In the West today, political Islam is mostly equated with ISIS’s spectacle of violence, and with the narrow, bigoted understanding of religion and society that inspires it. It will thus intrigue many readers to discover that the legacy of Islamic intellectual and political activity, from the turn of the twentieth century until today, bore the imprint of a complex interaction between Communist and leftist traditions. A recent book by two professors at McGill University, Rula Jurdi Abisaab and Malek Abisaab, takes on the ambitious task of tracing the history of the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes confrontational relationship among Shi’i communities and clerics in Lebanon, along with occasional discussions of related issues in Iraqi politics. Based on a rich set of primary documents from both countries, the authors describe in great detail the rise and fall of the Communist experience in the region, the shortcomings of the left as it was gradually superseded by Islamic party formations, and the deep debt of the latter to the former.
Forthcoming in March 2016
According to renowned Marxist economist Samir Amin, the recent Arab Spring uprisings comprise an integral part of a massive “second awakening” of the Global South. From the self-immolation in December 2010 of a Tunisian street vendor, to the consequent outcries in Cairo's Tahrir Square against poverty and corruption, to the ongoing upheavals across the Middle East and Northern Africa, the Arab world is shaping what may become of Western imperialism—an already tottering and overextended system.
The Reawakening of the Arab World—an updated and expanded version of Amin's The People's Spring, first published in 2012 by Pambazuka Press—examines the complex interplay of nations regarding the Arab Spring and its continuing, turbulent seasons. Beginning with Amin’s compelling interpretation of the 2011 popular Arab explosions, the book is comprised of five chapters—including a new chapter analyzing U.S. geo-strategy. Samir Amin sees the United States, in an increasingly multi-polar world, as a victim of overreach, caught in its own web of attempts to contain the challenge of China, while confronting the staying power of nations such as Syria and Iran. The growing, deeply-felt need of the Arab people for independent, popular democracy is the cause of their awakening, says Amin. It this awakening to democracy that the United States fears most, since real self-government by independent nations would necessarily mean the end of U.S. empire, and the economic liberalism that has kept it in place. The way forward for the Arab world, Amin argues, is to take on, not just Western imperialism, but also capitalism itself.
To understand why the Middle East is now in shambles, with the United States currently involved simultaneously in wars against both the Assad government in Syria and the Islamic State in Iraq, generating the greatest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War, it is necessary to go back almost a quarter-century to the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The Gulf War, unleashed by the United States in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, was made possible by the growing disorder in the USSR followed by its demise later that same year. The USSR’s disappearance from the world stage allowed the United States to shift to a naked imperialist stance—though justified in the manner of the colonial empires of old as “anti-terrorism” and “humanitarian intervention”—not only in the Middle East, but also along the entire great arc that had constituted the perimeter of the former Soviet Union.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, elements within the U.S. ruling class came to believe that their country was militarily invincible. Indeed, they believed this newfound military superiority over any potential rival was something new in human history. So great was its technological advantage, the United States could destroy its enemies with complete impunity. A long-heralded Revolution in Military Affairs was taking place, enabling the United States to reshape the world. New smart technologies would disperse the “fog of war,” making it possible for the United States to kill its enemies without their being able to strike back, and the “Vietnam syndrome” could be overcome once and for all.… Even so, at this point in time, the U.S. government proceeded with considerable caution. The then-secretary of defense, Dick Cheney no less, made clear that the United States did not invade and occupy Iraq at this time because of the danger of finding itself in a “quagmire” where it would be taking casualties while the Kurds, the Shia, and the Sunnis fought it out. The administration decided not to involve itself in “that civil war.” Such a commitment would have had to involve the use of “overwhelming force” for an extended period if it was to have any chance of success. This was in 1991. Ten years later such caution had been replaced by an overweening self-confidence, by a belief that the United States could completely reshape the Middle East, starting with Iraq, and then moving on to Syria and Iran. And, moreover, this could all be achieved with a comparatively small invading and occupying army.
Turkey’s ruling party has turned the country, which it calls “the new Turkey,” into a capitalist nightmare: a triad of neoliberal economics, political despotism, and Islamist conservatism. This article provides an overview of neoliberalism in Turkey, then looks at the government’s extraction policies, highlighting the Soma mine massacre as one tragic example of the destructive policies of the governing party, the Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP, Justice and Development Party). It also examines the extreme authoritarianism of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (formerly prime minister), and the growing cultural-relgious conservatism, which the AKP has interlaced with Islamist rhetoric. This hegemonic triad of neoliberalism, despotism, and conservatism is an especially dangerous one. However, it is being increasingly criticized, and resistance movements against neoliberal policies are growing. All of this gives some hope for Turkey’s future.
