Question : The anti-war movement is taking shape in the West. It has focused on condemning the war against Afghanistan and US and UK imperialism and militarism. However, nothing is being said about the Taliban, political Islam and Islamic terrorism. Why do we insist on both sides of this war of terrorists being equally condemned?
Koorosh Modarresi: The war is practically over. Fortunately, the rule of the Taliban Islamic murderers has crumbled and ironically with its collapse, the 'anti-war' coalition will lose its purpose and momentum. People will not get attracted to lost causes and self-defeated movements. To answer your question, we should really look back and address the arguments behind this movement. Why has the fate of this movement been entangled in the fortunes of a barbaric, anti-human, Islamic gang of drug dealers – the collapse of which has brought a smile to the face of every human being not only in Afghanistan but throughout the world?
In looking at this movement, we must distinguish between the intentions of the many decent people who have participated in it and the framework in which this movement has been defined and organised. Unfortunately, intentions do not tally in the end result of a movement. A movement's demands, slogans and political framework determine its place in the real social and political environment we live in. Indeed, this shows where a movement stands and what it can achieve. To make a quick judgement on the position of this movement, I point to a fact. In your question, you have mentioned that the anti-war movement is a movement that is 'taking shape in the West'. This is a misconception and a clue to the root of the problem. In real life and in the context of social movements worldwide, this movement is not and was not a Western movement alone. In reality, although one end of this movement has definitely been in the West, the other end has been in the anti-war demonstrations in Peshawar and Kabul. The aims and slogans of the two have been indistinguishable. Even more striking is the composition of the movement, especially in Europe. On the streets and in the movement's slogans and demands, the line between those who are genuinely and passionately for the freedom and dignity of the people in Afghanistan, and those who were seeking to impose one of the most brutal and devastating political systems in history, namely the murderous anti-human rule of Islam, has not been clear. The two have joined arms; ranks of Moslems praying in this political action have joined arms with ranks of those protesting against Imperialism.
When you concentrate on Imperialism and ignore the role and significance of Taliban or political Islam as a whole, you create a common cause and join arms with political Islam. This twisted reality has its roots in the inverted colonialist mentality of the Western marginal left, which in all its life has been nothing but a pressure group without any distinctive perspective. On one side we have the Western left intellectuals who feel guilty about the past colonial history of the West and are apologetic to the 'third world' as such. The issue in their system of thought is not the plight of the people living in this 'world', but a preoccupation with self-serving concepts about people in the West and the rest of the world. To them, the rest of the world, the 'third world', is a given entity. In this entity, people have this strange 'culture' of depriving themselves from achievements of human society in the 21st century. In this entity, women love to be deprived from any human rights and spiritually adore sexual apartheid; girls love to be segregated from boys; people hate freedom of thought, conscience and expression. They are Moslems and want to implement the rotten laws of Islam in their society. Human beings in this entity are portrayed as inhuman. This is the inverted colonialism that I was talking about. You and I and all the millions of people fighting for freedom, equality and prosperity and against not only Imperialism but against the barbaric and criminal rule of political Islam in all its aspects, do not exist in their picture of this 'world'. We who have been brutally suppressed, jailed and executed do not exist in their picture of this 'world'. All those people suffering from Islamic or nationalist anti-human governments and so-called oppositions simply do not exist. We are deprived from the need for 'Western' human rights and concepts of dignity and prosperity. In this view, human rights are not universal but 'relative' to culture and culture is a uniform barbaric culture. If people are executed for a simple out-of-marriage relationship or because of expressing a simple doubt about the validity of the 'divine' laws of Islam, they deserve it. This picture of us and of this 'world' is actually the same as the colonialist’s view - be it inverted.
