Notes on Afghanistan and Pakistan

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by Will

Historical Features of Afghanistan

A) Afghanis have fought the British in three separate wars and Russians once and defeated them or held them at stalemate.  This is military dimensions of this war is something the American brass and political establishment are aware of.  This is reflected in the uneasiness of sending more troops although the new fiscal realities of the U.S. government are probably playing a role as well.

B) Afghanistan is one of the few places on the Earth where bourgeois-capitalist development has had little if any impact.  While many newly independent countries in the post-colonial era were taking stabs at state-led development, Afghanistan was largely left out of this dynamic.  This has meant a centralized state with a national ideology, which reaches into the pores of Afghanistan, has never existed.  There is a huge gulf between the cities and the rural sectors of society.  It also means that the presence of a working class is minimal.

C) The Communists following the overthrow of Daoud did not have a base in the countryside.  90% of the Afghani population lived here at the time.  To push for change they had to rely on a top-down strategy which alienated the villagers. This meant force and violence had to be used by the Communists fuelling an insurgency.  The pitfalls of revolution from above laid the gravestone of the Afghani Communists. So when Afghanis hate Communism, it is not because they are backwards, it is because Communists first became their jailers and tortures and later with the Soviets sided with those who jailed and tortured them.

Most Communists made another fatal mistake in supporting the Soviet invasion.  Socialism/Communism cannot be brought by the barrel of a gun.  Furthermore, the Soviet army found itself playing the role of occupier instead of some progressive force.  This was the inherent logic from the beginning.

Understanding the rise of the Taliban

Most precisely, the Taliban came to power in the context of a civil war which happened after the Soviet Union and the US left, once Afghanistan was of no use to them.  The Taliban stepped in the wake of immense corruption and violence as various Islamist parties fought for the control of the country.   They promised to stop the corruption and war that plagued the country.  There is nothing about the Afghan people to think that a left alternative could not have provided a different vision. The Taliban were heavily funded by Pakistan and de facto supported by the United States.  The latter hoped that someone would stabilize the country and become a negotiating partner they could work with regarding oil pipelines.

The social base of the Taliban are the following: village mullahs or clerics, Afghanis who are no longer willing to tolerate the U.S. occupation, and massive amounts of students in Madrasas in NWFP in Pakistan.  Many of these students’ parents were refugees from the Afghan-Soviet war.   Conversely that has meant village/ tribal leadership has been seriously eroded in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Taliban are Pashtun-chauvinists.  This has limited their ability to provide a cohesive national program for Afghanistan.  Ethnicity and tribe play a role in Afghanistan.  However, the larger lines of social differences existed upon class, one’s position on the Soviet invasion, and whether the King should return to establish some type of monarchy.

Furthermore there have been reports where the Taliban in the NWFP have developed a right-wing populism, which attacks rich landowners and better of middle class layers who mistreat poor peasants.

Pluralities: Islam in Afghanistan and in general

Islam is hardly a monolithic religion.  So far this line of argument has been taken over by liberal Muslim commentators.  But there are more radical and more “Anarchist” or “Communist” interpretations to Islam and its pluralism. There are Sufis, Shias, Ismailis, Black Nationalist Islam to name some. Then there are also the immense cultural differences which exist from country to country. A common anecdote is that a Muslim in India 20-30 years ago would have had more in common with their Hindu neighbors then with Muslims in most countries.  Conservative Muslims label this as the problems of Islam.  Historically this points to the complexity of how Muslim people have practiced their faith.  It has not been a closed vessel where no other religious, cultural, ideological, or spiritual trends affect it. This makes sense as I recall my mom telling stories of how her family celebrated Divali with their friends in India. Probably one of the most influential stories from my Mother was when she told me a few lines of how a Hindu family gave shelter to my family when they were on the verge of starvation in India.  The point is there can hardly be a discussion of a single, unitary Islam.

