Monday, July 26, 2004


A reply to this article by a former subscriber to the magazine. She cancelled her subscription to the magazine as soon as the article came out and sent the following letter:

What truly offended me was Laurence W. Britt's article "Fascism, Anyone?", in which he likens the U.S. to various fascist régimes.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with patriotism per se, as distasteful as certain intellectual types (many of whom are wedded to the concepts of central planning and “one-world government”) seem to find it. For all its faults, this country offers more social mobility, economic opportunity, and freedoms of every sort than does any other, past or present. Most Americans are aware that, having been born here, they've lucked out in the extreme. Most legal immigrants to the U.S. brim with gratitude that they've been allowed to have a chance at the American dream.

In light of this, flying the Stars and Stripes or wearing it on one's lapel is, I'd say, a bit different than doing the same with the swastika. As far as "xenophobia" goes, the U.S. is home to people of every ethnic group in the world, and, at least in the more urban areas, our ethnic diversity puts those of other nations to shame. Many in Europe like to portray us collectively as Klansmen and other racist sorts, and positively orgasm with smug superiority whenever a tragic race murder such as James Byrd’s occurs. On the whole, though, ethnic and religious minorities enjoy many more job opportunities, not to mention much more protection from violent assault, here than they do in London, Paris, Berlin, or Rome. The media made much of the handful attacks on Muslims and Sikhs in America that followed 9/11; they barely mention the vicious attacks on Turks, North Africans, and especially Jews that have since occurred with alarming regularity in large European cities.

Second, by enclosing "terrorists" in scare quotes, Britt implies that our quest to deter, contain, punish, and eliminate these mass murderers is no more valid than fascist governments' persecution of racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, and political minorities. Let’s leave aside for the time being the fact that any government has an interest in keeping itself from falling in a Communist coup, given the barbarities that usually occur in the aftermath. (Of course, this doesn't excuse the actual predations of an already extant fascist régime.). I have yet to hear of any other such minorities slaying thousands of people in three or four closely-timed fell swoops, splattering teenagers and babies across city streets or reducing them to vegetables by blowing themselves up with nail-packed bombs, or supporting an oppression of women so broad as to range from routine clitoridectomies to legally sanctioned strangling of daughters and disfiguring of wives with acid in defense of one's or one’s family’s "honor."

Third, the "controlled mass media" to which Britt refers is demonstrably not the mass media as it exists in the U.S. While indeed most of our big media has little inclination to report on the nuts and bolts of democracy and any violations thereof, that has less to do with censorship than it does with the fact that fires, car crashes, sex scandals, lurid murders, and televised wars sell ads, while Office of Management and Budget meetings...don’t. (And for those who actually do enjoy such dry proceedings, there are C-SPAN and C-SPAN II.) In fact, far from "never stray[ing] from the party line," many big-media outlets criticize George W. Bush frequently, often gratuitously — mocking his stutter, for example. (Their relationship with the Clinton administration was a bit closer to the scenario that Britt describes.)

In any case, any citizen who feels inadequately informed, if not deliberately misled, by the mass media is free to update him- or herself on current events on the Internet, where people and organizations of all different political slants, both amateur and professional, make hobbies or careers out of gathering and analyzing the news. (Of course, the Internet has its enemies, and we indeed must be vigilant in protecting it from the would-be censors, whatever their motives.)

Fourth, has Britt considered that "disdain...of intellectuals and the arts" is often justified? So far, intellectuals' response to the September 11th attacks alone have included:

* Norman Mailer comparing the Twin Towers to "two huge buck teeth" and declaring their ruins "more beautiful" than the buildings themselves.

* German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen suggesting that the World Trade Center's destruction was "the greatest work of art imaginable for the whole cosmos."

* New Jersey’s poet laureate, Amiri Baraka, asking in his poem "Somebody Blew Up America": "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed/Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers/To stay home that day/Why did Sharon stay away?"

* Alice Walker enthusing over Osama bin Laden's "cool armor" and "all the good, nonviolent things he [has] done."

* An Australian artist, whose name I unfortunately do not recall, making a sculpture of twin towers with a plane crashing into one. Apparently she shares Stockhausen's view of the "artistic" nature of the attacks.

* Countless intellectuals in numerous disciplines, too many to list here, who have publicly said that the actions of the 19 hijackers were no worse than American foreign policy in general, and that of the Bush administration in particular. Some have even accused Bush of killing more people than the hijackers did. Many have also said or implied that the WTC and Pentagon victims deserved their deaths because of their involvement, respectively, in capitalism and the military. These, by the way, are the same public figures who habitually equate Israel’s efforts to defend its people with Palestinians’ efforts to kill as many Jews as they can.

However, pace Britt, none of these people have been "suppressed." Their books are available from nearly all general book retailers, including online ones like, and from a variety of specialty bookstores, both online and “brick-and-mortar,” as the current expression goes. Often these books are assigned reading for college students. The authors appear on television and speak on radio. Many also have their own websites. I have yet to hear that the secret police have broken down any of their doors and dragged them away into the night, never to be heard from again.

