Reflection upon the era preceding World War II — and a demythologisation of such — is useful not only for strategy, but also for a consideration of long-term goals. The world has entered a period leading up to war, whether that be war avoided or war indefinite. The interests of the Bush administration and the Al Qaeda group, and those groups with which they have links, have a great deal of overlap. Both want to turn a series of political criminal acts, whose jurisdiction is properly the police forces, into battles within a ‘war on terror’/war on America and its allies. Despite the fact that it is run by rich men and that its politics are pre-modern and theocratic, the militant Islamic fundamentalism it represents is a form of rebellion of the South against the North.
It has rushed into the vacuum left by the failure of Marxist movements to deliver both efficient and equitable modern economies and meaningful cultures.
When people use the term ‘Islamofascism’ to describe the armed wing of the movement, they are thus saying more than they know. Like the fascisms of 1920s Europe, armed Islamic fundamentalism responds in a concrete — and utterly insupportable — manner to genuine grievances. Just as Nazism fed off the depredations of the Versailles treaty, so too armed Islamic fundamentalism is responding, in part, to the brutality visited on the Iraqi people by sanctions, and the sentiment that could allow Madeleine Albright to say that the deaths of a half million Iraqi children was a price worth paying for disciplining Iraq.
That its aims go beyond that, is not in doubt; nor is it in doubt that the vast majority of people in the South do not support its theocratic program. But many of them have sympathy and gratitude for its ability to land blows on the slick, cynical and imperial North, and to redress the humiliation and shame that run deep among those who find themselves once again dominated by white people and their desires, after only a few decades’ brief promise of liberation by ‘third world’ style movements. (The IRA or the Red Brigades could also count on a wide circle of sneaking good-feeling among the surrounding populace — even when they were at risk of being got by one of their bombs.)
Yet it is almost impossible to say this in a mass media context without suffering systematic and deliberate distortion of one’s views by the American military cheer squad who have formed out of the conservative ranks. In fact it is not this particular analysis of the situation, but analysis of geopolitics in general that has come to be the mark of fifth columnists. The very act of considering the motives or world view of other groups is held to be not only treacherous, but a contempt upon the dead in Kuta or Manhattan.
This is a measure of how fragile such groups believe their arguments to be. In the US it has flowed into a mode of thought that can only be described as psychopathic imperialism, with an utter repudiation of the notion of a pluralist world: the idea that Islam itself is an inherently pernicious and distorted cultural growth is gaining ground. Osama bin Laden has successfully produced a clash of ‘civilisations’ from a handful of terrorist attacks. He is presumably hoping for a confrontation that will engulf the Arab and South-East Asian world, topple conciliatory regimes and box the US into a corner where it will have to commit massive ground forces across the world, use tactical nuclear weapons, or sue for a new peace. Plainly he has friends in the White House; while centrist realpolitikers like Colin Powell seem desperate to prevent such a conflict, the Christian fundamentalist wing of the Bush administration matches armed Islamic fundamentalists in the degree of its irrationality about world conflict.
It is likely that such a conflict would have at least one positive outcome. It may weld the South, or parts of it, into an anti-systemic entity with which some real negotiations — regarding debt, ‘free’ markets, global cultural rights — would have to be undertaken.
Given this situation, it is necessary to clarify a perspective that opposes the reactionary core of armed Islamic fundamentalism without taking arms against the people of the South. That obviously implies a rejection of the whole notion of ‘Islamofacism’ and the attempt to construct the encounter in line with the received mythology of World War II. Furthermore it demands a keen consciousness that the war, should it occur, will be limited primarily by the action of publics within the North.
In the meantime, in the weird twilight between peace and war, we turn our attention to other concerns — the nature of work, trade unions, a treaty between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia — with the consciousness that such a conversation must continue, even if, in the new year, our attentions become unavoidably turned elsewhere.