If the freedom, equality and prosperity of people in Afghanistan are in question, then we should first declare the undeniable rights of people, defend these rights against whoever is suppressing them, and choose our allies accordingly. By moving Taliban and political Islam to the 'domestic' and benign side of the conflict, this movement shoots itself in the foot. At the end of the day, there is and there has been a long and bloody struggle between the majority of the people in these countries with political Islam. In this context, whatever the justification, this movement has chosen its ally; it has chosen to ally itself with the Taliban and political Islam and not us. The anti-war movement cannot share in the happiness of the children in Afghanistan, the smiles on the faces of girls who can go to school and on women who can unveil after the collapse of the Taliban in Kabul. This is the tragedy. The anti-war movement simply asks that the lives of the people in Afghanistan be left in the hands of the Northern Alliance or tribal leaders. They are prescribing yet another human catastrophe.
Question : The assistance of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a source of terrorism in the world, has been sought in the so-called war against terrorism. Why is it critical that the anti-war movement go beyond the Taliban and condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran and political Islam in general?
Koorosh Modarresi: If this is a war against terrorism and not only against terrorism applied to the West, then it should be fought on all fronts. The reality is that Western governments have financed and nurtured political Islam as a weapon to fight the former Soviet Union as well as progressive movements in the region, which could threaten its economic and political interests, i.e. cheap labour and stability. In the context of the current conflict, these governments do not want to give up this political arsenal. They want to curtail political Islam from reaching the West itself and confine it to its designated role, i.e. terrorising people in their own countries. 'Behaved' political Islam has been and is an ally of Imperialist interests. That is why they turn to the Islamic government of Iran, one of the bloodiest regimes in recent history for support. In this respect, as I mentioned earlier, the anti-war movement has followed the same mentality - but inverted. They are reaching the same conclusion from another side. They say they are anti-war, but one should immediately ask which war? Are you against the war in which Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and in fact the West imposed Taliban on Afghanistan? Where were you then? Are you against the terror, which Islamic regimes in Iran, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc. have imposed on the people in these countries? In this inverted colonial mentality, these are 'internal affairs'. Political Islam and lack of human rights are parts of people’s 'culture' in these countries - or in a sense better than Imperialism. This mentality is not about the plight of people in ex-colonies, it is about the guilt for the Imperial past in the minds of these intellectuals. Otherwise, they should have targeted these beasts in any clothes, defended the undeniable rights of people, declared it universal, targeted all those who are against it and have allied with all those who fight for it.
Question : Some activists have stated that condemning the Taliban and political Islam will prevent a mass movement from developing. As a result, mullahs and even supporters of the Taliban are welcome in such gatherings. For example, in a Coalition against the War meeting in Birmingham, England recently, someone who distributed a leaflet against 'Islamic fundamentalists' was threatened by Islamists. Can a movement, which includes Taliban supporters and Islamists, be called reactionary or should people support such coalitions nonetheless? Please comment.
Koorosh Modarresi: Same dilemma again. According to this view the 'masses' in these countries are Moslem and want political Islam, so if you want a mass movement you have to ally yourself with political Islam. This is pathetic and insulting. This is inverted racism and colonialism. There has been a fight going on, particularly for the last 20 years between people and progressive movements in the Middle East and Europe on one side and political Islam on the other side. Just look at the daily struggle or the record of the struggle of the non-Islamic opposition in Islam-ridden countries. The self-centred mentality in which everything must revolve around the guilt of 'Western' pseudo-intellectuals is appalling. I would have been ashamed to be a part of a movement in which defenders of freedom and distributors of anti-Islamic literature are threatened, women are segregated from men or religious slogans are brought forward as political demands. Freedom of expression, equality of men and women and more importantly the right for a secular state applies to the people in the 'third world' too. Isn’t it shameful that we have to argue about this?
Question : At the same meeting in Birmingham, Muslim women sat separately from others in the meeting. These meetings are playing into the reactionary theory of cultural relativism. Please comment.
Koorosh Modarresi: As I said, I would have been insulted and ashamed to participate in such a meeting and I would have protested and argued as loudly and as persuasively as I could to defend human dignity and either eject these reactionary anti-human forces out of the movement or deprive the movement from the participation of any freedom loving individual or group.