There is also the matter of political interpretations of Islam. These range from liberal and conservative interpretations which we see in the United States to Islamic socialism of the type of Ali Shariati, to nationalist like Nasrallah in Lebanon, and reactionary ones advocated by the Taliban. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Today the most intense push comes from US Empire which demands every Muslim interpret Islam in terms of American-liberal-foreign policy interests.  Tangled with this is the migration of millions of Muslims to France, Britain, Germany and of course the United States.  The “clash of civilizations”, “war on terror” rhetoric, and wars in the Middle East and South Asia have closed the dimensions of what is acceptable practice of Islam for many young Muslims today. To use a simple anecdote, when I was growing up in the metro-Detroit area, many women in my community would have never thought of wearing the hijab.  They thought it was an Arab import.  No one’s commitment to Islam was questioned on the basis of the hijab. In the last fifteen to twenty n years this has drastically changed.  Part of it is the influence of Wahhabism creeping in the United States and the other major part is the impact of 9/11.  Women want to make a clear and powerful choice.  They refuse to see their own people attacked, their religion demonized, and have chosen to wear the hijab.  Today conversations, amongst my family regarding Islam have certainly narrowed because of these trends.  This is happening across the advanced capitalist countries. My sense is that this is process is slightly different in countries where the majority of the population is Muslim, but more on that later.

This has important implications for the left.  Muslims see Muslim people being attacked and correctly feel that Islam is under fire.  Treating Islam as a backward or as false consciousness is only going to leave the field open to liberals and Wahhabists.  The revolutionary left has to throw its dog in the fight.  Concretely, this means that Islam is a religion and ideology, which must be engaged with. It means that there is a political spectrum and the left should help develop the most democratic, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal interpretations of Islam.  If Christian Liberation Theology is legitimate then why cannot the same be said of an Islamic liberation theology.  Arguably one of the reasons that cross-fertilization has not happened in the last twenty five years is because of the decimation of the revolutionary left in the Middle East and most of South Asia.  There has been no revolutionary pole for Muslims to gravitate to.

In Afghanistan eighty percent of Afghans belong to the Sunni Hanafi sect which for our purposes is the most liberal of the four schools of Sunni thought (Taliban, Ahmed, 83).  There are also Shia, Ismaelis, and Sufi Muslims.  There were plenty of more liberal and moderate Islamic organizations in Afghanistan at the time of the Soviet invasion, but the U.S. chose to support the more radical Islamic Mujaheddin parties.  Wahhabism or Salafism has never received much support in the country.  It was believed to be a foreign ideology by many Afghanis, but all this changed with the CIA-ISI funding of the former.  This gave them the arms, the clout, and manpower to change the ideological field in Afghanistan.

What colonialism/ U.S. Empire have done to Islam

 

The best summary of this argument is found in Aijaz Ahmed’s “Islam, Islamisms, and the West”. It lays the basic arguments of the contemporary landscape of Islam, identity, and liberation movements have been reshaped in the last fifty years.  Its complete arguments and ideas need to be taken up in a future post. For now, I hope we can keep our eyes on its relevancy towards Afghanistan and Pakistan, although any discussion of Islam, colonialism, U.S. Empire will directly impact discussions on other parts of the world—especially the Middle East.

Muslims have lived in a diversity of ways since the existence of Islam.  Muslims have not understood their own world only through the lens of religion.  This is an Orientalist and racist position—period.  This coincides with the myth that countries with majority Muslim populations become transformed into Muslim nations.  This is an important slippage where the tensions must be explored.  Some of these countries have had Communist Parties of larger magnitudes then in Europe or the United States, Canada, or Australia.  This has to complicate any “Islamic” essentialist identity of these countries.  Looking at the experience of India, Indonesia, or Bangladesh are cases in point.

