Can it really be surprising that the Arab Spring has turned into an Anti-west Autumn? Are the recent violent attacks on US and European Embassies and their staff, along with assorted western commercial targets, really something that was provoked by a largely unseen film? Alternatively were these attacks merely events which only needed an opportunity to occur and an appropriate trigger? I suggest the latter. The recent overthrow of despotic regimes in the Middle East and North Africa has provided the opportunity, the internet publication of the recent anti-Islam film has provided the most recent trigger.
Anyone who has critically observed the West’s interventions, in the Middle East and elsewhere, over a number of years, will hardly be surprised, that the West‘s consistent violence will be reflected back upon them at any opportunity. The support for numerous puppet regimes, the funding of Israel‘s war against the Palestinian‘s, the illegal war in Afghanistan and Iraq, the indiscriminate bombing of Libya along with countless targeted (and mis-targeted) drone assassinations in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, has built up a massive reservoir of resentment in many lands.
During the Arab Spring this long-suppressed, smouldering anger and resentment was focussed upon the military-supplied regimes in the middle east. They were regimes who kept their citizens in check and supported the West’s negative economic, financial, political and military interventions throughout the region. The chosen ideological framework of the aggressive penetration by the west’s capitalist inspired economic interests has been by ideas of secular liberal democracy, but importantly, it’s economic and political interests are led by practicing Christians.
It can hardly be surprising that those who are strongly opposed to the West’s oppression and exploitation are also obliged to use the most appropriate ideological constructs that are available to them. What set of ideas are available to them? Since the historical betrayal of anti-capitalist ideas perpetrated by the Stalinists, it is not surprising that the ideological construct directed against the 20th and 21st century imperialist-style onslaught of the Christian-led capitalist West, now frequently orbits around the ideology of Islam.
For this reason the activist vanguard of those opposed to western intrusion and hegemony in the Middle East, North Africa, are often those most closely associated with Islam. But not always and not for ever. This Islamic leadership role, where it emerges, has been further gifted to the Islamists, by the aggressive, exploitative antics of the West along with its Imperial, racist heritage and its contemporary institutionalised development. A further twist endorsing this outcome has been an inconsistent and self-serving response by the pro-capitalist political elite to the phenomena of religion.
At one level in the West, there has been an accommodation to patriarchal religious ideology (particularly with regard to questions of female subordination) where this has furthered the elite’s economic and political interests. At another level there has been a surreptitious and proxy attack upon foreign labour disguised as a form of intolerance to their religious or cultural norms. This accommodation to patriarchal religious governance, has served to strengthen the status of religious activist leaders and by the same measure weakened the alternative status of secular activists among these communities.
It is also predictable, that the American political and economic elite will be in complete denial concerning the fundamental opposition to the West’s foreign polices. Accordingly, they have fixed the blame upon the publication of the film and will continue to do so. Their focus in negotiating any future outcomes will therefore be on the religious issue and in this way will play into the hands of religious extremists. However, it should be understood that the anger and violent opposition to the west within many Arab countries, is not entirely about religion, even if for some Islamists this is completely the case.
A great deal of the opposition, is to the economic and social conditions resulting from the hegemony of western militarised Capitalism. The original catalyst for Arab Spring Uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, was the poverty, unemployment and lack of political freedoms delivered by the West‘s puppet regimes. Despite any collusion with the West’s elite’s, these economic and social issues are of such magnitude that the Islamist leaders and other religious elites cannot solve them. At root, they are essentially the same issues which the pro-capitalists of the West also cannot solve. The class tensions, partly masked in the east by religious ideology, will sooner or later re-emerge as they are doing here in the west with the increasing breakdown and unmasking of consensus politics.
The various Middle East uprisings and now anti-West retaliation, distressing and confusing as they are, are also indicators that epoch of the West’s neo-liberal domination of the world is coming to an agonising end. The post-Second-World-War, Anglo-Saxon empire is gradually crumbling at the edges. Like the earlier decline and fall of the Roman Empire and that of the later British Empire, this unfolding fragmentation and dislocation is taking place at its periphery and will continue to do so for a further period.
Meanwhile, at the core of the West’s inter-connected heartlands lies a massive economic and financial crisis, which is also causing similar problems of unemployment, poverty and social unrest to those in the East. This same crisis is simultaneously undermining the economic strength of the political and financial elite in the US and Europe. Already the elite in many European capitalist countries are faced with handing over effective economic and political sovereignty of their countries to the IMF and World Bank in exchange for financial bailouts. Irrespective of any potential radical political changes in the US and Europe, this developing economic crisis will progressively limit the ability of the elite to impose their will upon those in former colonised and subjected countries.
Nevertheless, a further burst of militarised response interventions by the US and the West elites, is to be expected. Relatively low-cost drones will be part of this response, but all such responses will exacerbate their problems and increase the opposition to them in former subjugated countries. The capitalist West has just done far too much harm and continues to do so, for this to be forgotten or forgiven by the peoples of subjected nations. Only an alternative socio-economic system in the West, could invite peace and reconciliation with the rest of the world‘s ordinary people – including those in the now volatile East.
Until then, the anti-capitalist left position should of course be solidarity with struggles against the West’s interventions and impositions, but solidarity combined with a resolute critical dimension. It should be a critical dimension which refuses to accept (and campaigns against) cultural or religious traditions which oppress, women, disabled, gay and promote other forms of discrimination. If for many individuals, religion is still ‘the opium of the people‘, then we should argue and campaign for them to cease using this drug of choice, whilst campaigning for real changes in their circumstances which presently engender, or require, such an opiate.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2012.)