article published mid September.
The Islamophobic film produced in the United States, who mocks Islam and the prophet Mohammad, caused protests in various countries of North Africa and the Middle East of a relatively small magnitude compared to popular demonstrations which revolutionary processes have accustomed us since December 2010. The consequences of these events are in many ways ridiculous, with the exception of Libya, where an attack – many suspect it was planned – has killed the American ambassador and three embassy officials. Faced with attacks against diplomatic representations, the United States has sent one hundred marines in Libya and fifty in Yemen where the U.S. Embassy was also targeted. Images of protesters chanting slogans hostile to the United States then toured the world and filled our newscasts. The media in general described the region that would again be witnessing chaos.
The islamophobia of the medias
This way of making information shows once again the quest for media sensationalism, and above all their Islamophobic representation of the region. Once again, religion is interpreted as the only element that would push the masses to mobilize. While in a context marked by social injustice and high dose of imperialist interventionism, the defense of religion expresses, for some sections of society, anger fueled by the lack of political ideological alternatives. The Arab revolutions and democratic, social and independent demands are forgotten, so as the daily struggles that these countries have continued to develop. We return to the old cliché of irrational people for whom religion is the unique pattern of mobilization, far from any material analysis of the dynamics and socio-economic frustrations behind these kinds of events. In the same time peaceful demonstrations organised in various countries against the islamophobic movie were not broadcasted.
Despite the low number of demonstrators and the small scale of these events, the media have described them as mass rallies again kindling Arab countries, obscuring the reality of a region where people mobilize effectively, but to assert their political social and economic rights. Ignored by the media, these popular struggles yet gather together dozens or even hundreds of thousands of people.
Thus, in the West Bank protests in early September against price increases, neoliberal policies of the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad, and more generally against the Oslo agreements, mobilized tens of thousands of people across the country. These scenes have hardly been relayed by the mainstream media.
In Egypt, on September 16 and 17, a new wave of labor protests has hit schools, universities and public services, to demand better wages and better working conditions. Images of students, teacher, and officials by hundreds of thousands mobilizing and paralyzing large parts of the country have strangely enough not interested the media. No more than the demonstration of September 1st in downtown Cairo, where more than 5000 people protested against the seizure and the domination of the Muslim Brotherhood on state institutions and demanded, among other things, the release of all political prisoners. Nothing, either, on the demonstrations of this summer to protest against the IMF loan that the government would be granted. The dynamics of struggles in Egypt remains unknown to the public, but a protest of less than 200 people in front an embassy toured the world.
In Tunisia, protests have also emerged this summer for the right to water, the right to electricity, as well as for the defense of the rights of women. In the street, but also in companies, as in Sfax hospitals where four trade unionists were imprisoned.
In Syria, the fighting between the regime’s army, over-armed, and the Free Syrian army with limited resources are the bread and butter of our media, but peaceful demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of Syrians, which persist despite Assad regime’s war against the people, are not broadcasted on television screens.
While in Morocco, Bahrain and other countries ruled by “friendly” governments of the West, popular – and moreover the repression of activists – are rarely monitored by media.
In the same time, in Egypt and Tunisia, which are ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), these latter rhetorically, attacked the United States in an opposition branded in cultural terms – the “clash of civilizations”, somehow – while seeking to strengthen their diplomatic, economic and political ties with Western imperialist powers. These political and economic enslavement links are far from being questioned by the MB. Thus, the Egyptian government has recently received a delegation of businessmen Americans to encourage investment, while the socio-economic challenge is keeping an eye on. President Morsi also declared lately that “the Armed Forces safeguarded the revolution and managed the transitional period”.
The hypocrisy of Islamist parties, whose neoliberal policies and their will not to challenge the imperialist status-quo and peace with Israel satisfy the Western governments, is increasingly uncovered by the local population. And the people continue to show their willingness to pursue the objectives of the revolution, namely freedom and social justice. A reality unfortunately shunned by mainstream media.
The understanding of the revolutionary left of these events
The work of the left in addition to condemn the islamophobic role of the media, is to understand and analyze the material dynamics that underlie these kind of events to tackle the real problems and ills of these societies.