The argument among the right and sections of the left has been that at least the U.S. is bringing democracy to Iraq or Afghanistan.  This could not be further from the truth.   Elections are not synonymous with democracy. Just ask Black people in the United States during the era of Jim Crow.  A nation can have “democratic elections” which are hardly democratic.  Furthermore, what historical evidence if there of the U.S. invading a third world country and democracy shortly following? The historical evidence simply does not exist.  For white chauvinists this simply confirms that western civilization is not compatible with much of the colored world, further justifying the need to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S., among other reactionary policies.  For revolutionaries this means we are for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The arrival of colonialism or U.S. Empire actually reinforces a sectarian-religious structure on society.  Lebanon’s experience with French colonialism is one powerful case in point.  Sectarian divisions were built into the nature of the state system locking conflicts based religious differences. Ahmed sums up the problems with the U.S. Empire and democracy building project:

“First, it helped Islamism flourish by recruiting it as a force against ‘communism’, which encompassed not only the broadly-based communist movements that had arisen among the Muslim peoples but also any regime which subscribed to economic nationalism against Western corporate capital. The Western left typically underestimates all that history as a minor episode in what it too calls ‘the Cold War’, a term it has borrowed from the imperialist vocabulary. Second, by ensuring the overthrow of those secular regimes that were not communist (most of them were actually anti- communist) but which either tolerated communists (the Sukarno regime in Indonesia), or refused to align with the West (Sukarno again, but also Nasser in Egypt), or were even mildly nationalist in the economic domain (Mossadegh in Iran) – the West ensured the narrowing of the space for secular politics and therefore the emergence of varieties of Islamism, moderate as well as militant: Sadat, who succeeded Nasser and brought Egypt into the US-led camp, patronized the moderate wing of the Muslim Brothers but was gunned down by the armed ones who had broken with their par-ent organization, precisely on the question of Sadat’s alliance with the US and what they regarded as a capitulation on the question of Israel. Third, when Islamism became a powerful tendency in so many of those countries, the West played a cynical game of extreme pragmatism: continued sup-port for regimes like the Saudi one; the organization of the jihad against Afghan communism, as if what developed there was just a ‘Soviet invasion’, with no domestic basis; support for the most autocratic regimes, such as that of Mubarak in Egypt, against the Islamicists, adding to their claim to be ‘anti-imperialist’; displaying nothing but contempt for those Islamicists who had actively demonstrated their belief in electoral politics (in Algeria, in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, in Lebanon) and treating them as just ‘terrorists’.” (Ahmed, Islam, Islamisms and the West, 25)

Class politics: does it exist?

The mainstream press never discusses the news in terms of class when talking about imperial adventures. Once in a while they might come up with cute names like the twitter revolution ala Iran which certainly says something about how they understand the social composition of a movement, but I don’t think it goes too much farther than that.  In terms of Afghanistan, there is so much misinformation and confusion I wonder how little journalists actually understand the actual social and political dynamics they report on.

Class differentiation is not along the same lines as activists in U.S. might recognize, but they do exist in Afghanistan.   The lack of recognition that class formation and politics plays a powerful role in “Muslim” countries has been a critical handicap of the left.  It denudes social movements of their content and leaves the assessment only at an ideological level.  The inability to integrate class can only be a disorienting position to begin an analysis of any struggle.

One of the most powerful indicators of class politics right now is that part of the growth of the Taliban in Pakistan is related to its support of poor or landless farmers attacking the large landowners in the countryside.

It also appears that the Taliban movement was one against the tribal chiefs in Afghanistan.  These tribal chiefs were landowners and they were the ones who destroyed the country to pieces till the Taliban intervened.  Tribal authority and politics reached it limits in terms of providing a positive vision for countless youth, for dealing with the country’s numerous problems and the Taliban sought to replace this vacuum.

Af-Pak dimension: why Pakistan

 

The term “Af-Pak” stems from Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s Afghanistan-Pakistan special envoy.  Holbrooke’s contribution to ruling class policy debates connected any Afghanistan resolution to Pakistan.  He is not certainly the first person to point out the connections between the two countries.  Afghani militants and the Taliban have used the FATA areas as sanctuary.  This has been a big problem for the US.  You cannot have parts of the battlefield which are generally off limits to your troops—predator drones aside.  The Af-Pak tango is a huge danger for Pakistan.  It has caused hundreds of thousands to flee brutal attacks  by the Pakistani army as they level whole villages and towns.  This is one of many reasons the Zardari government has no popular support in the country.  Furthermore, it appears that the Taliban have begun to wage a low-level campaign inside Pakistan as well targeting military HQs, assassinating lower level generals, and at times exploding bombs in civilian districts as well.  This is in the context of the Pakistan’s army’s offensive into the Waziristan.  The Taliban’s message is simple: we can bring the war to you too.