Nonetheless, they enjoy crying that their dissent is being “suppressed,” when in reality, it is merely being criticized and mocked — activities also covered by the First Amendment. They are not used to this, having seldom engaged people outside their own circles in honest and respectful intellectual debate. The Internet, again, is what has made the difference. Some of these “intellectual” leading lights, who seem to confuse public debate with psychotherapy, honestly believe they are being “silenced” (in the sense that a parent who belittles a child’s anxieties is “silencing” him or her); obviously they attribute more power to their critics than those critics actually wield. Others undoubtedly know they’re blowing smoke, but they continue to do so because it reaps them publicity, influence, adoration, and, most of all, money.

In truth, most of the intellectual suppression on college campuses over the last decade appears to have come from the left, not the right. These days, the "politically unreliable faculty" who have been "harassed and eliminated," and the "unorthodox expressions of dissent" that have been "strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed," tend overwhemingly to be conservative and libertarian. Entire websites, such as,, and, testify to this. And these websites, far from being right-wing redoubts, show no hesitation to challenge conservatives who attempt to suppress academic freedoms. It’s just that lately, there haven’t been all that many such cases.

In the Spring issue, the only writer who seems to grasp the moral basics like human uniqueness and moral absolutes that are so plain to most non-intelletuals is Don Marquis, in his replies to critics of his article on stem-cell research (which I myself happen to support). However, I’m convinced that his defense of human uniqueness and moral absolutes is a fluke for FI, considering that it still employs the reprehensible Peter Singer, who supports human-like rights for animals but thinks that certain disabled humans should be put to death for the betterment of society, and who has written that the life of a barnyard pig is more deserving of protection than that of a human newborn.

Fifth, while indeed many Americans have "an obsession with crime and punishment," reflected most strongly in the ill-advised "War on Drugs," Britt fails to consider that locking up violent criminals for years on end may have had something to do with the plunge of crime rates over the last decade. Those rates are starting to ascend again. While it might just be that thanks to human nature, crime can only drop so far before it picks up again, it may also have a correlation with the recent releases from prison of individuals who were active in the crime sprees of the 1980s.

There is certainly a place for rehabilitation in the criminal justice system. However, its primary purpose is to punish criminals, and this is as it should be. Many secular humanists consider punishment an immoral concept, whether it's applied to misbehaving children or to serial murderers. I myself don't think one has to adhere to any sort of religion to find punishment a useful principle, as long as the punishment is neither excessive nor cruel, and that it deters others from doing the same wrong things, or the offender from doing them again.

Most of us obey such laws as the prohibition against murder because we have consciences, but there are many who lack consciences. Individuals such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, and Saddam Hussein are called "narcissists," "sadists," "sociopaths," or "anti-social personalities" by psychologists, which, I think, obscures the real issue. They are not sick, in any medical or even reasonable psychiatric sense of the word. They are evil, often so unrepentantly that the only way to deter them is via capital punishment, an institution that enrages most of our intellectual class much more than do the sadistic acts committed by most on death row.

That the left, including the secular humanist movement, disavows the existence of evil is one major reason it is becoming less and less relevant to mainstream politics — not just in the U.S., but worldwide, even while it still holds the reins of power in such places as Europe.

In closing, I also note that while Britt mentions "Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Franco's Spain, Salazar's Portugal, Papadopoulos's Greece, Pinochet's Chile, and Suharto's Indonesia" as examples of totalitarian régimes, he fails to mention Stalin's Soviet Union, Castro's Cuba, Mao Tse-Tung's China, or any of the other governments that demonstrate that the total absence of religion is not a de facto recipe for political freedom.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Stating the Obvious About the Iraq War

By Wayne Lusvardi, Pasadena, California (

The British writer George Orwell (1984 and Animal Farm) is often quoted as having written that circumstances have “sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of the intelligent man.”

Such is the situation as of the summer of 2004 with the “Bush lied” about WMD’s figure of speech that has become a staple of the Left over the past year. The spin on both sides of the political spectrum has sadly obscured the obvious and most basic reality of the Iraq War. Any look at a world political map begs the obvious observation - as a result of the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq the terror-master states of Iran and Syria are now totally surrounded by forces unfriendly to them. Syria is now surrounded by Jordan, Israel, Iraq, and Turkey. Iran is now encircled by Afghanistan, by Iraq, the Gulf States of Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, and by the republics of the former Soviet Union. And Pakistan is now semi-surrounded by Afghanistan, China, and India.

The obviousness of the encirclement strategy should hardly need to be pointed out even to the geographically illiterate, let alone the media. And while most of the American public believes the war in Afghanistan was necessary to vanquish the Taliban, we have heard next to nothing in the media about the likelihood of the Taliban fleeing to Iraq had the U.S. not invaded it as well. But all this begs the bigger observation of them all.

