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An unholy alliance between fundamentalists and neo-capitalism

There is nothing new about exploiting religion for the sake of influence. All religions have done this starting from the crusades and even  before and ending with what is happening now in the region of the Middle East. Exploited and misconstrued Islam has become the Halloween mask used to scare, to coerce and to bully.

Syria and for the past ten years has been witnessing horrendous events that started with protests but quickly took a different tangent, borrowing the mantle of religion and the sword of faith.

Distancing themselves as much as possible from the Islam ( in their practices) yet professing to ride under its banner, extremists flooded from the four corners of the world into Syria. Their aim was Jihad (to fight for God). Sadly , theirs was a narrative that scarred the face of Islam and did much to abort the good that moderate Islam had done in Syria and the Middle East.

Fortified by money and provided with logistics by the west, the US, Turkey and Saudi ,extremists strengthened their backbone and began their fight against culture, humanity and most of all against women.

Reneva Fourie a South African political analyst living in Syria has written an enlightening article about the complexity of what is happening in the Middle East and the unholy alliances erected in this area. Below is her article in full:

Conflict in West Asia has escalated over the past decade, resulting in over 2.5 million deaths to date.  Yemen is in tatters as the war there is largely ignored. Peace in Afghanistan remains elusive. Troops of the United States of America (USA) remain in Iraq. The Palestinian/ Israeli conflict is no closer to an end given Trump’s pitiful peace plan that awards disparate pieces of land to Palestinians, which when aggregated amount to less than 20 percent of historical Palestine. Bloody battles ensue as Syrian government forces are close to taking back West Aleppo and Idlib (the last remaining towns controlled by non-government forces) and attention is now on Lebanon as concerns increase around whether the protests will lead to war.

The justification for the presence of the West, primarily represented by the USA in the region is that they are fighting terrorism, that is, Islamic fundamentalists.  The USA assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the primary strategist for reducing the presence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) in the region, dispels that argument. Their presence instead is a consequence of a symbiotic relationship between religious fundamentalism and neo-capitalism in West Asia.

 Defining religious fundamentalism

Those who desire plural or secular societies either do not adhere to cultural or religious practices. or have their own cultural or religious practices but are comfortable with differences in the practices of others.  Fundamentalists believe that only their perspective of the world is correct, have no tolerance for differing interpretations and use violent means to secure sectarianism. Fundamentalism should not be confused with radicalism. Radicals can be pluralists or fundamentalists. They seek to transform an existing political or social structure, and the means of transformation is not necessarily violent.

Religious fundamentalists or extremists distort scripts, projecting their interpretation as pure and exclusive, and enforce conservative practices associated therewith. They are intolerant of any modern adaptations to their religion and view the religions of others as false. Christian fundamentalism, in particular, is also coupled with the belief in the intrinsic superiority of the occident or Christian civilization, and accordingly the entitlement to the annexation of any desired resources. Fundamentalists can be found in all religions – for example, we are currently observing the destructive impact of Hindu fundamentalism in India. In the Middle East, Christian, Muslim and Jewish fundamentalism and neo-capitalism converge.

An unhealthy reinforcement of religious fundamentalism

Capitalist expansion and religious fundamentalism have a long relationship dating back to colonialism.  Fundamentalism gained prominence in the United States in the early 1900s due to its association with the revival of the Protestant movement. Christians were termed fundamentalist because of their literal interpretation of the Bible as the word of God. Though the domestic manifestations of fundamentalism in the USA were not violent, its overall global impact has been extremely destructive, particularly within the Middle East.

Fundamentalism finds its most threatening and bloody expression in Israel. The very concept of a Jewish national home in Palestine, as initiated by the 1917 Balfour Declaration and the 1948 proclamation of the establishment of the state of Israel, epitomizes Zionist fundamentalism. In the USA, there are two main forms of alliances with Zionist fundamentalists - one with powerful political and financial forces, which is ideological and elite in character; and the other, more mass-based consisting of over fifty million Christian fundamentalists. These strong alliances have resulted in unfettered protection of Israel, allowing it to escape with gross human rights violations and the impoverishment of the indigenous Palestinian population; and in the silence of the West during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006, and the 2008 military campaign and continued attacks in Gaza.

In addition to prioritizing the security of Israel, the silence of the USA elite was informed by the need for hegemony (to weaken Syria and Iran, and to keep Russia and China out), and to protect their financial interests, whether it be oil or huge arms sales. The Christians are silent because they truly believe that the annexation of Palestinian land and the current wars in the Middle East is a fulfillment of divine providence.

