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Islamists and the Perpetuity of Catastrophe

Islamist governments in the Middle East have provided the perfect breeding ground for religious extremism. In the mean time, intoxicated by the prospect of a holy war, European Muslim youth are pouring into Syria in order to participate in the spectacle of terror. This new breed of fanaticism is mobile, highly networked and capable of orchestrating a global media campaign to intimidate large segments of populations.

Now in panic, many of the peaceful Muslim associations are trying to prove that Islam has nothing to do with this form of extreme-extremism. But it is a bit too late, and a bit too soft.

In my opinion, the core of the matter lays in the articulation of the problem itself. The West has been the scapegoat for lousy Middle Eastern politicians, and amateur bloggers who want to score some cheap public points. It is easier to accuse an all-powerful outsider rather than taking responsibility at home. When it comes to ISIS, high profile actors constantly repeat that the Islamic State is a U.S. or Israeli project.

Certainly there is much frustration with the West, which has exploited natural resources and supported authoritarian governments and dictatorships in order to maintain the status quo in the region. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the progressive left was unsuccessful in producing any viable alternative to neoliberal capitalism, which effected the working classes the most. Within the European context of post-Fordist economies, social crises highlighted stigmatized communities. Excluded from modern institutions, and discriminated by many aspects of society, the young have found a retreat in rather pre-modern non-democratic solidarity spaces, such as mosques. For them, religion has provided social comfort and support for the remnants of post-industrial society. At the same time, it allowed for a radicalization of resistance to emerge. In other words, instead of finding a voice within the modern solidarity networks such as labor and student unions and democratic associations and political parties, sections of the European Muslim youth identify as Jihadist. It is no surprise that today thousands of Europeans are travelling to Syria to fight for their imagined Caliphate.

The problem however is that Islamism is an ideology with no vision for society other than a dark version of an imagined past, a simulacrum. Their strategy is to stigmatize society as a whole in order to gain and maintain power. Without a future project, Islamists use perpetual crises in society as a form of governance. “You are either with us, or against us”, this has been their motto. They move into the public domain and test the limits of others while systematically expanding.

In other words, Islamists promise a solidarity network of resistance: one without a future, or social goal that relies on a constant state of war. The only difference between soft Islamisms and more radical versions is, in fact, the way that war is articulated and the level of terror they can inflict.

Not all Islamists are the same, of course. The last decade was marked by the rise of a new version of Sunni Islamism, a neoliberal adaptation with colonialist tendencies, in large part manifest as pan-Islamism. During the past decade, Sunni Islamists gained incredible momentum by mobilizing a coalition of social forces, mostly composed of the powerful ruling class and the poor. Besides a highly pumped-up counter-West narrative, Islamists present neither a salvation from the Western capitalist system nor a solution to crises in Western democracies. On the contrary, Sunni Islamists (in countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE) use their power for complete integration to global finance capital, and the absolute exploitation of natural and human resources. This has resulted in social, cultural and ecological disasters and crises.

While they present themselves as opposition to the West, Islamists simply mirror the tools and techniques that they are opposed to. They are the true crusaders. They want power. They want to spread, dominate and exploit resources at all costs. Islamism is a reactionary modern ideology, in the sense that it can only find life in the cracks of failed modern social institutions. It can only work as a negating force.

Islamism is an invention, and similar to any other religious fundamentalists, has nothing to do with religious principles; in fact, it reimagines a form of Islam by destroying its previous social functions, the very core of religious practice, a virtuous relationship with the world. Beyond morality, Islamists want to destroy ethics, art and science, and of course the notion of free expression.

But how to fight Islamists? Can there be a salient alternative in the Middle East at this point? I believe that the first move should involve facing the grim reality. If those “peaceful Muslims” want to save Islam from the Islamists, they have to come up with genuine solutions and reimagine their society. While I am not sure they can reposition Islam as a religion for social justice, equality or even an initiator of democracy, I am certain that a progressive movement can articulate a new mode of solidarity against exploitation, while being inclusive, progressive and resisting.

In my next post, I will comparatively look at the Kurdish resistance in Turkey, and Hamas in Palestine, their goals and strategies as resistance movements. I will argue that while the Kurdish national movement could imagine a better future for its people, Hamas and its variations will never be able to provide a better prospect for the Palestinian people, only the permanence of the crises.

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Hakan Topal

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