Danmark og Islam - Vestens strategiske overvejelser som følge af krisen efter Muhammed-tegningerne
The anti-Islam cartoons and the imperialist powers' strategic considerations
A World to Win News Service, 13. februar 2006
Det voksende oprør blandt muslimer over Jyllands-Posten karrikaturtegninger af profeten Muhammed har udviklet sig til et globalt problem, som påvirker Vestens strategiske interesser. Problemet indgik som selvstændigt punkt på dagsordenen under sidste uges møde mellem NATO-alliancens forsvarsministre. Krisen giver pludselig Europa en ny og mere aktiv rolle i forhold til den arabiske og muslimske del af verden. Læs den radikale amerikanske vurdering af situationen fra "A World To Win News Service".
The "Greater Middle East" from Morocco to Afghanistan is the centre of contradictions in today's world. The US is determined to seize exclusive control over the region and its resources, not simply because of their importance to America but because control over them is decisive in whether or not the US will be able to control the world (including preventing the rise of rival powers). One of the biggest recent changes is an increasingly direct and open European involvement throughout the region. France, Germany and other continental European powers have shifted - how temporary remains to be seen - from defending their interests by opposing US moves to defending them by working with the US. In this constantly changing game, both collusion and contention are always present. One reason for this shift is the outcome of the US invasion of Iraq: the failure of the US to achieve its aims has given the European powers more room to manoeuvre, while all the imperialist powers share the fear that the instability of the region following a US defeat would be catastrophic for their own strategic and regional interests.
This growing European involvement in increasingly explosive situations includes:
- Iraq itself, where Denmark, like the UK, Italy and Poland, is taking part in the occupation, while Germany, especially, as well as France, is playing less of an oppositional role than before. The importance of participating in this and similar wars for the smaller powers was well put by a senior Polish official, who, explaining his government's decision to keep troops in Iraq despite the unpopularity of the war among the Polish people, unabashedly pointed to the need to cement a strategic alliance with the US with blood. He also pointed to the unprecedented opportunities for building up and battle-hardening the Polish army, turning "civilians in uniform into warriors". Since there is no foreseeable need for such "warriors" to defend Poland, he could only be talking about toughening Polish troops for more wars of aggression against third world countries and to strengthen Poland's claims to the spoils of empire. The same logic applies to Denmark.
-Afghanistan, where the US-led occupation has also run into serious resistance, and where all the major powers (and minor ones like Denmark) have sent troops as markers for their own geopolitical and economic interests.
- The collapse of the Israel-Palestine "peace process". For instance, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's successor Ehud Olmert recently reiterated Israel's intention to keep 40 percent of the West Bank and all of Jerusalem. This is a slap in the face to the "road map" agreement brokered by the "Quartet" (the US, UN, EU and Russia), but the European powers didn't even go as far as the US in making a hypocritical, formal protest.
- The US-initiated push against the Syrian government and to change the political system in Lebanon. France created Lebanon and used to run it, creating the political arrangements in which competing ethnic-based clans control the country. For decades France has had friendly relations with the Syrian regime, which in turn helped to prop up this system. Now France has suddenly switched positions, backing the US against Syria's presence in Lebanon and joining with the US in the push for regime change in Syria.
- US/Europe rapprochement against Iran. The UK, France and Germany, all with strong interests in Iran, initially opposed the American policy of seeking an early confrontation with the Tehran regime. Now these countries have come closer to the US - and nuclear-armed Israel - in a conspiracy to use Iran's nuclear programme as a pretext to bend or break the regime. In this context, French President Jacques Chirac recently shocked many people when he issued a boasting reminder that France has nuclear weapons and is prepared to use them. This was meant to be understood not only as a threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran but also as a warning to the US that France must be considered a player in the new re-division of the Middle East.
- The "war on terror'". Revelations about how nearly every country in Europe has been complicit with the US "extraordinary rendition" programme in which the CIA shuttles around prisoners to torture facilities dramatically illustrate the degree to which these governments often secretly cooperate with the American policies they publicly condemn.
Public reaction to the publication of the cartoons in all the Middle Eastern and other predominantly Islamic countries, as other observers have pointed out, has not been a single, homogenous phenomenon but is very much conditioned by the different political situations and forces in each country. Yet in general, the relationship between these countries and US and European imperialism was a driving factor. This has been true in predominantly Islamic countries where ruling regimes clearly created by and/or sustained by the US led protests, countries where the protests were directed against these regimes, and other countries where forces in conflict with the US took up this cause.
For instance, the Egyptian government - one of the most US-dependent regimes in the world - played the leading role in first making the controversy an international issue. Government-friendly imams there organised the Arab world's first mass demonstrations against the cartoons. Ordinarily, public protests are violently repressed in Egypt, especially when they target the US and its war in Iraq. In Syria, the big demonstrations that helped initiate the international wave of protests were led by pro-regime forces according to some experts and by anti-regime forces according to others, but either way the current contradictions between the regime and the West were a big part of what energized these unusual public outbursts. Rallies against the cartoons were used not only by anti-US forces but also by pro-US forces across the Middle East, Malaysia (another pro-US government that put itself at the head of the outrage) and Indonesia. The Bush regime took a carefully ambiguous attitude, declaring solidarity with allies like Denmark but also not distancing itself from pro-US Islamic forces.