The hatred and prejudices spewed by Christian fundamentalists in the USA post-11 September 2001 (9/11) resulted in increased racism and xenophobia particularly against blacks, Hispanics and Arabs. The resultant “War on Terror” signified by an unjustified attack on Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq contributed significantly to a rise in a general anti-imperialist stance, including Islamic radicalism.

 Exploiting vulnerabilities

Further to the countries that were subjected to USA military occupation immediately after  9/11, other countries in West Asia became increasingly vulnerable to instability due to the rising Islamic radicalism together with domestic reforms and governance failures. Most countries were in the process of establishing plural, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and socially egalitarian alternatives to capitalism. These reforms resulted in the collapse of established systems and an erosion of cultural practices. The one consequence was that globalization, acculturation and exposure to neo-liberal lifestyles created unfulfilled citizen expectations.  Corruption and service delivery inefficiencies by governments contributed to citizen dissatisfaction and the eruption of wide-scale protests, following the 2011 Arab-spring. The other consequence was the consolidation of Islamic fundamentalism, as fuelled by the increase in post 9/11 Islamic radicalism and financed by oil-rich Gulf States such as Saudi Arabia.

Neo-capitalism represented by the USA exploited this vulnerability to advance regime change in two ways. The first was to intensify the protests using conventional and social media and agent provocateurs; the second was through destabilization including proxy wars using Islamic fundamentalists.  Positioning itself as a benevolent hegemonic, the USA also used sophisticated campaigns to justify its military occupations and to apply economic warfare, using sanctions, under the pretext of the protection of human rights and provision of humanitarian aid, to secure global silence amidst large-scale bloodshed.

Using Islamic fundamentalists to advance proxy wars was an established practice of the USA, most notably having created Al Qaeda to destabilize a legitimate government in Afghanistan in 1988, compelling the then Soviet Union to intervene. In Syria, for example, legitimate protests were soon infiltrated by armed, violent, sectarian and foreign extremists, causing demonstrators to retract and turn to the Assad government for protection. Turkey, expecting Assad to fall soon, and desperate to have control of Aleppo, made a tactical error, providing military backing for a faction of insurrectionists. Foreign extremists also came from or were financed by amongst others, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Israel and the USA. The May 2012, Houla massacre, originally ascribed to the Syrian government, was executed by the USA-backed Free Syrian Army, likewise the massacre in Daraya in August 2012.

The USA officially occupied Syria in late 2014.  While its pretext was the fight against terrorism, its presence enabled the advancement of ISIS/ Daesh, particularly in Palmyra and Jabhat al Nusra/ aka Hayat Tahrir/ al Sham in Idlib. In response to the USA presence, Russia came to the aid of the Syrian government in late 2015.

Attacks by the extremists were given further traction when the USA, United Kingdom and France conducted a series of military strikes using aircraft and ship-based missiles against the Syrian government.  Their justification was that the Syrian government was using chemical weapons against its people, an assertion that is now proving to be false. The lies around the Syrian “civil war” are unraveling and the Syrian government is increasingly regaining control of the country.  The USA also made a huge strategic blunder by killing General Soleimani.  His assassination marked the beginning of the end of their presence in West Asia.

The struggle against imperialism and neo-capitalism includes a struggle against fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism and capital expansion have had a successful, unholy marriage for centuries.  Empires have been brutalized and degraded and entire nations destroyed in the quest for material greed in the name of religion.  Today, in South America, Christian right-wing fundamentalism and neo-capitalism are in partnership to edge out popular, progressive governments in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. In West Asia, the counter-revolutionary forces are Zionist and Islamic fundamentalists, backed by USA-based Christian fundamentalists.

It is ironic that Islamic fundamentalists exploit public sentiment against US aggression to champion their cause, when they are beneficiaries of imperialist support and are playing an instrumental role in advancing a neo-liberal agenda.  Likewise, the barrage of propaganda from the West portrays their interventions as being anti-terrorism, yet they are using these very terrorists to destabilize countries. The struggle against fundamentalism, including Islamic fundamentalism or extremism, is strongly intertwined with our revolutionary struggle against imperialism and capitalism. Accordingly, it is important that our anti-imperialist posture is also anti-fundamentalist in nature; and that it serves as a base for the revival of an anti-war culture, and international mobilization of a vocal movement for peace.



Reem Haddad