Anti-Imperialism of Fools
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, kidnappings, hijackings.

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.

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