Today, the Middle East and the Muslim world are caught up in the maelstrom of modernity and democracy that perturb the entire globe. Its peoples crave a better life, a degree of respect, and a say in how their countries are run, and have done for a long time past. Autocratic, monarchical and traditionalist regimes were often set up to bar the road to the sort of secular progress promised by Arab nationalism or by such figures as prime minister Mossadegh in Iran, until his overthrow in 1953, and President Kassem in Iraq, until his overthrow in 1963, or prime minister Bhutto in Pakistan until his overthrow in 1977. The progress promised, still less achieved, by these leaders was, of course, incomplete and uneven. But compared to their rivals and successors they offered hope and a way forward. Generally the West accommodated to, or actually sponsored, the forces of reaction, counter-revolution and military overthrow, with their dismal train of corrupt, wasteful and vicious dictators, sheikhs, kings and princelings. It should not therefore surprise us that, as Said Aburish flatly asserts: ‘There are no legitimate regimes in the Arab Middle East.’ Often the nearer a regime is to the West the more discredited it is, and the more hostile to the United States its population. Saudi dependence on the US military and Mubarak’s dependence on US aid are powerful agents of de-legitimisation. Washington’s countenancing of Israeli settlements and repression in the occupied areas, its support for the blatantly unfair Oslo accords, and the televised images of Palestinians being beaten and killed further discredited all pro-Western governments.
In a context where secular politics failed to generate progress, political Islam became an increasing force. Compared to secular nationalists and the left, the Islamists had the considerable advantage that their activity could for a time proceed in the shadow of the mosques and seminaries. And even once they faced repression, Islam gave them communication with a large following. In some countries, notably Iran at the time of the overthrow of the Shah, the Islamist movement became, for better or worse, intimately associated with a popular upheaval against autocracy. The Iran of Ayatolla Khomenei might appear, and in some respects be, a throwback to the past. But the constitution of the ‘Islamic republic’ was in fact a novel confection, quite unlike the autocracy of a Caliph.
While the analogy is no doubt a limited one, we should consider the outlook of Puritan revolutionaries in the early modern period when assessing developments in Iran. Michael Walzer, in his book The Revolution of the Saints, explains how Puritanism, with its fixation on the need to fight Satan, gave rise to new ways of waging war. Walzer explains of Calvin: ‘Pervasive in his work was a view of the life of the saint as a perpetual, almost military, struggle with the devil. It was because of the devil, and his vast cohorts of earthly followers, that the conscientious, reforming activity of religious men so often resulted in or required violence and warfare.’ [In his “The Revolution of the Saints”, Michael Walzer develops an aspect of Max Weber’s famous argument concerning the protestant ethic and the rise of capitalism. The broadly Marxist account of the role of the Puritans in the English Civil War, as advanced by Christopher Hill and Robert Brenner in Merchants and Revolution, is compelling. But the logic and passion of Puritanism as a religious current contributed to the momentous secular outcome. It is here that some parallel with Islamic radicalism today may be worth exploring. As in the 17th century, these Islamic radicals are often dealing with the problems of traditional tribal or feudal social relations in societies where capitalist modernization has taken hold but is very incomplete.]
Puritan militancy and organisation had an egalitarian appeal in a decaying feudal order and laid the basis for secular citizenship. Such an outlook led some English Puritan soldiers to rid themselves of monarchy ? and some to massacre the Irish or persecute witches. The overthrow of the Shah and the rise of the Islamic republic, both sponsored by an alliance of clerics and bazaar merchants, witnessed similar contradictory tendencies. [The Shah’s regime did not repudiate all Mosadegh’s reforms and appeared to some as a modernizing dictatorship. But its bureaucratic and merchantilist character failed to stimulate capitalist transformation. While some westernizing compradores, technocrats and professionals supported the Shah, the bazaar merchants, linked to the internal market, played an important part in sustaining the opposition.]
