The Left and the Jihad: Love-Hate Relationship?

Bill Weinberg

A critique of Robert Fisk’s attack on the Syrian resistance as dominated by jihadists, part of an attitude of kneejerk anti-imperialism, as seen previously during the Bosnian war. Originally appeared in World War 4 Report  – Editors

The left and the jihad: love-hate relationship?

We’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop in Mali ever since April, when Tuareg rebels seized power in the north, only to be shortly overthrown themselves by an alliance of jihadist militias. Yeah, this is the middle of the Sahara, but how long is the “international community” going to allow an unrecognized extremist-controlled rogue state the size of France to persist? The jihadists continue to up the proverbial ante. Over the weekend, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) advanced into Mopti region, south of rebel-held Timbuktu, seizing the town of Douentza. (See map.) Unbelievably, it appears that this border zone on the edge of the vast rebel territory has been abandoned by the government, and the town was defended only by a local militia, the Ganda Iso (Sons of the Land)—one of several that the region’s residents have been organizing autonomously to defend against jihadist aggression or (much more ambitiously) to eventually take back the north. MUJAO also made good on their threat to put to death an Algerian vice consul they had abducted. Mali’s government this week reportedly made a formal request for military intervention to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but is apparently refusing to confirm this to its own people, making no mention of it in state media. (AP, Sept. 7; Middle East Online, Sept. 3; MEO, Sept. 2; AFP, Aug. 31)

It amazes us how little concern or awareness there is about the Mali situation in the outside world. There was a brief flurry of attention in June, when the jihadists started destroying the priceless Sufi shrines of Timbuktu. Then everyone promptly forgot about it again. Meanwhile, the indigenous Tuaregs are being forced to flee into refugee camps outside the rebel zone; traditional pastoralist nomads like the Fulani are having their herds confiscated by the militias, threatening an end to their way of life; and Taliban-style sharia rule is being imposed, complete with hand amputations for thieves and death by stoning for pre-marital sex.

Not only is there no interest from the dreaded “mainstream media” that we lefties are supposed to be so independent from—there isn’t the slightest glimmer of interest from the “alternative” media either. But you can bet that once there is military intervention, especially if the West is significantly involved, all of a sudden the left is going to get intensely interested—and arrive at the usual dogmatic conclusions from a position of total ignorance. Almost inevitably, the leftists (who, appropriately, have no patience for Christian fundamentalists here at home) will be rallying around the jihadists as heroic freedom fighters.

This tendency to rally in kneejerk manner around whoever is on the receiving end of Western firepower at the given moment has led what we call the “idiot left” into a very strange relationship with political Islam. Going back almost 20 years, the idiotic sectors of the left were touting the supposed jihadist threat in the ex-Yugoslavia to justify support for the genocidal Bosnian Serb forces. Then came Iraq, and these same idiots were rallying around the jihadist “resistance”—even as it targeted Iraq’s communists, feminists and trade unionists for death. Now, in Syria, said idiots are once again hyping the jihadist threat to justify the regime’s butchery—despite the fact that some of the jihadist fighters there may be exactly the same ones they were so recently rooting for in Iraq! And a month from now, if the West intervenes, they will probably be glorifying the jihadists in Mali. What principled consistency!

A particularly transparent case is the perennially predictable Robert Fisk. Various anti-war types, e.g. some blogger on Ron Paul Forums, have taken to posting a Dec. 6, 1993 story from The Independent entitled “Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace,” as an example of how the media once glorified Osama bin Laden. The story features a big smiling photo of “anti-Soviet warrior” bin Laden, and crows about how he was using his largesse to build roads for poor villagers in Sudan, where he was exiled at the time. The byline? Robert Fisk, of course. Fisk tries to get Osama to admit he was aided by the CIA, or that he sent mujahedeen to fight in Bosnia, but he consistently denies it—as conservative writer Richard Miniter gets to gloat in his book Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror.

Fast-forward to 2005, when Fisk was writing dispatches from Iraq like “Why is it that we and America wish civil war on Iraq?” (The Independent, Sept. 15, ’05), which we had to call out for virtually dismissing the existence of al-Qaeda in Iraq, and making light of the mutual Sunni-Shi’ite slaughter, as if it were a mere hallucination of scheming imperialists.

Now fast-forward to 2012. Syrian dissident writer Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, who was imprisoned for 16 years by Assad simply for being a member of a left-wing pro-democracy group, just called out Fisk in Egypt’s Ahram Online for serving as a mouthpiece for the Assad regime. Specifically, Saleh accuses Fisk of portraying, in a Sept. 2 offering in The Independent, the inhabitants of Assad’s prisons as… jihadists. In the piece, entitled “Syria’s road from jihad to prison,” Fisk boasts of gaining unprecedented “access” to one of Syria’s top-security lock-ups—but he features interviews exclusively with inmates who boast that they are “followers of jihad” and adherents of the “Salafist cause” and graduates of Taliban training camps and so on. Maybe such portrayals are the price of “access” under Assad’s dictatorship.

“The detainees are Salafist jihadists and yet the officer leaves Fisk alone to interview them freely,” Saleh notes cynically. “Personally, I was jailed for 16 years, for minor charges. The imprisonment conditions were worse; no Western or local journalist could ever have visited me nor any human rights activists. This applies to everyone who was arrested during the revolution, the thing that Fisk never revealed.” He flatly accuses Fisk of being “indoctrinated” by the Assad regime.

One shudders to think what Fisk will be writing if he is dispatched to Mali next.

We should make clear our use of the terms “idiot left” and “jihad.” We understand that by using these terms, we could get pigeon-holed by the slow-witted or dishonest as right-wingers. In case it isn’t obvious, World War 4 Report is a publication of the left, and the radical left at that. Unfortunately, much of the “actually existing left” in the United States has abandoned consistent progressive principles and an analysis of power relations in favor of mere reactionary enemy-of-my enemy thinking. Similarly, we understand that there are concepts of jihad in Islam other than that of the contemporary Salafists and their ilk—we have noted that a century ago, jihads against Western colonialism were being waged by Sufis. But today, the “actually existing jihad” is as bent on crushing Sufism as it is on fighting the West—as the events in Timbuktu make all too clear.

We refer readers once again to our formula for deconstructing the struggle within Islam:There is really a three-way civil war underway throughout the Islamic world. The three inter-related conflicts are: 1.) Sunni v. Shia, 2.) fundamentalism v. secularism, and 3.) national liberation v. imperialism. The sad irony is that it is the social iniquities that underly this last contradiction that provide the raw material of endemic rage—which is increasingly exploited, siphoned off as it were, into the prior two. Fundamentalists conflate secularism and imperialism (given a propaganda boost by their neocon enemies, who do likewise), and pose the only alternative as a purified, hegemonic Islam which must, of course, crush internal heresy.

And we insist that progressives in the West have got to do better than either “tail-ending Islamic fundamentalism” (as Marxist-Humanist thinker Peter Hudis put it), or waxing paranoid about it, depending on the circumstance. Which is, if you would stop and think about it for just a minute, exactly what imperialism does.


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