This is what has done our Lebanese comrade Bassem Chiit from the Socialist Forum (http://al-manshour.org/) in his text named the “Prophet and the left”:
« I’m all against individual violence as a method of protest, whether it comes from the left, or from militant religious groups, but to understand the latest protests as driven by religion as some kind of cultural power over the masses is basically falling into mysticism, the same mysticism that many accuse religious people to have.
First of all, the protests that took over the streets in the Arab and Muslim countries was mainly directed at US missions and embassies, and not directed against other religious institutions, the protests whether with previous intent or without it, were a political expression of anger and rage, defending the prophet and Islam was simply the ideological justification of that anger, in a context where no alternative ideology is as present.
Islam as any religion does not exist independently from people, as much as god does not exist outside the realm of human intellectual action, quite the contrary religion, god-like supernatural power, are a mystic popular expression of the contradictions and of the material realities people live in, as Marx puts it:
“Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification”.
For that reason saying that the current wave of rage derives from the ill-manners and uncultured actions of “religious people”, or some kind of natural inclination towards violence is equally racist and islamophobic as the film in question, and by doing this we are basically ignoring the factual elements of the question, i.e. what are the real, tangible, logical reasons for people to be this angry from the US, limiting these reasons to the film, is the same as saying that the millions that were killed in the second world war was only because Hitler was blood thirsty!
Yet the actual reasons behind these actions behavior is entrenched in oppression, racism, regime brutality, imperialism and poverty, and that is the main reason why religious thought is still dominant in our societies, because religious thought and interpretation stems out of the material conditions people live in and not the other way around.
Now, obviously these grounds are quite favorable for radical religious groups as a basis for mobilization and recruitment (whether being radical Islamic groups or radical Christian conservatives) and it would be quite stupid not to expect them to use this incident to widen their base of support. Especially that the real tragedy is that many secularists and leftists are now boarding the same train of justifying such anger as being motivated by some inherit inclination towards violence that is embedded in religion, rather than dealing with the “real” problems that this issue has uncovered.
The level of rage and anger stems from oppression, frustration and the brutality of the regimes in the different countries, and more importantly from the long imperialist history of the US and its allies, and oddly enough the number of causalities up till today is still much higher on the side of protestors compared to the police or diplomatic missions, and yet we see many people object to the brutality of the protestors and not one who spoke about the brutality of the police, the regimes and imperialism.
To defeat extremism in our countries we must at least look at what fuels such extremism, and not simply resort to the easy way out by saying these are stupid violent mystic people that we have no relation with!”
Our task as Marxists is to fight the ills of capitalism and its terrible consequences on the people, to struggle on the side of the oppressed and the exploited, not to accuse them of ignorance and therefore serve the propaganda of the ruling classes against the popular classes, while leaving the material conditions of our analysis in which the people live.
To leftists that say, we must first combat religion and its expression first and foremost regardless of the political and socio economic context and dynamics, I remind them of the text Lenin’s wrote “The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion,” in May 1909. He says that we, as Marxists “must explain the source of faith and religion among the masses in a materialist way”. He adds that saying the reason why religion retain its importance on some sections of the society, especially the oppressed and the exploited, is just ignorance, like the bourgeois and the ruling classes claim it, is not only wrong, but “it is a superficial view, the view of narrow bourgeois uplifters”.
He also affirms that this kind of explanation “does not explain the roots of religion profoundly enough; it explains them, not in a materialist but in an idealist way. In modern capitalist countries these roots are mainly social. The deepest root of religion today is the socially downtrodden condition of the working masses and their apparently complete helplessness in face of the blind forces of capitalism, which every day and every hour inflicts upon ordinary working people the most horrible suffering and the most savage torment, a thousand times more severe than those inflicted by extraordinary events, such as wars, earthquakes, etc….
Above all he concludes by saying that: No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour, and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism, until those masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion, fight the rule of capital in all its forms, in a united, organised, planned and conscious way.
This is why as Marxists we oppose all forms of discriminations, especially the islamophobia in western media and governments, which is used as a tool to divide the popular classes and impose reactionary policies. We also oppose the elitism and islamophobia of Western and Arabs so called “leftists” intellectuals claiming that these demonstrations are only the sign of ignorance of the masses, without analyzing the roots and dynamics of social, economic and political injustice of these societies. The work of Marxists is to struggle for radical change in our societies, radical change in materialist conditions of the people, particularly the oppressed and exploited, and not acts as individuals isolated from our societies in some ivory towers.