Understanding the basics of Pakistan

The Pakistani state and society has been manipulated and mutilated beyond recognition by the U.S. funding of the Pakistani Army.  This has given the Army an amount of power that few Army’s in the world have.  This has been one of the fundamental dynamics of Pakistan. Furthermore, landowners and a comprador bourgeoisie have built an important relationship with the Army, relying on it for stability and the protection of property.

NWFP and Balochistan (equivalent of states in United States) are the most underdeveloped states inside Pakistan.  The central government in Islamabad discriminates heavily towards these two states in states.  This has created separatist movements in both regions at times.  There is also immense racism towards the Baloch and Pashtuns in the NWFP.  Islam as a glue in Pakistan is barely holding the nation together.  If anything, the fear of instability, the “threat” of India, the Army and a lack of an alternative is what keeps the state from fragmentation.

Pakistan has supported sectarian/ fundamentalist Islamic organizations for almost 30 years.  This has been useful in smashing the left in Pakistan, it has been useful in legitimizing the Pakistani State, in fomenting insurgencies in Kashmir, in keeping a hand in the Afghanistan Pot, and in continuing to be an important player in the region.

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9 thoughts on “Notes on Afghanistan and Pakistan”

  1. This point that Will makes is crucial:

    “Treating Islam as a backward or as false consciousness is only going to leave the field open to liberals and Wahhabists. The revolutionary left has to throw its dog in the fight. Concretely, this means that Islam is a religion and ideology, which must be engaged with. It means that there is a political spectrum and the left should help develop the most democratic, anti-racist, and anti-patriarchal interpretations of Islam. If Christian Liberation Theology is legitimate then why cannot the same be said of an Islamic liberation theology.”

    Below is a perspective that seems to expand on what Will is arguing, from a discussion on the Three Way Fight blog: http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/search?q=liberation+theology.
    I generally agree with these points, I just think that they are framed in a somewhat clunky what that makes it seem like the author is calling for “supporting” Muslim and Christian revolutionaries rather than organizing alongside them in the same organization. Also, he fails to take up the point that Will and mlove raise here in their posts, that US Imperialism has actively supported authoritarian versions of Islamism, not just Napoleonic secular chauvinism. In any case, hope this is helpful:

    “This is a fascinating and timely discussion. I agree with the Three Way Fight folks that sometimes anti-imperialist forces can take on an insurgent Right wing or fascist character, and that there are some Islamic versions of that in the Middle East today.

    But it seems to me that Three Way Fight tends to overemphasize the influence of these right-wingers. Do the Al Qaeda networks and the Taliban really have that much clout internationally? How many everyday Muslims actually support them?

    People like David Horowitz and the organizers of Islamofascism week at campuses across the country next week claim that most Muslims support these fools. But that is just witch-hunting and imperial propaganda. Obviously the 3-Way Fight folks aren’t coming from the same angle as Horowitz and it seems they would be equally as opposed to his white supremacy.

    But could they also be overemphasizing the power of the Islamic right? I would argue that Al Qeda and the Taliban are relatively marginal in terms of the politics of the world’s several billion Muslims. It seems there is much more international grassroots support for groups like Hizb’Allah and Hamas because they are the most prominent forces currently on the ground mounting mass struggles against Israeli apartheid and for social reconstruction. But are these groups really fascist or on the Right? In many ways they have more in common with authoritarian Leftism: their program is a kind of revolutionary cultural nationalism with a state capitalist/ social democratic emphasis on social justice and aid from above.

    In this, they are no doubt oppressive forces poised to betray the workers, women, queer folks, and other everyday Muslims who have at times expressed very militant aspirations for democratic self-government (for example the popular committees of the Intifada). But this betrayal is not a result of Hamas or Hizb’Allah’s Islamic character. After all, plenty of secular nationalist and socialist parties in the Middle East performed similar betrayals in earlier stages of anti-colonial struggles, and that’s at least one of the reasons why so many folks have turned to Islamic politics as a supposed alternative.