Since the obvious objectives of the dual wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are strategic encirclement, what U.S. President or Secretary of State can just announce this to the U.S. citizenry and the cesspool of nations that make up the Middle East as the objective of the wars without fanning the flames of an even larger conflict? The obvious point is that neither Bush, nor Clinton before him, or Kerry, can risk stating such. So they invent other reasons as justifications for the wars – vanquishing a dictator, democracy building, eliminating mass murders of civilians, initiating rights for women, and the list could go on. Who really cares about all these secondary justifications when the major reason for these military incursions must remain unspoken, lest a greater conflict with the entire Middle East be risked at this time? The media must know this. Intuitively the American public must know this. But there is political capital to exploit in continuing to carp that “Bush lied” or “Cheney knew all along there were no WMD’s,” “the reasons for the war were phony to grab the oil,” and on and on infinitum. The reasons for going into Iraq may not have been wise, but that will be proven out in the ensuing events. But without a doubt what we are seeing is not a small war as in Vietnam, Lebanon, or Algeria, but the slow windup of World War III as recently pointed out by physicist Haim Harari . See here

As to Orwell’s statement that it is the duty of the intelligent man to state the obvious, it may also be the duty of the politically, even morally, intelligent man not to state the obvious. It was Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote: “There are three kinds of intelligence: one kind understands things for itself, the other appreciates what others can understand, the third understands neither for itself nor through others. This first kind is excellent, the second good, and the third kind useless.”

I am always taken aback by the seemingly perpetual adolescence of the political Left. One of these manifestations is seen in the adolescent-like mantra that “Bush lied” about the Iraq War. Like wise parents who know it is sometimes best to leave the reasons for certain things unspoken to children and adolescents, it may also be wise for our political leaders to do so. But we should be intelligent enough ourselves to know what is really going on.

Friday, July 16, 2004


An email from a reader in Britain. Here is the online version of the BBC report concerned

"Ah well, politics is so unpredictable isn't it. The attack on the BNP turns out to be a whopping own goal for Political Correctness, and hey presto the whole thing instantly disappears without trace from the media.

Far from showing the BNP to be a bunch of racist thugs, instead the Searchlight infiltrators into the BNP have been reported to police for inciting a severely disturbed white victim of ethnic cleansing by Muslims, to carry out a bomb attack against Mosque worshippers. So much for ends justifying means. The hugely expensive Secret Agent documentary was exposed as a massive exercise in propaganda deceit. Nic Griffin's challenge to see his critics in court has resulted in a debate of tip-toe deafeningness (about the Muslim rape-wave, though of course a silent debate isn't really about anything).

Here's a quick comparison between the "antiracists" (SWP/Unite against so-called Fascism etc) and the BNP:

The "antiracists" - proudly endorse racial discrimination, and innumerable activities which are calculated to incite racist resentment, such as promoting "Stupid White Men" and articles such as (Guardian) "All White Men are Racists" (ending with the revelation that "As a Black I cannot be racist") and so on ad nauseam. They constantly associate themselves with deceit and name-calling, and deceitful language such as "Islamophobia" (and misusing the word 'community' to refer to the cliques of the multicliquery system), and censorship and persecution of those who deviate from their ideology. And the "antiracists" do nothing to object to abuse of Muslim-controlled women and those persecuted by Islamic regimes. And their Sacred Cow minorities are freely allowed to use words which result in instant career termination for those who just happen to be white-skinned.

Just one stark example of this anti-indigenous "antiracist" racism is that there exist numerous Blacks-only housing associations yet all other housing associations are required to practice "equal opportunies" policies or face censure. I just happened to know this because I'm secretary of a housing association myself; one can only guess how much more of such filth pervades the public/ngo system.

The BNP tell the truth, they condemn the sort of racist offensiveness in which the "antiracists" proudly wallow, they seek democratic debate rather than flee from it, they oppose racial discrimination and persecution of people for their colour or views. Actually I am not a BNP supporter, but someone, please please tell me why I should not be!

If anyone is promoting and provoking racism it is the hypocritical "antiracists". As one commentator previously said of leftists: "Can't argue, can only abuse". But which side are you on - lies or truth? harmony or thought-policed bloody strife? And now when you consider the 80 million killed by the Muslim invasion of India, you know why the name of the Urdu language derives from the word meaning army camp, and why they have to constantly declare their peacefulness ("assalum aleikim") rather than take it as going without needing saying."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Moderate Islam? On Qaradawi’s Visit to London

Maryam Namazie’s Interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush on TV International English. It concerns Egyptian Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, "spiritual leader" of Egypt's bloodstained "Muslim Brotherhood" and a defender of Palestinian suicide bombers, who was portrayed as a "moderate" by The Guardian at the time of his visit to London.

Maryam Namazie: I want to start by discussing Qaradawi’s visit to the UK. He had come to chair a meeting of the European Council on Fatwa and Research - a very interesting name for an organisation! – and several other meetings on hijab and so on. Since his visit, many have been saying that his views are so extremist and despicable that he should be banned from entering the UK because of them. What would you say to that?

