2 Responses

  1. catbert836
    catbert836 August 21, 2011 at 9:55 pm |

    This is a letter I wrote to ISR in response to your article. In the event they don’t publish it, hopefully we can have some discussion:

    Dear ISR,

    Deepa Kumar’s two-part article “Political Islam: A Marxist Analysis” offers many strengths as an introduction to what has been a thorny subject for the revolutionary left, alongside previous articles by Chris Harman and Phil Marshall in International Socialism. However, I believe that Kumar’s description of the role of the Afghani Taliban in Part 2 (ISR 78) suffers from an inconsistent application of the concrete, Marxist analysis that otherwise shines through in her essay.

    Kumar makes two points that, in her view, disqualify the Taliban from the socialist standard of unconditional, but critical, support to forces that are genuinely resisting imperialism. As she writes, the Taliban are not “a genuine national liberation movement,” on account of their narrow base among the Pashtun tribes and advocacy of a rigid interpretation of Islam, and they are not “a principled anti-imperialist force” on account of their past ties with the United States and current ties to Pakistan. Both of these points, I believe, do not match up for reality and are inconsistent from a revolutionary point of view with our support for other movements against imperialism.

    On the first point, Kumar says:

    “Based among the Pashtuns, who constitute about 40 percent of Afghanistan’s population, the Taliban is a highly sectarian organization that has little appeal beyond this ethnic group. Their narrow and rigid interpretation of Islam, which favors Pashtun cultural practices, has little to offer the Tajiks, Hazaras, Uzbeks, and other ethnic minorities.”

    In the first place, this ignores what has been the standard for socialists in supporting anti-imperialist resistance. If people in Afghanistan decide to resist the American occupation as Pashtuns or even as Taliban, that is their right. In fact, as we read in David Whitehouse’s article “The Case for Getting Out of Afghanistan” (ISR 63), they might have very good reasons for doing so:

    “[After the invasion] the U.S. awarded positions of power as spoils of war. The Ministry of Defense went to a Tajik general, Muhammad Fahim, who excluded all other ethnicities from any real power in the army. The Ministry of the Interior went to Rashid Dostum, an Uzbek general who celebrated the victory against the Taliban with the ethnic cleansing of half of the one million Pashtuns who lived in the north. In the West, longtime client Ismail Khan took over as governor of Heart and set about persecuting the Pashtun minority… The warlord factions that count themselves as U.S. allies have also played out their rivalries, and their oppression of Pashtuns, with the rape of women and children.”

    Kumar’s point is problematic in another way. We might well look at the case of another ongoing Western occupation, that of Palestine. In Lebanon, Hezbollah has been at the frontline of resisting Zionism on numerous occasions. Hezbollah is a force that remains confined in its support to the Shia Muslim community, with minimal support from Sunni or Christian Lebanese. Nevertheless, socialists recognize its genuine anti-imperialist character, and do not demand that it be a national liberation movement of all Lebanese regardless of sectarian divisions in order for us to render it support. Though the dividing line in Lebanon is religious rather than ethnic, I believe the point stands. Socialists do not require that anti-imperialist forces be “a genuine national liberation movement,” nor any other specific form of organization. We just ask if they are genuinely resisting the occupation. As British socialist Jonathan Neale writes in his article “Afghanistan: the Case Against the ‘Good War’” (International Socialism 120), the Taliban

    “have quite general support in the Pashtun areas. The reason is simple: they were the only people calling for outright resistance and no cooperation with the occupation from the beginning. When villagers were forced into resistance, they looked for the leaders who called for that resistance.”

    What about Kumar’s second point, that the Taliban are not a genuine anti-imperialist force? She writes:

    “In addition to its willingness to negotiate with the United States in the 1990s, the Taliban has close ties to Pakistan and can act as a conduit of Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. As discussed earlier, Pakistan nurtured and cultivated the Taliban, and, even today, Pakistan’s military intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, maintains strong ties with the Afghani Taliban. In a region destroyed by three decades of war and civil war, with an economy dominated by opium production and sale and negligible industry, the political forces that come into being inevitably enact the agendas of greater powers… and the Taliban was and continues to be Pakistan’s entry into Afghan politics.”

    The consequences of Kumar’s reasoning are rather dangerous. Should we not support anti-imperialist forces that have received support from outside nations? The Irish anti-imperialist struggle in the early 20th century was supported by Germany to give its enemy, Britain, a black eye, the Vietnamese NLF relied on support from the Soviet Union and China while fighting the United States, and currently Hamas in Palestine receives financial support from Iran and Syria, to name just a few examples. Nevertheless socialists recognize all these as struggles of a genuine anti-imperialist character, no matter that outside forces supported them for their own reasons.

    Or we might take the case of Afghanistan itself, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Islamist groups supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were at the forefront of resistance to the Soviets, however these countries were trying to put a stop to “communism” rather than really liberate the Afghan people. But to quote Jonathan Neale once again,

    “the Afghan resistance was both a people in revolt and a group of American clients. But the fact of the revolt was more important. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans died in the war, and they did not give their lives for American hegemony.”

    Similarly, Afghan people who currently resist the US occupation of their country through the Taliban do not do so to help establish Pakistani hegemony, but to remove a brutal foreign occupation.

    In conclusion, socialists living in an imperialist country such as the United States have a double burden in the case of Afghanistan: to organize against the occupation at home, while we unconditionally, but critically, support whatever forces happen to be genuinely resisting the occupation there. Despite their religious fundamentalism, narrow base among the Pashtun community, and the support they receive from the Pakistani military, the Taliban are a force that is on the front lines of resisting US imperialism, and it is our duty as socialists to support them.

    In solidarity,

    Bill Crane


    1. Deepa

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