    Secular populist, Leftist, and state capitalist regimes have also launched brutal campaigns against women, queer folks, indigenous peoples, and others, (as Matthew recognized with Chavez and Ortega). Reinventing an earlier secular nationalism or Communism is not viable considering these historical failures. Whether Islamic or not, something new is desperately needed. The key question is, where will folks go once they see the new Hizb’Allah and Hamas “Islamic” versions of state capitalism betray them once again?

    I would argue that this will not automatically be in a secular direction. It could also be a different type of Islamic politics, a more libertarian or direct-democratic vision from below. This is of course not guaranteed but it is one viable possibility worth fighting for.

    It is good to see some activists in the US working to critique both US imperialist attacks on Arabs and Muslims and also the patriarchal and authoritarian aspects of right-wing Islamic movements today. These are important first steps. But when are we going to actually propose alternatives that engage with religious thought seriously in its own vocabulary, language, etc.? When will revolutionaries throw their full support behind Muslims who are attempting to articulate libertarian Islamic theologies of liberation? Are they despairing that such folks do not exist in the Muslim community? In my experiences, they do exist, but are often boxed out and squeezed between the secular chauvinism and racism of the Left, the conservatives of the mosque and Muslim Students Association leadership, and the authoritarianism of insurgent Islamic tendencies. What types of political organization will open up space for new Muslim possibilities? I would argue that the largely atheist forms the Left has taken historically are inadequate for this task.

    Many young folks are slowly but surely becoming fed up with the bootlicking leadership of groups like the MSA who constantly try to prove to whitey that they are the “Good Muslims” unlike the “Bad Muslims over there.” Many of these young Muslims will see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some version of secular Arab or Muslim power politics. Others will similarly see no alternative in authoritarian Islamic insurgents and will turn instead to some vision of Islamic liberation theology. Revolutionaries of all religious and non-religious backgrounds in the US need to be prepared to respect, support, and understand, and further BOTH potential developments and cannot subordinate either one to the other. These tendencies will only be vibrant if they cross fertilize each other.

    Incidentally, I would argue a similar orientation is needed to deal with Christian imperialism and fundamentalism in the US. This is not the place to articulate a full vision on this front, but preliminarily, we need to recognize that a) liberal, multicultural and “interfaith” oriented Christian theologies generally serve as smoke-screens for US Empire because they argue that the US is a progressive force in the world because God ordained America (manifest destiny) to spread separation of church and state, dialogue, and tolerance in order to uplift backwards Third World cultures, especially Islamic ones. b) this liberal theological consensus is fracturing domestically because it cannot contain the frustrations of class tensions, de-industrialization, people loosing their jobs, etc. c) one response to this is an insurgent, populist Christian right that has definite fascist groupings within it that function as vanguards with influence beyond their numbers. d) we need to combat both the liberal imperial theology as well as this insurgent Christian right (we need a 3 way fight), e) it is not enough to simply make a secular critique of both theologies and encourage people to leave Christianity; we need to actively develop Christian liberation theologies that pose insurgent alternatives to both. A top priority in this should be to articulate, in uncompromising and militant Christian prophetic language, why it is crucial for Christians to stand in solidarity with everyday Muslims against imperialism, white supremacy, and fascist attacks.

    I’m glad you pointed out some of the legacies that such a liberation theology could draw from, ranging from the late medieval peasant uprisings to the militant abolitionism of John Brown and David Walker. This whole history needs to be retrieved and reconsidered. Again, I can’t go into sufficient depth here, but in many ways it wasn’t capitalism that waged an assault on feudalism in Europe but rather a whole range of insurgent Christian heretic groups, as Sylvia Federici has documented. Capitalism was a middle class counter-revolution that attempted to co-opt this anti-feudal movement and establish a new ruling class. As a result, the middle class’s secularism is not unambiguously progressive. Enlightenment liberals struggled against the Church hierarchy and its feudal ties, but they also struggled against direct-democratic Christian visions from below and attempted to contain the self-activity of peasant, artisan, and early workers who were becoming Christian revolutionaries. Nowadays this middle class secularism takes its most destructive form in the NeoConservatives who act like Napoleon, attempting to shove the Liberal revolution down Muslim peoples’ throats from above and secularize them whether they like it or not. Revolutionaries must distinguish ourselves from this imperial project at all costs, while still mounting our own struggles against religious authorities whether these be conservative, liberal, or insurgent Rightists.