Women kept the vote but were still policed and subordinated. The war with Iraq led to terrible loss of life and elements of a war economy. But gradually a more vigorous civil society emerged. The hardline clerics lost ground from 1990, opposed by bazaar merchants who had tired of their populist experiments. A more pragmatic leadership resorted to a programme of privatisation. In the 1997 presidential election the more moderate and tolerant, but cautious, cleric Khatami won, to be re-elected with even more support in 2001. This whole process resumes the trajectory of the interrupted bourgeois revolution in Iran.
Today political Islam still has an egalitarian resonance in feudal societies like those of Pakistan and the Arabian peninsula. The first bourgeois revolutions came into the world animated by Puritan righteousness, by hatred of Satan and by a belief that the Elect must prove themselves in purifying and terrifying deeds. The Enlightenment and the French Revolution, the defeat of fascism and decolonisation, the Russia and Chinese revolutions, opened up different paths to modernity in succeeding centuries. But apparently, because of the defeat of secular revolutionary forces in the Islamic world, we now witness a throwback to the dawn of the bourgeois epoch. [The path of ‘bourgeois democratic revolution’ has always been uneven, yoking together new freedoms with new and old slaveries. The actuality of the bourgeois or bourgeois-democratic revolution used to be a Marxist theme but is now also encountered in non-Marxist authors.]
If the Puritans represented a kind of progress in the seventeenth century could the same be said of today’s hardline Islamic clerics? The answer is no. The secular spaces of the modern world create other possibilities (and weapons of mass destruction create other dangers). Indeed even in the seventeenth century there were proto-secular currents, like the Levellers, to which Walzer gives too little attention. Anyway it would be wrong to exalt the Puritans above such counter-currents as humanism and the baroque, as reflected in, say, Montaigne and Shakespeare, which also made a contribution to modernity and civility. However, where radical Islam has become a mass force, as it did in Iran, its evolution may bear comparison with that of the Puritans. Those Iranian clerics who wish to keep a theological straitjacket on Iranian society, and who mystify political realities with pseudo-religious categories like the Great Satan, are losing ground. Over two decades after the overthrow of the Shah some of the processes noted by Walzer seem to be at work in Iranian society, with student revolts, the assertion of women’s civic rights, a flourishing Iranian cinema, and the tussle between elected officials and hard line clerics. In these we see some rays of light in a darkening landscape. It is interesting that Iranian developments are closely followed by the Al Jazeera TV station which projects them to the Arabic world. The fact that the Iranians are Shi’ite, and the Taliban are Sunni, apparently does not lend the latter greater authority in the eyes of the Sunni majority in the Muslim world, because of the manifest excesses and failures of Taliban rule.
Thus Iran escapes the crisis of legitimacy in the region. That is why the best way to overthrow the Taliban and undercut the bin Laden network would be to let Iran, and other neighbouring states, take the lead in strengthening the Northern Alliance and other forces of the Afghani opposition.
The Taliban has not been a deep-rooted, popular force. They are young men brought up abroad and indoctrinated in madrassas, or religious colleges, sponsored by the ISI. Their movement would not have prevailed without foreign backing. Their rule was baneful for most of the population though some Afghans will support them because of tribal or family ties. This is why an indigenous opposition, supported by regional powers, is best placed for political reconstitution. The contribution that the US could make is to ensure that all Pakistani and Saudi support for the Taliban ceases immediately.
If Iran was left to play a leading role within a genuinely international coalition that would be quite different from the course the US has embarked on. Washington could regard its willingness to see this happen an embodying a Kissingeresque realism ? like the recognition of ‘Red China’ but without the cynicism and in a better cause. Such an approach would also be congruent with Samuel Huntington’s advice, in The Clash of Civilisations, that the United States should work in concert with the leading powers in other major civilisations and not intervene militarily itself. Huntington’s approach does not properly register the importance of the democratic revolution or make enough allowance for secular forces and the need to encourage them. His approach portrays a few great world civilisations without noting the cross-currents and mixtures that complicate the picture. Nevertheless Huntington’s is a vision of the world which challenges the arrogant messianism of the Bush administration and the jingoes of the press.
