By Farooq Sulehria
The dangerously beautiful Che Guevara is trivialised when some myopic
columnist compares him to Osama bin Laden. Not because Che's cap
is more fascinating than bin Laden's turban. The symbol of respectability
in many Asian and African societies, a turban is as fascinating
as a cap, hat or whatever one wears in different cultures. Capitalism
sells images, and it is the corporate media that identifies a turban,
beard or the Osama-brand fundamentalism with Islam. No, it is not
the headwear or beard that trivialises Che when he is compared with
Osama. It is Osama's quasi anti-imperialism that is far removed
from that of Che.
Guevara's anti-imperialism stands for -- as anti-imperialism
should -- national liberation, women's emancipation, democratisation,
political and economic empowerment, respect for the religious
minorities, self-determination for oppressed nationalities. Anti-imperialism
is freedom, for all oppressed, from all oppression.
In contrast, an Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah Khomeni for that
matter offer an anti-imperialism that does not tolerate these
values. Their's is an anti-imperialism that chokes minorities
and strangles small nationalities.
Anti-imperialism represents liberation. One cannot be a liberator
and an oppressor at the same time. The anti-imperialism that upholds
Osama as its poster boy does not solve this contradiction. We
have seen this anti-imperialism in action in Pakistan's neighbourhood,
exemplified by Iran, or Afghanistan under the Taliban where it
was reduced to burqa and massacre of minorities. Al-Qaeda is the
non-state portrayal of this brand of anti-imperialism: bombings,
The anti-imperialism currently on display in the Muslim world
is symbol rather than substance, signifying a new phase in the
relations between two estranged lovers, fundamentalism and imperialism.
It symbolises the outcome of the process run by imperialism in
collaboration with fundamentalism, to eliminate genuine anti-imperialism
in the Muslim world.
In the Muslim world, it used to be radical nationalists, socialists
and communists -- until they were eliminated -- who epitomised
anti-imperialism. Nasser of Egypt, Saekarno of Indonesia, Mossadeq
of Iran and Kassem of Iraq and later Qaddafi of Libya, PLO chairman
Yasser Arafat and Bhutto of Pakistan: all these names embodied
anti-imperialism in the Muslim world for four decades.
These towering personalities of the Muslim world did not fall
from the skies. They were products of a radicalised period. Indonesia
had the largest communist party (PKI) outside the then communist
world. With PKI backing him, Saekarno dared host the Bandong Conference.
Kassem in Iraq opted out of the Baghdad Pact because he knew the
Iraqi Communist Party, the largest communist party in Arab world,
was with him. Mossadeq dared nationalise oil, certain of the support
of Iran's most organised party, one of its largest (Tudah). Having
humbled pro-US military dictator Ayub Khan, the Pakistani masses
voted the 'socialist' Bhutto to power. It was this confidence
that enabled Bhutto to run a relatively independent foreign policy,
introduce land reforms and nationalisation.
This cream of the crop of the Muslim world, in a polarised cold
war era, endangered the structures that imperialism had carefully
built and ruthlessly maintained. This secular nationalist leadership
and its communist backers had to be eliminated.
Mossadeq met a bloody end in 1953. The CIA removed this Iranian
aristocrat, a direct descendant of Qajar dynasty, in collaboration
with Iranian religious elements. The CIA spent five million dollars
to help the pro-West mullahs rent a mob, and restored the Shah
of Iran to the throne. Tudah was silenced, sidelined.
Indonesia and Iraq underwent bloodbaths almost simultaneously.
A military-mullah-CIA troika massacred a million people in Indonesia,
with lists provided by the CIA. Soldiers in collaboration with
young Nahdlatul Ulema volunteers unleashed a 'jihad' against 'red
devils' across the archipelago. In Iraq, the Baath party did the
dirty work (in 1963, and then 1967-68), since the religious elements
commanded almost no support in a country striving for a socialist
revolution. A decade later, an example was made out of Bhutto.
A khaki-green mullah-military alliance, backed of course by the
CIA, sent him to the gallows. Meanwhile, Anwar Sadaat effectively
rolled back the Nasser-era process in Egypt by granting full freedom
to the Muslim brotherhood and Islamic jihad. The case of Afghanistan
is too fresh for memory to need much jogging: Osama was brought
from Saudi Arabia to oust Dr Najib's secular government.
In all these cases, there is a clear connivance between fundamentalism
and imperialism. With radical nationalist leaders dead and communist
or socialist parties eliminated, the political arena was wide
open for the neo-anti imperialists: Imam Khomeni, Osama bin Laden,
Mulla Muhammad Omar and the Qazi-Fazal duo.
And what does this quasi anti-imperialist crop have on offer:
occupation of a US embassy, an attack on the World Trade Centre,
blasts in Madrid and elsewhere, the razing of Buddha's statues…
These acts of 'anti-imperialism' might cause a temporary headache
for the residents of White House and Empire's satraps in London,
Paris and Berlin. But this headache is nothing compared to the
frustration of the basileus in Washington caused by Nasser's nationalisation
of the Suez Canal, Mossadeq's nationalisation of oil, Saekarno's
Bandong summit or Bhutto's nuclear policy. Incidentally, this
is true not just for the Muslim world. Castro, Dr Allande, Sandanistas,
and now Hugo Chavez in Latin America caused similar disappointments.
An anti-imperialism that does not threaten to nationalise oil
(Osama declares that oil is an asset owned by Arabs but opposes
its common ownership), stand for land distribution or allow the
working classes to organise trade unions -- such anti-imperialism
does not bother Empire. It is an anti-imperialism based on the
repression of women, religious minorities, small nationalities,
trade unions, peasant organisations, and political parties. Thus
it actually performs a function imperialism wants: repression
of the masses.
It is countries that oppress their masses and lack trade unions
and workers' parties that best suit multinationals. The anti-imperialism
of these religious forces thus actually serves imperialism in
the current global scenario. It is the anti-imperialism of fools.