    What is missing in the mix are revolutionary religious forces from a direct democratic perspective who can jump into the 3 way fight without subordinating their distinctive religious content and vision. These urgently need to be articulated and organized.”

  2. Mamos, because i’m extremely ignorant in terms of religion, what exactly do you mean by:

    “What is missing in the mix are revolutionary religious forces from a direct democratic perspective who can jump into the 3 way fight without subordinating their distinctive religious content and vision….?”

    What is “distinctive religious content and vision?” The way religions are practiced, it seems that one of the core tenets of each is that only followers of that specific religion know the true God or will be saved. Is it possible to be directly democratic but only include followers of one faith?

  3. hey Gila,

    By a “distinctive religious content and vision” I mean that we should not be afraid to publicly proclaim a theology of liberation. I’m still trying to work out how best to do this, but I think it’s possible to organize religious communities and groups that overlap, draw from, support, and inspire broader multi-religious and/or non religious organizing efforts. For example, there is a dynamic relationship between Leftist religious communities in Chiapas informed by liberation theology and the broader Zapatista movement/ EZLN.

    I don’t think there is any one theology that can stand alone and provide answers to our social problems without drawing from broader theoretical traditions that are not religious, at least not explicitly. One of the strengths of Latin American liberation theology is it meshed liberating political currents in the biblical tradition and in Church history with liberating currents of Marxist thought and practice. I should qualify that it did this only when it was at its best…. when it was at its worst it meshed a vision of a “progressive” or reformed Catholic hierarchy with Stalinism. I should also qualify that Marxism itself has historical roots in the long arc of Christian communistic struggle from the anti-Roman resistance of the early Church through the late medieval peasant revolts through the early slave revolts against primitive accumulation documented in The Many Headed Hydra: The Hidden HIstory of the Revolutionary Atlantic. So you could argue that when liberation theologians “baptized” Marxism and made it Christian, they were actually RE-baptizing it. Loren Goldner has also written extensively about the mystical roots of Marxism (for example, see: http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/renaissance.html ; and also http://home.earthlink.net/~lrgoldner/afroanab.html). Of course the “Christian” trajectory of these liberating currents has deep roots in indigenous religious traditions from African, Native American, and pre-Christendom European cultures.

    Liberation theology is the critical reflection on practice in light of the word of God. In other words, when any of us are actively engaged in the struggle for human liberation and when we reflect, meditate, and pray as part of this struggle, we gain perpetually new insights into God’s revelation in the world. This stands in stark contrast to conservative theologies that claim there is one unchanging truth that God deposited only in the locked vaults of a select, elite corp of caretakers.

    So by “distinctive” religious content and vision I don’t mean something that is completely separate from or hostile from “secular” political traditions…. much of my practice as a liberation theologian is informed by non-Christian traditions and much of the critical reflection I do on this practice is done in conversation with people of various religious and non-religious backgrounds.

    Also, I disagree with your assessment that “the way religions are practiced, it seems that one of the core tenets of each is that only followers of that specific religion know the true God or will be saved.” Many religions don’t focus on “salvation” at all, that is a largely Christian concept, and of course, there are many traditions that don’t imagine that there is one “true God.”