All Iranian groupings were strongly opposed to the Taliban. There are some two million Afghan refugees within its borders, most of whom have been eager to return. The Iranian government has had links with resistance groups in the country and could easily help to strengthen them. While the Iranian government could help assemble a powerful reconstituting force it obviously will not aid or abet a US occupation. So the US authorities have to choose between a medium-to-long range policy which could work and their present policy, which will not meet the objectives set except very partially and at great risk.
Unfortunately the chances that the US will opt for the effective medium-to-long range policy any time soon are not good. The administration’s response to the Iranian government supplies the litmus paper, since Iran has had such a potentially critical role to play in sponsoring an effective Afghan resistance and in de-legitimating Al Qaeda. The mayor of Teheran sent a message of sympathy and support to mayor Guiliani of New York in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center. The Economist informs us that the US State Department cold-shouldered Iranian overtures: ‘On September 16th a State department official said that Iran’s help in the campaign against terrorism would be welcomed only if it withdrew support from Hizbullah ? hardly a realistic demand, not least because few countries, apart from America and Israel, consider Hizbullah to be a terrorist organisation..’ On September 30 the Iranian assistant foreign minister gave an interview to the New York Times in which he explained the critical failings of US diplomacy and strategy: ‘”No single nation can take up this fight”, Zarif said”This is a global fight. And a cold warrior mentality against the global menace of terrorism is not going to produce the results necessary to eradicate terrorism.” He said the coalition must both be inclusive and authorised by the United Nations. “Everybody has to be in”, he said, “you can’t pick and choose the members”. Zarif extended his condolences to the American people. “The magnitude of this attack has been unprecedented”, he said, “it is difficult for the world to comprehend that in a few seconds so many people have been lost. Certainly in Iran we understand the trauma that the American people are suffering and will continue to suffer for many years to come.”While expressing sympathy for the victims of the attacks, Zarif criticised statements by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell about Iran’s possible inclusion in an American led coalition. “The notion that you are either with the US or with the terrorists is problematic. People are not in line to join the coalition. There is no queue. In the Iranian psyche the United States is not the center of the world.”, he said, “So it would be advisable if the American people look at themselves from the perspective of others.”‘
While the US is reluctant to allow Iran a leading role it will strive for, and probably achieve, a covert understanding. Unlike the governments of most other large Muslim states the government of Iran is not financially or militarily dependent on the United States. It has a long border with Afghanistan and many ties with its population. Washington knows that Iran will not wish to see another hostile government formed in the neighbouring state. But any tacit understanding will always be limited by Washington’s insistence on its own determining role.
The existing Afghan opposition was backed by Iran, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. Iran alone has standing within the Muslim world and is manifestly better placed than they are to appeal for a broader internal post-Taliban coalition. The best that can be said about the regimes in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is that they do have a broadly secular character, and could allow secular Afghan refugees to return to their homeland. Uzkekistan has a functioning state based on the former Soviet order which has permitted a modicum of economic and social development. Tajikistan has suffered from civil war but now has a coalition government that includes former Communists and an Iranian-backed Islamic movement. Because of their autocratic character, past subservience to Moscow, and ethnic links, the support of the Uzbek and Tajik governments will not itself strengthen the appeal of any post-Taliban coalition. Such an opposition would be more convincing if it incorporated more diverse secular and civilian forces, such as the RAWA, or association of Afghan women. Those military leaders like General Dostum, who faithfully served the former Communist government, may prove more open to democratic and secular themes than the avid clique around President Rabbani. But the critical weakness of the Northern Alliance is its failure to rally a more representative coalition of forces. Iran can help but, because of religious and ethnic affiliations, not very much so far as the large Pushtun people are concerned. The adhesion of the king may help a little with the Pushtun but he is aged, out of touch and does not speak Pushto. However a democratic opening in Pakistan could help here.