Fariborz Pooya: I have two problems with banning. Removing a person from the UK, or barring people from entering the UK, I think, doesn’t deal with the problem. This is like saying: it’s OK for Al-Qaradawi and the like to advocate such views abroad or in the Middle East as long as they don’t bring it to the UK. On the other hand, it doesn’t deal with the problem because if you face a similar home-grown mullah who advocates the same, then effectively you’ve lost the argument. It’s important to face the Islamic movement head on, challenge them on their views and expose the outrageous views that they hold. Society needs to be vaccinated against such views. So I wouldn’t agree with banning, but I would urge people who find his views abhorrent and distasteful to expose them and to show that such a person is a leader of the Islamic movement. Unfortunately, this is a movement that is growing, and we need to confront it and stop it.

Maryam Namazie: What if it’s not just a question of someone’s views but what they have done? For example, some say Qaradawi is the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a political Islamic group. It’s also alleged that he is a major shareholder in a bank that is part of Al Qaeda’s fund-raising. We talked about not banning people because of their views, but what about banning people from entering the UK because of their actions? Would you agree with that or not?

Bahram Soroush: Again it depends what actions they have committed. If there has been a trial and what they have done has been substantiated in a due process of law, then the matter has been dealt with. But if the person is still advocating, or actively financing – as it’s been alleged in the case of Qaradawi – Al Qaeda, for example, and actively organising support for a particular terrorist organisation, or his role in the Muslim Brotherhood, if those are well-documented, then that is something that can be looked at in this country as well. So it depends whether that person’s presence in the UK is infringing the laws of the UK or not. I would agree with Fariborz that banning people for simply airing your views, however despicable they are, however repugnant they are, that wouldn’t solve the problem. There should be room for those views to be expressed and then people have the right to oppose those views. At the same time, I don’t believe that those views should be supported by a particular state; for example, that the UK government should play host to them, or like the Mayor of London chairing conferences, which he will be doing, or he has done already, which is specific support for those views.

Maryam Namazie: Some of his supporters have said – and there was a recent commentary in the Guardian on this – that Qaradawi’s statements in which he encourages suicide bombings, that he encourages the death penalty against gays, that he permits wife-beating, these are all statements that have been attributed to him, but have been taking out of context, that he has been misquoted, and it is an effort to misrepresent who he really is. Would you agree that they are taken out of context?

Fariborz Pooya: I don’t think so, because if you look at his writings, his views, his arguments, they are all distasteful; they are extremely reactionary and he represents the Islamic movement. I think it’s important to recognise that this is not an academic discussion. It’s a political Islamic movement. And there is a division of labour within this movement. You have the theoreticians who advocate the views, who support and provide the background to this movement. You have states that actually enforce Islamic laws. You have movements which, wherever they have the power, impose Islamic laws. And you have the military wings of this movement that has no regard for human life, and will use any means indiscriminately against everybody to advance the movement. So it’s important to show this as a movement. And Qaradawi represents this movement. His views are well-publicized. You could refer to his views on wife-beating, etc.

I think that shows the desperation of the Islamic movement and their supporters, that the views of their representatives and advocates are so distasteful that they can’t hide them. And when you refer to them and quote them, they say they have been misquoted or quoted out of context. His views are very clear. In a civilised society I don’t think there would be any toleration for those views and we need to forcefully condemn them and oppose them.

Maryam Namazie: But again there is the issue of freedom of expression.

Bahram Soroush: Yes, there is. But at the same time there is freedom of expression for you and I to criticise his views. Freedom of expression doesn’t mean respecting a particular viewpoint. So if he is holding a conference, we have the right to go there and say what we think about his views as well. And I think a lot of people have already expressed what they feel about his views on homosexuals, on violence against women and on suicide bombers. They are not out of context. They are very clear. He has uttered them and I think he would defend them still if he was asked about them.

Maryam Namazie: Let’s go on to another question. Some of Qaradawi’s supporters have said that, ‘Islam not only prohibits attacking non-Muslims who don’t launch attacks against Muslims, but it also urges Muslims to treat those non-Muslims with due respect and kindness, especially non-Muslims who live along with Muslims within Islamic territories’. Can you comment on that?

Bahram Soroush: I would like to know what he defines as ‘people who do not attack Muslims’. Are people in Israel, is every Jew, a target of attack because they happen to be living there and there is terrorization by the Israeli state against the Palestinians? Would it be justified to attack them? You can’t tell from just that quotation what he means. I have read other so called Islamic ‘scholars’, who have been very clear about it. They say this is Islam and the law of the Qesas, i.e. retribution. So if they attack us by killing civilians we have the right to attack and use the same methods to kill civilians. So every Jew is according to them a legitimate target. We have to look at that quotation in the context of what Qaradawi has said and his role, because there is so much else apart from that quotation.

Maryam Namazie: I suppose every woman who doesn’t wear the hijab, every gay that has a relationship, everyone that has a voluntary sexual relation outside of marriage - these could all be considered as ‘attacks’.

Fariborz Pooya: The deeds of the Islamic movement speak better than what they actually say, although what they say is again very distasteful. If you look at the history of the Islamic movement, in the last thirty years at least, its recent history, it is littered with violations of human rights. Look at the history of Iran since the Islamic government was established. All its opponents, anybody who had the slightest opposing view against the Islamic Republic of Iran, were wiped out. Political opponents, communists, socialists, anybody who had the slightest disagreement with the Islamic government, were killed. The history of Iran is tied with a Holocaust against the opposition. And that is the history of the Islamic movement. Look at Afghanistan. Why do we have to go so far? Look at today’s Iraq… Even in Palestine, with the rise of this Islamic movement, you see how the picture of society in Palestine is changing. Even when you look at the quotations from this Middle Eastern mullah, you see that this is not about unconditional freedom to oppose Islam; it is conditioned by the fact that you agree with him. And if you disagree with him, then you are not protected against the attacks.