Question : Several activists have stated that it is better to use the term fundamentalists or Islamic totalitarianism rather than political Islam. Political Islam is seen to some as a positive term - for example Muslims who are politicised and fighting for their own demands. Why do we insist on the term political Islam?
Koorosh Modarresi: Islamic fundamentalism and totalitarianism are old labels invented by Western foreign offices and media to distinguish between Islamic movements benign to their interests and those with some hostility towards them. They have divided them into good and bad guys or fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. I should mention only two points about this distinction. Firstly, they are not fundamentalist; they are pure pragmatists. Consider Khomeini and the Islamic government in Iran, for example; they have twisted Islamic law whenever they have had to, and mostly under pressure from people or the necessities of their politico-economic environment. They, however, adhere to Islamic laws, they are Islamic regimes and the whole idea has been to implement Islamic laws to control society. This is political Islam. Secondly, suppose there is a difference between fundamentalist and non-fundamentalist Islam. Then what happened to the right of having a secular state? Are these people prepared to live in a non-fundamentalist religious state? Are they prepared to accept that a law is 'divine' and cannot be questiond by people? The answer is simply no. But they prescribe a religious state for Afghanistan and they think people there deserve to live in the Middle Ages. Any decent human being would reject the idea of a religious state in any form just like they would reject the idea of a fascist or racist state. People all over the world deserve to be free, and should be encouraged to get rid of any religious and racist state. That is the simple truth, which is ignored. I do not support racists who are fighting for their demands or fighting Imperialist forces. Similarly, I will not support those who are fighting for their demands under the slogan of political Islam. I fight my war for freedom, equality and prosperity against not only Imperialists but also political Islam. The anti-war movement has chosen the Islamists and not us and millions of people in the West and East to ally itself with. This is the simple and bitter truth.
Question : Some activists comment that condemning political Islam will encourage racist attacks against Moslems. Please comment.
Koorosh Modarresi: As I said before, it's the other way around. Getting along with an anti-human ideology and letting down the progressive forces is the real racism here. When you judge the truth and the rights of people according to a race or culture you are a racist.
Question : On September 11, 5-6000 innocent people perished in a crime against humanity. Not much is being said about them in the anti-war movement. In much of the discussions around this, there seems to be support among activists - though not ordinary people - that the attack was a revenge attack for injustices meted out by the USA. Please comment.
Koorosh Modarresi: Suppose it was revenge. Are we allowed to excuse any fascist and anti-human revenge? Are we prepared to offer the same conciliatory attitude towards fascists and racists who attack foreigners in Europe? Well, these attacks are definitely revenge against the system, but it is aimed at innocent people. Can the family of the victims of the September 11th massacre go for revenge? The answer to these questions will be no. This sympathy can be justified if and only if you consider the revenge seekers lesser beings than yourself. If you subject them to your own human standards then blind revenge and criminal acts cannot be appreciated or justified in any sense. Here, you smell the roots of cultural relativism and inverted racist mentality, or may be political Islam in disguise again.
Question : We believe that a true mass movement can only come about if both sides are condemned. What demands must a progressive social movement after September 11 includes and why?
Koorosh Modarresi: At this stage we must declare the undeniable rights of people in Afghanistan, support the formation of a secular government based on a free elections, condemn political Islam and Imperialist policies which have created this humanitarian disaster in the region, condemn imposing another model of tribal and religious rule on Afghanistan, and support the genuinely secular forces and organisations in Afghanistan and region. Furthermore, we must dry out the roots of political Islam by giving the Palestinians their rights and putting an end to Israel’s occupation and brutal racism. We must defend the basic rights of people against both the Imperialists and political Islamic movement. This is the only way out. This is the only way we can help to create a civil society in which people in the Middle East and Islamic-ridden countries can have a chance to participate in determining their future. Isn’t it strange neither the Imperialist governments nor the 'anti-war' movement defends, or even mentions the right of the people in Afghanistan to a secular state? This is not accidental in any way
First published in WPI Briefing No. 35, 21 November 2001