The formation of a government in Pakistan committed to holding elections, and incorporating the main political parties on an interim basis, could help to weaken the Islamic jihad network . These civilian forces are not favourable to the Islamicists, whose parties have never been able to demonstrate electoral support in Pakistan. Notwithstanding the main parties’ hostility to the Taliban, they will see good reasons to make sure that a post-Taliban government has friendly relations with Pakistan. The ISI has been strongly attached to the Taliban and the problem this poses is increased by the fact that, like other intelligence services, it has sources of revenue stemming from the drugs trade that are not controlled by its government. Pakistan’s civilian governments have previously had little or no control over the intelligence network , but they have been scared to challenge it. But public opinion and the aspiration to be free of military misrule also count for something in the country. As Robert Fisk explains: ‘Corrupt, drug-ridden, and inherently unstable Pakistan may be, but General Musharraf allows a kind of freedom of speech to continue.’ The public opinion to which this allows expression is not favourable to the ISI or the Taliban but neither does it like the United States and Musharraf. Fisk notes: ‘Aqil Shah put it very well when he wrote in Lahore’s Friday Times last week that, by allying himself with America’s “War on Terror” , General Musharraf had secured de facto international acceptance for his 1999 coup.’ (According to The Economist, “the one country that all drug traffickers try to avoid is Iran.” Some 204 tonnes of opium and 29 tonnes of heroin and morphine were seized in Iran in 1999 by a combination of army and police units. In Turkey, by contrast, only one-third of a tonnes of opium was confiscated in the same year.) Musharraf has promised elections and should be held to his word. A civilian government formed now would have a far better chance of tackling the ISI than was ever previously the case.
Thus a regional solution should centrally involve Iran, Pakistan and Uzbekistan and outside powers can mainly help by offering a really large aid package to reward cooperation between them. The West expended huge sums in prosecuting a proxy war in Afghanistan and the United States and Britain are currently engaged in very costly military operations. If similar sums were available for reconstruction and development in the region this would powerfully assist the chances of a joint approach in Teheran, Tashkent and Islamabad. And only such an approach will offer the hope of an Afghan settlement.
The spectacle of a desperately poor and ravaged country being bombarded by two rich and powerful countries was counter-productive as well as repugnant. Robert MacFarlane, a former National Security adviser to Ronald Reagan, argued that it would be better if the overthrow of the Taliban is encompassed by the Afghans themselves since ‘the undoing of the Taliban by Afhans would remove any claim of martyrdom from Osama bin Laden, as well as reduce the risk of losing our Muslim coalition partners. The alternative is for much larger U.S. forces to do the job. They would surely succeed but at a much larger cost in lives.’
Russian and China should not, of course, directly intervene, and will not wish to, since their presence would also risk uniting Afghans against foreigners. They could supply useful logistical help, though they will not wish to see a permanent US ? or NATO ? military presence close to their sensitive central Asian border zones. However Russian and Chinese help will do nothing to alleviate the ‘clash of civilisation’ danger in the wider Muslim world.
Clearly the UN should have a crucial role to play, as the Iranian Foreign Minister observed, and as the Northern League has requested. The Taliban are not recognised as the Afghan government. The Security Council adopted a strong resolution against terrorism on 28 September but no UN police body was set up to enforce it. Instead each member state was asked to take its own measures and to report back within 90 days on its success in identifying and stamping out terrorist support networks. While seemingly multi-lateralist this approach allows Washington to retain control of all cross-border initiatives ? and to act as judge in 90 days of the adequacy of the measures reported. This is also clear from the explanations of the US Secretary of Defense. In an article entitled ‘A New Kind of War’, Rumsfeld explains, that this ‘will not be waged by a grand alliance united for the single purpose of defeating an axis of hostile powers’. Instead of such an alliance, in which the US would have to compromise with allies, there will be ‘floating coalitions’ adopted or discarded at will by the directing center: ‘Countries will have different roles and contribute in different waysIn this war the mission will determine the coalition, not the other way round.’ And the mission will be set by Washington.