Maryam Namazie: Some of the Islamists are saying that he is a ‘Muslim progressive social reformer’, ‘an esteemed scholar’. They say he is a ‘moderate’ and that it’s ‘extremely distressing’ that he is being labelled as an extremist. They say ‘if he is an extremist, then who’s left out there to be a moderate’?

Fariborz Pooya: I think there is a problem to construct a reformist, liberal, moderate character or trend within the Islamic movement. The Islamic movement is misogynist; it’s against equality; it’s based on violationa of human rights; and it’s an extremely oppressive movement. I can see the difficulty the Islamic movement has to actually come up with somebody decent enough not to get ‘distressed’ when they are quoted! We have seen this attempt to create and reconstruct a ‘moderate’ Islam in Iran. We’ve seen it in Iran and it’s been defeated, because you can’t find such a character within the political Islamic movement. I would also like to add that some try to construct such ‘moderate features’ within the Islamic movement because they want to work with it, because they want to use it. Clearly, the European states do so because they want to have good relations with oppressive Islamic governments in the Middle East, so they have come up with this theory of moderate Islam, which is effectively an effort to justify the relationship with the Islamic movement and the Islamic government, and to appease a brutal movement and government.

Maryam Namazie: You hear all the time that there is a difference between moderate Islamists, fundamentalist Islamists, the extremist political Islamic movement. Is there a distinction?

Bahram Soroush: There are distinctions. As in every phenomenon – and Islam is not excluded from that – you have extreme, moderate, centre, etc. But that is not the issue. This is a question of degrees; a relative thing. In any repugnant thing you can find things which are less repugnant than the others. Our problem is with the whole of Islam and the political movement of Islam. It’s a movement that is running amok throughout the world, creating havoc, taking victims. You might find somebody, another version of it, which is a little bit less brutal, but that is not the issue. For us in the 21st century, that we should have lowered our expectations so much to say that a reformist - if such a thing was possible - liberal or a softer version of Islam or political Islam is tolerable. That is an insult to humanity. Our criticism, our attack, our problem with this Islamic movement is not just with its extremist faction; it’s with the whole of it. So I think to anyone like that I would say, why do you bother, why not get rid of the whole thing? And as Fariborz was saying, in Iran they tried to do that, to reconstruct, to come up with a second kind of Islamic regime, which, even if it was possible, the people of Iran have said no to; they want to get rid of the whole thing.

Maryam Namazie: One of the questions this Islamist asks in the Guardian commentary is ‘who are Muslims expected to follow if not Qaradawi’? If he’s the moderate, they want to follow him. If he’s not acceptable, who is?!

Fariborz Pooya: I’m not in a position to advise Muslims on who to follow! But I would say that the Islamic movement is a reactionary movement and anybody who wants to have a decent society needs to oppose the Islamic movement. You can’t have a civilised society, you can’t have a decent society, for yourself, for your children, for your future, by appeasing and supporting this movement. So I think people should advocate a non-religious state, a non-religious society. The only way to improve the situation of humanity today, to get out of this effectively dark scenario that has been built by the Islamic movement, is to oppose this movement and to defeat it. And we are pretty determined to do this.

Maryam Namazie: Someone has written and said that we have a ‘pathetically narrow view of Islam’; that we are associating what some people are doing in the name of Islam with what Islam is; that we are categorizing all of Islam as something that is misogynist, etc., whereas it’s the practice of just a few people. Can you comment briefly on that?

Bahram Soroush: Nobody has tried to categorize all Muslims as responsible for what is being done - the stonings, the amputation of limbs and all those atrocities. At the same time, my expectation from someone who is a Muslim would be to distance themselves from that, to say that they don’t want to be identified with that. If they are as categorical in condemnation of that as we are, then that is fine. Then the next step would be to show the incompatibility of their standpoint with the teachings of Islam; to show where it’s at odds with it…

Maryam Namazie: One final question. Is this not inciting religious hatred when you oppose Islam so strongly, when you oppose its political movement so strongly?

Fariborz Pooya: It’s a reactionary ideology and you need to oppose it. There’s no other way. That’s not inciting hatred against a group of people. It’s because we have a lot of respect for humanity and its welfare that we don’t want it to be dominated by reactionary movements. We need to and we must, it’s our duty, to expose this reactionary movement and to defend people’s rights against it. I’m worried with the new attempts by the British government. David Blunkett has floated the idea again that he wants to bring a law to ban incitement to religious hatred. He hasn’t actually publicly said how within that framework he wants to support the freedom of speech and freedom of criticising religion. That’s an important thing. Freedom of speech, freedom of criticising reactionary movements and religion is a fundamental building block of a civilised society.