    And among Christians who do believe in salvation, I’d say there are many believers who assert that salvation is promised to everyone, not just Christians. In the Gospels, Jesus says that we are saved if we give food to others when they are hungry, clothes when they’re naked, drink when they’re thirsty, shelter when they’re homeless, etc. Many atheistic revolutionaries have taken this moral imperative more seriously then the bureaucratic leaders of various Christian denominations. This is where liberation theology intersects with what is sometimes called comparative theology. Comparative theology is done when a Christian seriously studies another religious tradition and takes it seriously on its own terms, in its own historical, social, spiritual, moral, and aesthetic context, and then goes back and asks how we can better understand our Christian belief and practice in light of the insights the other tradition has to offer. For example, as a Christian I have studied Islam for years and this has prompted me to understand much more that “Allahu Akbar”, God is Greater – God cannot be captured or defined by any earthly power or authority. That’s why I have no problem chanting Allahu Akbar in Palestine solidarity street demos (for example, see: http://spiritualdesert.blogspot.com/2009/01/allahu-akbar-gaza-and-god-fearing.html).

    Of course there is a lot of religious chauvinism out there, and there are people in every faith who claim that only they have access to the Truth. We need to challenge this forthrightly, especially when these folks try to wield state power against people of other faiths or when they try to organize insurgent street forces to impose their beliefs on others by force. We also need to practice and promote dialogue between people of different faiths. However, the way interfaith dialogue is often done limits the terms of discussion to terms accessible to liberal multiculturalism. For example, in most “interfaith dialogues” I’ve been a part of (or thrown out of!), Christian and Jewish Zionist theologies cannot be challenged… when I have challenged Zionism I’ve been labeled an anti-Semite and shunned. But I do think the project of interfaith dialogue needs to be be built from below, from a firmly anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-Zionist perspective.

    Also, just to clarify, the “Three Way Fight” is the idea that we need to fight a) the state/ruling class/ imperialists AND b) the various right wing populist/ fascist forces who are also opposing the state/ruling class/ imperialists. The idea is that insurgency comes not only from the Left but also from the Right, and the Left needs to out-organize and compete with the Right to organize rebellions against the state and ruling class.

    What I’m advocating in the US is that Left-wing, direct democratic religious radicals need to organize against both the religious right AND the liberal secular state. I would love to build this kind of organizing project but unfortunately for the time being I’m preoccupied with other work. I’m hoping that over the next few years we can “gather forces” and build circles of revolutionary religious folks who can start to take up this work more consistently.

  4. Hi Mamos,

    Thanks for your comments! I realize this is sort of continuing the derailment of the conversation away from Afghanistan & Pakistan, but I’d like to learn more about your thoughts on leftist religious organizing. If folks think it’s best to move the conversation elsewhere, I would be happy to do that.

    Specifically, you say that “Left-wing, direct democratic religious radicals need to organize against both the religious right AND the liberal secular state.” I’m more or less an atheist, and for me a big part of that is that my naturalistic view of the world/universe, including myself, gives me a strong sense of wonder, awe, and connection — things that I think religion can provide people too. At the same time, I would very much like to organize with religious radical leftists, and I have no interest in “converting” people to my view. How do you view the working and organizational relationships between atheists/agnostics/non-religious folks and religious folks in the 3-way fight?

  5. Hi JK,

    I agree this is getting a little off topic, but at the same time I do think your questions are relevant because the inability of secular and Muslim folks to fight imperialism together is one of the factors that contributes to the weakness of the antiwar movement in the US. Maybe I can answer your question and bring it back to the topic at hand by talking about how some of the folks around Gathering Forces have brought religious and nonreligious folks together in our Middle East solidarity organizing. This could be another post if the GF editors feel there is room, but if not, we can keep discussing it here in the comments.

    So here goes…. many of us have participated in Middle East solidarity campaigns over the years. We have always tried to link solidarity to the struggle against white supremacy here in the US, pointing out how Israeli apartheid and US Empire are connected to racist institutions and perspectives here in our communities. To do this, we have organized in Arab and Muslim communities, bringing Arab and Muslim folks together with other people of color. There are many ways to do this – confronting bigoted anti-Muslim speakers like David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, or Michael Medved when they come to speak on a college campus, doing mosque defense when a local mosque is getting vandalized and attacked, demanding a designated space on campus for Muslim folks to pray and do ablutions when folks get harassed for doing these things in public places, etc. In all of these cases, we have tried to build multi-religious coalitions on a militant anti-racist basis. Many practicing Muslims have gotten involved in these actions and both Muslim and non-Muslim folks in our groups have participated in Ramadan dinners or Iftars hosted by Muslim Students Association groups or have gone to Qur’an discussion groups or theological debates to meet folks and talk about organizing.