After the gains in Afghanistan there will be pressure to turn against Iraq. On September 19 the US press ran stories reporting that Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian who had taken part in the September 11 attack, had met with an Iraqi official in Europe in the previous month. Unnamed US government officials were quoted as saying that this might point to Iraqi involvement. The plausibility of such allegations is reduced by the fact that the Iraqi regime would have nothing to gain and everything to lose by participating in or supporting an Al Qaeda terrorist operation. Against the background of unrelenting Anglo-American bombing, Iraqi diplomacy has had great success in fostering opposition to UN sanctions and has significantly reduced their incidence. Should proof be forthcoming of Iraqi involvement, renewed sanctions would be the very least Bagdad would expect.
An earlier New York Times profile of Atta, made him seem a most unlikely follower for Saddam Hussein. His German friends described his increasing resentment against Western policies in the Middle East but also his deep religious views. His thesis-supervisor at a technical university in Hamburg mentioned a striking quotation from the Koran placed as a thesis dedication: ‘I cant remember it precisely’, Michule said, “But it is something like this: ‘My life, my death, my sacrifice belongs to Allah, the lord of worlds.’ ). On the following day The Wall Street Journal’s report concluded: ‘current and former US counterterrorism officials remain skeptical that Iraq and Mr bin Laden’s Al Qaeda have formed a lasting bond. They cite important differences of temperament and history. Saddam Hussein’s government has deep secular roots, exposing it to threats from fundamentalists such as Mr bin Laden.’ The advice left behind by the attackers promised them martyrdom in the service of Allah, and paradise, with no reference to secular objectives. They were urged to bless their weapons, to keep them sharp, and to kill quickly, so as to observe the Koranic instruction not to cause ‘pain to the animal’. These religious instructions were quite at variance with the modus operandi of the Iraqi intelligence services.
Both the New York Times and the Wall St Journal explained that that there was a rift in the administration with a faction that wanted the toppling of Saddam ‘even if he cannot be linked to the terrorists who struck New York and Washington’ as the New York Times put it. Colin Powell was reported to be worried that there was not the international support for an attack on Iraq because ‘its civilian population draws great sympathy in the Middle East for the suffering it has endured since 1991.’ In the wake of the anthrax sent to US media and political figures it was reported: ‘(T)he Pentagon was already pushing the theory that Iraq was involved in the attacks, arguing that Bagdad had both the means and the motive to wage bio-terrorism against the United States. But officials said federal investigators, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, believed there was little evidence linking Iraq to the Sept 11 attacks or to anthrax bioterrorism.’ Subsequently it was reported that the anthrax strains employed in the attacks could have originated in many countries.
Since the US and British governments have been relentlessly bombing Iraq for years the question arises what more could they do? Bomb cities? Embark on a full-scale invasion? Both would multiply civilian casualties and suffering. And an invasion would require more troops and allies; short of convincing proof of Iraqi involvement these allies will be very difficult to find. In fact most of the evidence coming to light in the two months after September 11 pointed to surreptitious Saudi, not Iraqi, backing for Al Qaeda.
The US is compromised by the fact that its cause is still yoked to Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Egypt, as well as Israel. For Bush to imagine that the US stands for liberty and justice in the Middle East is a strange delusion. It could only ever be seen in this light if it broke with the Saudi monarchy and obliged Israel to withdraw completely from the occupied territories, something that would obviously require a revolution in its policy and priorities in the region. This is not about to happen but Washington does now see that American interests would be better served by curbing Israel. The US has already insisted, over-ruling Sharon, that Israel resume talking to the Palestinians. In an answer to an Iranian journalist the British Foreign Secretary went considerably further, observing: ‘I understand that one of the factors that helps to breed terrorism is the anger which many people feel at the events over the years in Palestine.’