The above was an interview on TV International English on July 12, 2004

Friday, July 09, 2004

Islam and De-Islamisation

Interview with Mansoor Hekmat

Question: The existence and conduct of Islamic groups and governments in the Middle East and North Africa in recent years have instigated disagreements over how to deal with religion and religious movements and governments. There are those who say that ‘we must differentiate between Islamic groups/governments and Islam’. They also claim that: ‘what takes place in these countries have nothing to do with Islam but are the result of a mis-interpretation of Islam’ and that ‘one mustn’t speak out against religion because it insults people’s beliefs and divides them’. What do you think about these statements?

Mansoor Hekmat: I realise that the interests of some require that they rescue Islam (as much as possible) from the wrath of those who have witnessed the indescribable atrocities of or been victimised by Islamists. I also realise that the extent of these atrocities and holocausts is such that even some Islamists themselves do not want to take responsibility for them. So it is natural that the debate on ‘true Islam’ vis-à-vis ‘practical Islam’ is broached over and over again. These justifications, however, are foolish from my point of view (that of a communist and atheist) and from the points of views of those of us who have seen or been the victims of Islam’s crimes. They are foolish for those of us who are living through a colossal social, political and intellectual struggle with this beast. The doctrinal and Koranic foundations of Islam, the development of Islam’s history, and the political identity and affiliation of Islam and Islamists in the battle between reaction and freedom in our era are too obvious to allow the debate on the various interpretations of Islam and the existence or likelihood of other interpretations to be taken seriously. Even if the debate were in the future and on other planets where the most basic rights and affections of humanity were not violated. In my opinion, it shows the utmost contempt for the science and social intelligence of our times if every excuse and justification that Islamists fling into society whilst retreating is scientifically analysed and dissected… In Islam, be it true or untrue, the individual has no rights or dignity. In Islam, the woman is a slave. In Islam, the child is on par with animals. In Islam, freethinking is a sin deserving of punishment. Music is corrupt. Sex without permission and religious certification, is the greatest of sins. This is the religion of death. In reality, all religions are such but most religions have been restrained by freethinking and freedom-loving humanity over hundreds of years. This one was never restrained or controlled. With every move, it brings abominations and misery.

Moreover, in my opinion, defending the existence of Islam under the guise of respect for people’s beliefs is hypocritical and lacks credence. There are various beliefs amongst people. The question is not about respecting people’s beliefs but about which are worthy of respect. In any case, no matter what anyone says, everyone is choosing beliefs that are to their liking. Those who reject a criticism of Islam under the guise of respecting people’s beliefs are only expressing their own political and moral preferences, full stop. They choose Islam as a belief worthy of respect and package their own beliefs as the ‘people’s beliefs’ only in order to provide ‘populist’ legitimisation for their own choices. I will not respect any superstition or the suppression of rights, even if all the people of the world do so. Of course I know it is the right of all to believe in whatever they want. But there is a fundamental difference between respecting the freedom of opinion of individuals and respecting the opinions they hold. We are not sitting in judgement of the world; we are players and participants in it. Each of us are party to this historical, worldwide struggle, which in my opinion, from the beginning of time until now has been over the freedom and equality of human beings. I will not respect the superstitions that I am fighting against and under the grip of which human beings are suffering.

Question: Some political groups, orientalists and western mass media backed by a number of intellectuals of these countries say that ‘the people of these countries are Muslim and thus what happens there, such as compulsory veiling and the status of women, is part and parcel of their culture and identity’. In your opinion, are the people of Iran Muslim? Is Iran an Islamic country? And are they justified in what they say?

Mansoor Hekmat: The very essence of categorising a complex reality like a society with a diminutive label such as religion, ethnicity or nationality is in itself testimony that we are not faced with a scientific attempt or truth-seeking explanation. The person calling Iran an Islamic society like the one who depicts it as Aryan, monarchist, Iranian, Shiite, and so on is propagandising. The question is who is describing Iran as an Islamic society, within what political and historical framework are they doing so and what outcome do they seek from such a description. For instance, it is obvious that the Islamic regime of Iran must describe Iran as an Islamic society so that it can legitimise the existence of an Islamic state there. It is also obvious that a western racist and anti-immigrant must describe Iran as an Islamic society so that s/he can maintain that the gap between those who have come from Iran and the local inhabitants is unbridgeable. It is obvious that the opportunistic journalist must use this terminology and propagate this belief because this is the preferred model and outlook of dominant political circles in contemporary western societies. Thus, university and academic circles obey this model; public opinion is steered in this way and so on.

