernism/globalization. However, this raises some more questions which are difficult to be answered under the influence of the Manichean way of thinking that permeates both battlegrounds. Leftists argue that Muslim immigrants in developed Western countries have become the scapegoat for all the ills of society, and are, in essence, a vulnerable social group. This argument although undoubtedly correct, hides dangerous traps within its truths. It is clear that Muslims are targeted by right-wing and Nazi hate groups and the dominant State ideology, and perhaps, in the imaginary of Westerners they are the most underrated minority after Romas, while the recent outbreaks of violent “demonstrations” in the Arab world could give a further excuse for the European petty bourgeoisie to disguise their racist instincts or justify their anti-immigrant hysteria. Undoubtedly, there is no place for discrimination and hatred in a society of democracy and egalitarianism, as the political realm is governed by equality and isonomy. Yet, it is not unheard that ethnic minority groups may support equally extreme nationalistic or religious sexist positions, possibly due to their upbringing in a conservative religious environment. It is well known that extreme Islamic (and not only) circles promote misogyny, and disregard gender equality (earned through hard struggles and conflicts in the West). Consequently, what should be the next step of the emancipatory movements? To close our eyes to the sexism of Islamic fundamentalism, or to unconditionally support Muslim minorities and against the blatant racism they experience themselves, ignoring that gender equality is promoted through their circles? How then can we resolve this antinomy? The answer is, by pushing forward the project of the society of intercultural relations, within the framework of radical social transformation, based on the values of collective and individual autonomy. According to Aristotle, strong relationships could safeguard a society from civil strifes, which he characterizes as the most dangerous and destructive for the body politic. And, of course, it is impossible to have ties of friendship in societies which are divided by invisible walls. This naturally means that all ethnic groups have to come closer to one another, understand their differences, and abandon values that lead to division. We must expose all who close their eyes to brutality and degradation, which is part of the intellectual poverty that plagues the entire world, leading to dead ends and eliminating any desire for coexistence, equality, and justice.
 “The Muslim Brotherhood does not challenge Capitalism, and evidence for this is that they were against the labour strikes that took place three years ago. They are also against the peasant movement in which peasants defend their land against the rich. It is a party of the extreme right with fascist-like demagoguery, which knows that their choices are viable only with the support of the U.S.” (Samir Amin, interviewed by tvxs)
 Christians protect Muslims in prayer [link] Message of solidarity between Christians and Muslims during the uprising [link] Muslims protect Christians who in prayer [link]
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