The need for Arab and Muslim allies drove the Bush administration to redefine its Israel policy and offer some concessions to Arab opinion. The oil and industrial interests so linked to the Bush regime could perceive the need for a fresh start in the region and the President is now so strong that he doesn’t need to fear even the hostility of AIPAC, the influential pressure group which backs Israel. But alliance with the ‘moderate’ Arab states ? and the sort of token sops that might satisfy them – will not help since these are autocratic, repressive and discredited. So a replay of the Gulf War coalition will not work even on its own terms. An attempt simply to re-start the flawed and discredited ‘peace process’ would not be convincing even to most ‘moderate’ Arabs. The minimum should be compliance with UN Resolution 242 and willingness to discuss a territorial settlement that gives both Israelis and Palestinians contiguous land and reasonably defensible borders.
Compared with the killing power of states bent on war or exemplary punishment the actions of terrorists are often puny as well as counterproductive. But in this case the terror action was not just symbolic and spectacular, though it was that too. In terms of lives lost, or economic and political impact, it transcends the usual limits of terror actions, including those to which this network has previously been linked. The skill and calculation involved were of a high order. The intended audience of the September 11 action was the Islamic world in general, and disaffected young men in particular. Anger at the West’s acquiescence in the killing of hundreds of Palestinian youths, or at Sharon’s use of state terror against whole communities, or at the suffering of the Iraqi people directly at the hands of the US and UK, were only the most recent provocations. Osama bin Laden and his followers or co-thinkers have a political as well as identitarian project in so far as they are prepared to seize power wherever it may be possible in the Islamic world. They are revolutionaries as well as warriors.
Al Qaeda is animated by affronted religious sentiment and projects great changes undertaken in the name of Allah and the faithful, such as the forcing out of all ‘crusaders and Jews’ from Arabia, the overthrow of corrupt monarchs, and the virtuous use of oil wealth. The ideology of Al Qaeda is, in US parlance, ‘neo-conservative’. It does not dwell on social inequality or injustice requiring state action, as Khomeini used to do in the early days of the Iranian revolution, but instead stresses the need for faith-based charity and ethical Islamic business. But the key appeal is to directly religious goals. In the tape he released on 8 October bin Laden saluted the September 11 attackers as ‘a group of vanguard Muslims’, who had ‘stood in defense of..their brothers and sisters in Palestine’ and who had avenged a Muslim nation that had been humiliated for eighty years. He also attacked Muslim ‘hypocrites’ who ignored Iraq: ‘A million innocent children are dying at this time as we speak, killed in Iraq. We hear no denunciation, we hear no edict from the hereditary rulers.’ Such apparently secular references are incorporated within a religious world view. ‘These events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of the infidelsEvery Muslim must rise to defend his religion.’ He concluded with a surprisingly specific demand and threat: ‘America will not live in peace before peace reigns in Palestine, and before all the army of infidels depart from the land of Muhammad, peace be upon him. ‘ This last sentence could hint that bin Laden would like to see himself as the adviser to a reconstituted Saudi government, laying down terms to the United States. Though when bin Laden refers to ‘peace in Palestine’ what he probably means is driving all Jews, Christians and atheists in the sea.
Bin Laden’s aims are expressed in terms calculated to appeal to mainstream Islam, apparently with some success. Many Muslims believe that unbelievers should not control their holy places. It is not only ‘fundamentalists’ who are likely to be offended by the presence of US troops in the Saudi kingdom, custodian of Mecca and Medina, and Israeli military control of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. Since there is a large Muslim population in Arabia, in Jerusalem and on the West bank it is not unreasonable to take some account of these views, so long as they respect the non-aggressive sentiments of those of other religious faiths or none. Even the narrow-minded Saudi authorities have generally permitted Shi’ites access to Mecca and Medina. There is no good reason for US troops to be in Saudi Arabia and so they should be withdrawn, as Chalmers Johnson proposed prior to September 11. This would, at a stroke, remove Al Qaeda’s biggest single recruiting issue. It would also begin to disentangle the United States from the Saudi regime, the fount of religious hatred and fortress of reaction in the Islamic world.