When in March 2012, Barack Obama paused briefly from approving orders for drone killings of Pakistani and Yemeni villagers, in order to reassure the attendees at the annual gala of the AIPAC (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) that, “when there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them,” the real target of his declaration was elsewhere: the myriad grassroots organizers across the world who have made the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns unignorable. Their mounting influence has provoked efforts to declare them anti-Semitic or illegal from London to Long Beach. In fact, the series of victories across the University of California system has so annoyed its managers that they have hauled in the Caesar of domestic repression, Janet Napolitano, to deal with campus activists. Obama’s declaration of support for Israeli colonialism had a simple message to those many activists: back down, because Washington will not.
The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States began in earnest as soon as the Second World War ended, shaping most of the remainder of the twentieth century. The U.S. doctrine of “containment” required confronting the Soviets at every point of contact, accompanied by the claim that lasting peace could be reached only through the establishment of an international order based on national states which enjoyed a U.S.-defined political liberty and a capitalist economic order. The Soviets bolstered their security through providing support to countries seen as friendly and close to their borders. Therefore, maintaining influence in Iran was a goal of Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy was shaped by its own state interests and ideology and driven by the American postwar, worldwide systems of military bases.… It is this turbulent period of geopolitical maneuvering that Ervand Abrahamian’s The Coup revisits. Yet, unlike other books on the 1953 events in Iran, Abrahamian locates the U.S.-backed coup less in the Cold War ideological confrontation between East and West than in the conflicts which opposed imperialism and nationalism; between the center of world capitalism and the underdeveloped economies heavily dependent on exporting raw natural resources.
“You whore it out to a contractor,” Major Tim Elliott said bluntly. It was April 2012, and I was at a swank hotel in downtown London attending “Forward Operating Bases 2012,” a conference for contractors building, supplying, and maintaining military bases around the world. IPQC, the private company running the conference, promised the conference would “bring together buyers and suppliers in one location” and “be an excellent platform to initiate new business relationships” through “face-to-face contact that overcrowded trade shows cannot deliver.” Companies sending representatives included major contractors like General Dynamics and the food services company Supreme Group, which has won billions in Afghan war contracts, as well as smaller companies like QinetiQ, which produces acoustic sensors and other monitoring devices used on bases. “We’re profiteers,” one contractor representative said to the audience in passing, with only a touch of irony.
Greg Muttitt quotes an Iraqi friend who pointed out that there would be two phases to the war in Iraq: first the U.S. invasion and occupation, and second the struggle over the gas and oil. Ten years after tanks rolled across the border from Kuwait, the second phase continues.… There is still no oil law, which the United States has pushed hard to get passed since 2007 and the Iraqi Parliament has no desire to pass soon. This means that the oil rush by the multinational oil companies goes on in a legal vacuum. While the international press blames sectarian strife for holding up the law, it is, in fact, due to a broad people’s struggle for sovereignty.
Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali sets the tone in his introduction to The Poorer Nations, arguing that the moment has arrived for scholars from the underdeveloped world of plundered resources and impoverished people to make the necessary statements themselves, rather than leaving that work to the first world left. Boutros-Ghali makes one other important point: that Prashad is hard at work rediscovering the hopes of earlier decades, the moment of anti-colonialist hopes, of common feeling among various nationalities and nations freeing themselves and looking forward to a kind of communitarian developmental process that was, often enough, called “socialism.”
Moshé Machover is a mathematician and political activist who was born in Tel Aviv in 1936 and has lived in London since 1968. He is a co-founder of the radical left Israeli Socialist Organization (ISO), which is better known by the name of its journal Matzpen (compass). The book under review is a collection of thirty-five essays written by Machover, sometimes in collaboration with other members of ISO, and dealing with the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The earliest essay in the collection appeared in 1966 while the most recent one was published in 2011. Perhaps the best known article is “The Class Nature of Israeli Society,” which appeared in New Left Review in 1971. Taken together, these essays provide an original and often compelling Marxist analysis of Zionism and its relationship to the Arab world. The ideas contained in this book, Machover says, are a collective product of the ISO. He is merely the carrier.
Perhaps no war in recent memory has so thoroughly flummoxed the Euro-Atlantic left as the recent NATO war on Libya. Presaging what would occur as U.S. proxies carried out an assault on Syria, both a pro-war left and an anti-anti-war left [gave] endless explanations and tortuous justifications for why a small invasion, perhaps just a “no-fly-zone,” would be okay—so long as it didn’t grow into a larger intervention. They cracked open the door to imperialism, with the understanding that it would be watched very carefully so as to make sure that no more of it would be allowed in than was necessary to carry out its mission. The absurdity of this posture became clear when NATO immediately expanded its mandate and bombed much of Libya to smithereens, with the help of on-the-ground militia, embraced as revolutionaries by those who should have known better—and according to Maximilian Forte, could have known better, had they only looked.