In reality, this labelling and packaging is deceptive. Regardless of who is making the claim, its aim is to declare that the Islamic character of the laws and relations dominant in Iranian society is the result of the outlook and beliefs of the people themselves and not the result of political coercion and pressure. If the veiling of women was really the result of their own choices and originated from their Islamic outlook on the world, the consciences of many in the west would be at peace. If it were so, the wheeling and dealings of western democratic regimes, yuppie intellectuals and journalists with the Iranian government would be so much more permissible. If it were so, silencing the protest voices of freedom-seeking women and the Iranian revolutionary opposition by labelling them dissatisfied extremists ‘separate from the people’ would be so much simpler. The religious, cultural, ethnic and national categorisation of people is always the first step in denying their universal rights as human beings. If the genocide in Rwanda is the continuation of an African tradition, if stoning is the Iranian people’s Islamic tradition, if veiling is part of the culture of women in ‘Islamic societies’, if marrying off a nine year old girl is a tradition of the people of those countries themselves, then they can really be forgotten, humiliated, bombed and left to the mercy of their own rules beyond the fortresses of western civilisation and democracy. But if it becomes clear that these people like all others live and produce in a capitalist society and global market, if it becomes apparent that these Islamic traditions and laws have been imposed on them by sheer force of imprisonment, torture chambers, street patrols, knives, executions, and stoning, if it becomes apparent that these people like all others are yearning for freedom, equality and an end to discrimination, if it becomes apparent that the strongest characteristic of these people, despite all the pressures, is their desire for a western type of culture and lifestyle, then all this hypocritical ideological monument will collapse and the damage will be beyond words.

Iranian society is not an Islamic society. The despotic ruling regime in Iran is an Islamic regime, which despite all its coercion has still not been able to force people to concede to an Islamic identity. I don’t give a whit about the intellectual who refers to the official statistics of those who have an ‘official religion’ in order to justify this hypocritical labelling. Accepting this categorisation - and worse than that, publicising it –continues and maintains the catastrophe taking place in Iran and Islam-ridden societies.

Question: What is your opinion about ‘progressive religion’ and ‘Islamic Protestantism’? Many, including cultural personalities to political organisations, say that people like Shariati, Soroush and other Islamic dissidents must be defended vis-à-vis the ‘fundamentalists’. They claim that by supporting them, society will benefit and people’s lives will improve. What is your opinion on this?

Mansoor Hekmat: If Islamic Protestantism is to be Protestantism then it must create a religious split and a new religious hierarchy and call on all the masses of people to join this other type of Islam. Something perhaps like what the Baha’i religion was supposed to do. The grumblings of a religious university professor about a government, which has violated his rights, cannot be equated with the huge historical developments and turning points in the west. In the superstructure of the contemporary Middle East and Iran and in relation to the political economy of the current society, Islam does not have the same role that Christianity had in the era of the advent of capitalism in the west. The compatibility of Islam with the economic development of these countries is of no significance. This economic development, independent of the situation of Islam and its ability to be compatible with modern society, is taking place irrespective. Iranian society has no need for Martin Luther and John Calvin because the dominance of Islam is not an ideological, psychological or a structural hegemony, but rather it is a political and police rule which will be overthrown politically.

Question: When you flip through the pages of the Iranian media, you come across numerous debates about the relation between religious rule and the people, religion and freedom, religion and reasoning, religion and civil society, and so on. What do you think of these? How do you see the relationship between religion and in particular Islam with people’s rule, freedom, civil society, reasoning and so on?

Mansoor Hekmat: Religion is the official ideology of an extremely brutal government in Iran. Thus, for the intellectual section that lives in Iran, every issue must be analysed within the context of Islam and as an aspect of the Islamic worldview, or at least, the conflict between every opinion with the ruling Islam must be noted. Debates like human rights, civil freedoms, the political system, economic policies, science, culture, art and so on are all important and pressing issues that the intellectual elite in every society constantly addresses. In Iran, the phrase ‘Islam’ must be added to all these. This, however, does not mean that Islam has a scientific legitimisation in the problematics debated. This is political coercion and not epistemological or even historical. This period will soon pass and magazines in Iran will address these issues in a more serious way and without the need to make things compatible with Islam and or to show the contradiction between something with Islam. In my opinion, the debate of the authorised opposition and legal critics in a despotic regime must never be taken at face value and on the basis of definitions and categorisations they themselves put forward. The real debates in Iranian society will be brought to the fore and within the pages of publications inside Iran when the grip of suppression is loosened. Therefore, frankly, I don’t see the content of the articles of intellectual publications inside Iran as important, serious and relevant. In my opinion, what is of more interest is the behind the scenes political conflict and the relationship between the government and these publications.

Question: Finally, what is your opinion about the anti-religious movement in the past century in Iran? What characteristics and position does this movement have in the general population’s struggle for a better life?