Matters are a little more complicated in Palestine since Jews, Muslims and Christians all have holy sites in Jerusalem. But if the Israelis were willing to treat with a viable Palestinian state on terms of equality it should not be so difficult to arrange for de-militarisation of the holy sites and a right of access to them. Since Palestine and Israel also contain cultural and archaelogical sites of importance to non-believers one must hope that they can be catered to as well. Inter-faith agreements over access to holy sites have worked in the past in Jerusalem and there is no reason why they could not work even better in the future.
The militants of Al Qaeda and Islamic jihad have some very unattractive, indeed repellent, beliefs and there is no need to respect or compromise on any of these. They are willing to pitilessly destroy believers and non-believers alike since the believers will go to paradise and the infidels deserve to die anyway. This was already evident before September 11 : the East African embassy bombings wounded and maimed 4,000 people. But Al Qaeda and its allies also try to gain support by appearing to champion causes which are popular and justified. Al Qaeda is manifestly a threat to the cause of democracy and progress. But to oppose measures simply because they are supported by Al Qaeda plays into their hands.
Islamic jihad believes in a draconian subordination of women and the drastic curtailment of cultural and intellectual life. They urge that better prices should be obtained for oil and that Islamic banks and corporations would make better use of oil revenues than the hereditary states. While apparently secular objectives are proclaimed in its videos these are wrapped up in a religious world view. The ability of Al Qaeda to attract sympathy and support in the Islamic world can certainly be undercut by initiatives favourable to democracy, economic development, self-determination and respect for the peaceful exercise of religious rites (and rights). Although, in current circumstances, it is dangerous to under-estimate Al Qaeda’s appeal, it is not a mass force anywhere in the Muslim world. It is a network of several thousands, not millions or even hundreds of thousands. There is evidence of bickering, factionalism and disorganisation within it. Without continuing subventions its finances would be strained. So for all these reasons the network could shrivel if the peoples of the Muslim world saw real opportunities to achieve recognition, justice and progress.
Islamic jihad has a political logic which feeds off the need for revolutionary transformations in the Islamic world and the failures of existing regimes, whether conservative or nationalist. The excessive and ‘symbolic’ dimensions of the September 11 action could further its political objectives if it drives Washington mad, if it makes the custodians of global capital forget how much they have to lose and if it plays to the Manichean phobias still evident in US political culture.
The Belgian Marxist Ernest Mandel used to say that the hugely prosperous American bourgeoisie had no rational interest in blowing up the world in a nuclear conflagration. Once again bourgeois America is in a like situation and does not have an interest in, say, promoting the fundamentalist network in the Pakistani armed forces. But this does not mean that American political leadership can find within itself the wisdom, imagination and patience to see that the main role must now be played by others. The Islamic warriors who immolated themselves in the World Trade Center and Pentagon were armed only with knives and cardboard cutters. They turned their opponent’s civilian airliners into devastating instruments of destruction. They are also ready to turn American belligerence into their ally.
Bush may wish to claim an extensive victory and to avoid the charge laid against his father that he did not finish the job. Sections of the US military and frustrated jingoes throughout the land may find a rolling state of emergency very congenial. Many Republicans see it as the best way to stave off setbacks in next year’s elections. Even ‘rational’ capitalists may favour belligerent action ? say against Iraq or to shore up the Saudi monarchy ? if they come to believe that this could secure future control of Middle Eastern oil.
The US way of life owes much to cheap oil and gasoline but the real interests at stake are easy to over pitch. In recent years the Middle East has been supplying only about fifteen per cent of total US oil imports. Even if the US government and oil companies lost all privileged leverage in the Middle East they would still be able to buy some supplies from the region. The advocates of radical Islam speak of raising prices or using oil revenues differently not keeping the oil to themselves. The prices which eventually prevail will before long reflect supply and demand in what is an internationally competitive market. Mercantile activity, as we have pointed out, has always been compatible with Islam. It could be that average prices would be a little higher but this would scarcely be a disaster for the United States. On the other hand the risks entailed by allowing Islamic jihad to gain substantial state power are of a quite different description and Mandel’s argument applies.