The February 15 march is only one most recent example of the far left and Islamists working together since 9/11 or, more significantly, since the start of the second Palestinian Intifada. And yet, these are very strange bedfellows. Islamism - a political ideology quite distinct from Islam, the religion it claims to represent - is reactionary, theocratic, opposes sexual liberation and, on the whole, recommends capital punishment for homosexuality. Socialism is by its nature radical, secular, atheist, feminist and supports gay liberation. Any comparison of their respective programmes suggests that Socialists and Islamists ought to be enemies. In Muslim countries that is exactly what they are, and Socialists often suffer for it. In the West, the things they agree on are few, are limited to what they oppose rather than what they support, and can be summarized as follows:
Opposition to Western power. Most of the left opposes the exercise of Western military power wherever it is used, and whatever the purpose. Many of those leftists marching through London to oppose war in Iraq were also marching in 1999, to oppose NATO intervention in Kosovo - much to the dismay of British Muslims who wanted intervention to stop Serbia killing Kosovar Muslims. Now that that same Western force is directed against a Muslim country, however, and was recently used in another Muslim country (Afghanistan) the Muslim community have joined the left in its opposition to Western military power. That this is a marriage of convenience for both sides is illustrated by the fact that former US Attorney General (under President Lyndon Johnson) Ramsey Clarke is a Co-chairman of the Committee for the Defence of Slobodan Milosevic, while at the same time working with Muslims as a leading opponent of war and sanctions on Iraq.
Anti-globalisation. Islamists believe the entire Muslim world is the victim of a Western conspiracy which began with the Crusades and is still ongoing. This conspiracy currently manifests itself in the existence of, and American support for, Israel; war and sanctions on Iraq; and, most recently, the war on terrorism. At a deeper level, the spread of Western (particularly American) culture, media and liberal democracy are also part of this conspiracy against Islam. While the left's theory of Western hegemony is less paranoid, its anti-globalisation also involves disapproval of the unchecked spread of Western cultural values and practices to non-Western countries. When Tawfik Mathlouthi, a French Muslim,
launched Mecca Cola - as an alternative to Coca Cola that would be a "rejection of American politics, imperialism and hegemony and a protest against Zionist crime financed and supported by America" - many on the left applauded the sentiment.
Of course the two sides of this anti-globalisation partnership have very different ends in mind. The Iranian newspaper Kayhan International warned last year that "the Liberal-Democracy of the West has apparently not heeded the lesson of the death of Marxism and will meet the same fate…this decadent doctrine is repeating the blunder of communism by trying to impose itself as a single thought on world people…Muslims in Iran, the Arab world and elsewhere have shown their aversion to alien and devilish ideas. They have realized that only the genuine teachings of Islam will salvage them in the world and in afterlife." If the victory of the proletariat is not the goal of radical Islamism, the triumph of Islam is not, so far, on the agenda of the World Social Forum. The anti-globalisation of the left and Islamism are two lines that momentarily touch and, like a giant X, immediately diverge once again.
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