Mansoor Hekmat: For most of the 20th century, both the religious and anti-religious movements in Iran have been influenced by more important international trends, which have given them a different tint to that of the struggle between religion and the enlightenment in Europe in the past centuries. I am referring to the October revolution, the emergence of the Soviet Union and the cold war. Islam and the anti-Islamic enlightenment were framed in other historical capacities or perhaps one can say, were newly redefined in the context of more significant international crossroads. Enlightenment initially became part of the socialist advancement in Iranian society but very quickly, with the emergence of the Soviet Union as one camp of the international bourgeoisie, was effectively transformed into an empty and hollow movement and a means at the disposal of the abovementioned. In my opinion, the sharp and fearless critical edge of this movement disappeared as quickly. This was because it was discovered that the nationalist mullah, populist religion and liberation theology could now be an ally of the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the USA and thus a tolerable Islam was founded. With the Stalinisation and tudeh-ism of the milieu of the intellectuals of Iran and the emergence of tactical considerations in dealing with religion, which was deemed useful as a means against the monarchy and the USA, the era of turning a blind eye to Islam and later on even justifying it begins. In the opposing camp, anti-communist Islam became a powerful western weapon in the fight against Iran’s workers and communism. It was not people’s religious beliefs and the power of Islam as a religion that built the Islamic Republic of Iran but the need of the former allies of the Shah’s regime to continue with the policy of the suppression of the Left in Iran which dragged the declining Islam and Khomeini from isolation to the fore. All this briefly means that the struggle of enlightenment against Islam as a religion was rapidly influenced by developments in different segments of society as well as the international powers with political Islam and the Islamic movement. If 30 years ago someone from an atheist position would ridicule and criticise the foundations of Islam, s/he would be attacked not only by the machinery of Islam but by the populists and the anti-despots. So much so that today the same camps and people whose political outlook is the consequence of those camps attack us - the unequivocal critics of Islam and religion. From their point of view to be revolutionary and progressive means appeasing, coexisting and discovering a ‘new’ and ‘contemporary’ Islam and so on.

Today, it is our movement – worker-communism – and the deep-seated hatred of Islam by the vast population at large in Iran, particularly women and youth, which is building the foundations of a serious anti-religious and de-Islamised development in Iran. If the people in Iran are to experience prosperity, this movement must become victorious. I am sure that along the way and with the people’s advancement, a section of freethinking intellectuals will join this front.

Translators: Maryam Namazie and Fariborz Pooya. The above is an interview first published in Farsi by Negah publication, January 1999.

Thursday, July 01, 2004


An email from a reader

I very much sympathize with those who want some place for national expressions of the origins of values. Their retention is an even more realistic wager-proposal than Pascal offered.

On the one hand are the secularists demanding the chucking of the slightest acknowledgment of the history and traditions operative in formation of the highest level of civilization known (even more especially when the US "descendent" society is included). Secularists claim to be rational, guided by science, empiricism in particular. If they practiced what they say they believe,they'd recognize, firstly, that not a single civilization on Earth of which we're aware has arisen from secularist beginnings--that every extant civilization of which we know has specifically "believing" origins and references as integral portions of its moral code. And, secondly, the very few attempts of which we are aware to construct societies along strictly secularist lines have all been more or less spectacular failures, accompanied by ruthless annihilation of people almost unimaginable in ancient times (I never figured it out but the toll from the just-past century is probably greater than the entire population of Earth not all that long ago.).

On the other hand are the believers, who, although they have throughout time found reasons derived from their beliefs to oppose one another and to seek imposition of their beliefs on others through military means, have yet, in almost all cases, moved regularly toward greater toleration and peaceable resolution of disputes.

I am a secularist, insofar as any belief in a supernatural is concerned. But I am opposed to most of the "secularizing" efforts by the well-known organizations. Some are reasonable; but, if push comes to shove, I'd much rather depend (at least in the US) on the natural by-play of the various religious groups seeking their own protection. Secularists have plenty of protection through the ordinary legal system--almost none of it due to efforts of secularists themselves. Advances have been made on many fronts (though some extremely religious would disagree) despite the fact that all branches of government have been dominated by believers. That is not due to the excellence of arguments made by proponents of secularism but to the fairly reliable tendency of confident, unthreatened people in general to desire (and support) the fairest "shake" possible for all.

I am relatively certain that there exist many people like me--I just don't happen to know them. But the overwhelming preponderance of people I've known who actually choose to express their secularist or atheistic views are people I certainly wouldn't want to constitute a majority or to achieve positions of power over the lives and welfare of others (though some of them have). They are typically intolerant of the views of others--even of others who agree with them in being opposed to religion; their intolerance mirrors that of the narrowest of religionists--to the point that, in the US, those of narrower religious views accuse them of being a religion, themselves. That's not true, of course,--but it's not far wrong, either.

The sad part is that the good nature of most leads them to treat the activist secularists in the same way as they deal with most other groups--with compromises. What they don't recognize is that they are not dealing with a group like other groups--that seek to attain something akin to a fair share or a fuller life. Rather, they are dealing with a group to whom only dominance--in every facet of existence--is a constant goal. I truly do not think that can be said about any ordinary religion (except, possibly, Islam) and is more characteristic of various socialist forms. (And, typically, that is the political orientation of most of those of whom I speak.).

That judge down in Alabama was "just asking for it" by his action. But the display of the "Ten Commandments" is as innocuous as I could imagine anything to be. And, whether as a Jew or as a non-believer, I can find nothing amiss in the "cross" in that city's seal in California--the place started out as a Catholic mission--it's just history. Of the future, I'm not at all certain except that the very human drive by some to excel, to distinguish themselves in some capacity, leads those who understand improperly to confuse excess and exceeding with excelling (and the tendency of the media is to encourage these). That bodes ill on several aspects of life in the future.

Mises said he had become "merely a historian of decline."; I'm just its observer.