    This work is not always easy. We have gotten criticized and shut out by MSA leaders, Imams, and other folks who felt we were turning rank and file Muslims against us and tried to isolate us as outside agitators (this is especially difficult for those of us who are Muslims who end up getting shut out from communities which are supposed to be theirs). Maybe other folks can elaborate more on these experiences.

    Despite these difficulties though, this work has been fruitful because it’s given us a chance to build majority people of color multiracial groups in which Muslim folks participate as equals alongside atheists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs, etc. It has also given us a chance to challenge patriarchy and other forms of oppression within Muslim communities IN ORDER TO strengthen these communities to fight outside enemies like the racists and imperialists who try to use patriarchy and divisions in the community to justify attacks and occupation in the name of “saving” Muslims from themselves. Fatima, Ibn Jubayr, and Will described this “three way fight” very well in their piece on Nidal Hasan: http://gatheringforces.org/2009/11/12/nidal-hasan-the-soul-of-a-people/. Also, you might want to check out a piece that Fatima wrote here about the role of Islamic prayer in the Gaza solidarity rallies last winter: http://spiritualdesert.blogspot.com/2009/01/takbir-struggle-comes-from-within.html

    I think to do this kind of work effectively, everyone, not just Muslim folks, need to study and train ourselves to understand the basics of theological debates in the Muslim community. Folks who aren’t Muslim can’t be opportunistically coming in as outsiders just packaging a pre-fabricated radical politics in theological window dressing. There needs to be genuine engagement with Islamic politics working from the assumption that atheistic/agnostic Leftists and Leftists of other faiths can learn something from the dynamic currents of Islamic political thought. Non-Muslims who have a healthy “naturalistic view of the world and the universe” which brings “awe and wonder” are certainly in a better position to do this than knee-jerk secular chauvinists. After all, if the entire world is full of dynamic, dialectical struggles which bring growth and development then so is the Muslim community. If the entire world is full of class struggle, expressed in myriad forms including struggles over culture, family, gender, and identity, then it should be no surprise that Islamic political traditions have taken up questions of class struggle in debates over the historical role of prophecy, the Ummah (Muslim community), the role of consultation and shoras (popular councils) and the greater jihad/ struggle for social justice.

    All of these questions also come up in terms of organizing in Christian circles, which is something I’d love to do as a Christian revolutionary. I’d love to build organizations that could directly disrupt the Religious Right while trying to win over working class folks who the Religious Right preys on to a more anti-racist, democratic, and anti-patriarchal vision of Christianity. But that’s another whole conversation for another time.

    In terms of the awe and wonder that comes from understanding the dynamism of physical and social nature, I feel that too as a Christian. As I see it, Creation is an ongoing process of struggle, rupture, evolutionary creeps and revolutionary leaps, all shot through with God’s glory. This is consistent with the tradition of Hagia Sophia, or Woman Wisdom in the Bible…. the author of the Book of Wisdom for example encouraged ancient Jewish folks to develop a meditative practice which combines naturalistic analysis with the tradition of Exodus from slavery and God’s revelation of social justice through prophecy. The Bible calls Jesus the incarnation of Sophia/ Wisdom, the “discourse of the universe” made flesh and taking on the pattern of a human life, one full of revolutionary opposition to oppression. So I think there is a lot of possible common ground here… in any case, I’d strongly encourage you to read those Loren Goldner pieces I quoted in the previous comment because he grounds the formation of revolutionary Marxism in the confluence of various “cosmobiological” traditions that had very strong spiritual tendencies: they saw the human person and human subjectivity as part of the dynamic cosmos.

  6. Hey Mamos,

    Thanks for the info, and for connecting it back to the original post. I’d like to continue this conversation with you and other gathering forces folks sometime.

    JK

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