As for the region's four main Islamic fundamentalist regimes, there was great governmental restraint in both Saudi Arabia and Iran, where Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the country's single most powerful figure, said, "We need to put forward our calm and compassionate side, our gentleness". The Tehran crowds of 400 who attacked the Danish embassy and 60 who did the same to the British may have had support from some regime forces, but they were miniscule compared even to the rallies the regime is able to hold in its own name. (Some informed observers say that the lack of a more outraged public reaction may have to do with popular indifference to religion and dislike of the mullahs after a quarter century of theocracy. The Islamic Republic's lack of appetite for encouraging confrontation may be explained by its continuing efforts to come to an accommodation with the West, or at least with Europe).
In Iraq, where Islamic fundamentalists have come to power with the backing of American guns, the protests were taken up by forces rather happy to defend the faith and attack Danish imperialism while not taking on the US. In the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, on the contrary, the protests seem to have taken on an anti-regime character. It is noteworthy that much of the upheaval has taken place in areas not known for Taleban activity, and especially that it has targeted the US military bases and the occupation.
In short, while all of these specific situations and especially the rise of political Islam in general requires much more analysis, we can clearly see two factors at work:
First of all, in all the countries where the outbreaks occurred, people have great reason to hate the US and Europe regardless of religious factors. What we are witnessing is not a "clash of civilizations" but an indirect reflection, in the realm of ideas, of the fact that the handful of monopoly capitalists who rule over the most bloodthirsty "civilisation" in the history of mankind plunders these countries economically (even while fighting over the spoils), bullies and dictates to them politically, stomps on their national pride and humiliates their peoples.
Secondly, various regimes and other reactionary forces have sought to manipulate the reaction to the cartoons, in many cases to give safer outlets to the people's anger and national sentiments, whether to protect themselves from the people or to pressure the West to save their own skin. Above all they want to avoid stirring up a full-scale political confrontation between the people and the ruling systems that are ultimately dependent on imperialist finance, trade and often arms, regardless of the occasional anti-Western stance of the rulers.
The Western powers, and most notably but far from exclusively the US, have to various degrees at various times encouraged and outright subsidized Islamic fundamentalist forces. For instance: the British-installed and US-backed medieval Saudi regime, the US's flirtation with armed Islamic fundamentalists in French-dominated Algeria, US/Israeli past support for Hamas to weaken the secular PLO, the CIA support given to Bin Laden and Afghanistan's Islamic warlords against the USSR, and the US-backed military/mullah regime in Pakistan. In some times and places the US and other Western powers are completely behind Islamic forces they consider controllable or strategic allies; at other times, the relations are more ambiguous or even hostile. But it general it can be said that the imperialists prefer that the national sentiments and resistance of the masses be diverted through the more easily manipulated, dead-end channels of religious sentiment. (This does not mean that there are no material causes for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is these countries, but that issue is beyond the scope of this article).
Yet what should strike us the most about this whole affair is what is happening in the imperialist countries themselves, especially but not only Europe, where most immigration is from historically Islamic lands, mainly because of where the European powers have long had colonies and continuing spheres of influence. Here too we see the imperialist double game with religion.
On the one hand they foster religious institutions to control immigrant masses. This is very clear in France, where the government openly props up Islamic organisations as a dyke against the threatened deluge involving not very religious immigrant working class youth. According to Le Monde, these youth were explicitly not invited to the 11 February Paris demonstration against the cartoons led by these Islamic groups, which featured French flags. Nowhere is this policy more blatant than in Canada, where the government shamefully backs the application of Sharia law for predominantly Islamic immigrant communities.
But on the other hand, the real target of the current controversy is not immigrants and their families but the native-born. Nearly everywhere these cartoons have been reproduced, they have been presented as a blow for "freedom" - of speech, of the press, of non-Muslims in general - against the "intimidation" of believers in Islam. (See the interview with Jyllands-Posten editor Flemming Rose, Newsweek, 13 February).
There is much that should make people stop and think in the facts about this newspaper and its pro-Nazi past, the Danish government and fascistic right it is aligned with, and the editor himself, who reacted to the explosion of protest by planning to print anti-Semitic cartoons. But they are only bit players in this drama. (For more on links between Rose, the Jyllands-Posten and Bush's inner circle, see the 9 February blog entry at www.juancole.com) The cartoons have been eagerly seized on in many countries by ruling class forces seeking to whip up a hysterical atmosphere in which Europeans and North Americans are to see themselves not as inhabitants of countries whose rulers oppress most of the world's nations but as victims of the third world. One of the most disgusting forms is the contention that Christianity, especially in the US, and in Europe sometimes secularism (although usually a very pro-Christian secularism), are threatened by Islam as a religion and by those who believe in it or even happen to have Islamic-seeming names and complexions. This is not very far from the Nazi idea that the Jews oppressed Germany.
Yes, there are some very backward people in the "Greater Middle East", especially those in power with imperialist support who inflict theocratic regimes on the people. But in today's world, the most powerful forces of the dark ages and the biggest threat to science and secularism are headquartered in Washington. The struggle against religious obscurantism and the backward and oppressive social relations it represents is one in which people of the East and West share the same interests.
In this sense, for all its important specific features, the cartoon controversy can only be understood in the context of what the US Defence Department and the Bush White House used to call the "war on terrorism" and now term the "long war": the US drive to reshape the world that was unleashed in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks and the manoeuvring of the various imperialist powers in this context. To the degree that this is cloaked as a "clash of civilisations" or wars of religion, the people in both kinds of countries, imperialist and oppressed, will have trouble seeing the real, material interests at stake, the face of their real enemies and the very real and material common interests of the peoples of the world in moving beyond an imperialist world toward the liberation of all of humanity.