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Tuesday 13 December 2011

The Washington – “Moderate Islam” Alliance: Containing Rebellion Defending Empire

The Washington – “Moderate Islam” Alliance: Containing Rebellion Defending EmpireThe
dynamic of democratic, nationalist and class struggles throughout the
Moslem world has set in motion a new constellation of alliances between
the imperial West (US and European Union) and Islamist parties, leaders
and regimes, dubbed “moderate” by US officials, propagandists and

By James Petras

December 12, 2011 "Information Clearing House" -- This essay analyzes the changing contemporary context
of imperial domination, especially the demise of longstanding client
regimes.  It then examines the previous significant ties between
western imperial powers and Islamist movements and regimes and the
basis of ‘historical collaboration’.
third part of the paper will outline the political circumstances in
which the imperial powers embrace “moderate” Islamists in government
and utilize “armed fundamentalists” in opposition to secular regimes.
We will critically analyze how “moderate” Islam is defined by the
Western imperialist powers.  Is this a tactical or strategic alliance?
What are the political “trade-offs”?  What do imperialism’s neo-liberal
clients and their new ‘moderate’ Muslim allies have in common and how
do they differ?
conclusion we will evaluate the viability of this alliance and its
capacity to contain and deflect the popular democratic movements and
repress the burgeoning class and national struggles, especially in
regard to the ‘obstacles’ posed by the Israel-US-Zionist ties and the
continued IMF policies which promise to worsen the crises in the Muslim
The Transition from Neo-Liberal Client Rulers to Power-Sharing with Moderate Islamists
key motivation in Washington’s and the European imperial troika’s
(England, France and Germany) embrace of what their press and
officialdom hail as “moderate” Islamist parties has been the collapse
or weakening of their long-term client rulers.  Faced with the ouster
of Mubarak, in Egypt, Ali in Tunisia and Saleh in Yemen, mass protests
in Morocco and Algeria, the US-EU turned to conservative Muslim leaders
who were willing to work within the existing state institutional
framework (including the army and state police), uphold the capitalist
order and align with the empire against anti-imperial movements and
states.  In Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) (the political
arm of the Muslim Brotherhood), in Tunisia the Renaissance Party, in
Morocco the Justice and Development Party have all indicated their
willingness to serve as reliable partners in blocking the pro-democracy movements that challenge the socio-economic status quo and the long-standing military-imperial linkages.
The Islamist collaborators are called “moderate and respectable” because they agree
to participate in elections within the boundaries of the established
political and economic order; they have dropped any criticism of
imperial and colonial treaties and trade agreements signed by the
previous client regions – including ones which collaborate with
Israel’s colonization of Palestine.
Equally important “moderate” means supporting imperial wars
against nationalist and secular Arab republics, such as Syria and
Libya, and isolating and/or repressing class based trade unions and
secular-left parties.
Islamists have become the Empire’s ‘contraceptive of choice’ against
any chance the massive Arab peoples’ revolt might give birth to
substantive egalitarian social changes and bring those brutal pro-
western officials, responsible for so many crimes against humanity, to
West and their client officials in the military and police have agreed
to a kind of “power-sharing’ with the moderate/respectable (read
‘reactionary’) Islamist parties.  The Islamists would be responsible
for imposing orthodox economic policies and re-establishing ‘order’
(i.e. bolstering the existing one) in partnership with
pro-multinational bank economists and pro US-EU generals and security
officials.  In exchange the Islamists could take certain ministries,
appoint their members, finance electoral clientele among the poor and
push their ‘moderate’ religious, social and cultural agenda.
Basically, the elected Islamists would replace the old corrupt
dictatorial regimes in running the state and signing off on more free
trade agreements with the EU.  Their role would keep the leftists,
nationalists and populists out of power and from gaining mass support.
Their job would substitute spiritual solace and “inner worth” via Islam
in place of redistributing land, income and power from the elite,
including the foreign multi-nationals to the peasants, workers,
unemployed and exploited low-paid employees.
Why the Empire Arms Fundamentalist Anti-Secular Muslims.
the US and EU have backed respectable “moderate Islam” in heading off a
popular upheaval of the young and unemployed, in other contexts they
have enlisted violent, fundamentalist Islamic terrorists to overthrow
secular independent anti-imperialists regimes – like Libya, Syria  –
just as they had done earlier in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.  The US,
Qatar and the European troika financed and armed Libyan fundamentalist
militias and then engaged in a murderous eight months air and sea
assault to ensure their client’s ‘victory’ over the secular Gaddafi
regime.  Fresh from NATO’s success, the US, the European ‘Troika’ and
Turkey, with the backing of the League of Arab collaborator princes and
emirs, have financed a violent Muslim Brotherhood insurrection in
Syria, intent on destroying the nationalist economy and modern secular
US and EU have openly unleashed their fundamentalists allies in order
to destroy independent adversaries in the name of “democracy” and
‘humanitarian intervention’, a laughable claim in light of decade long
colonial wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  All target
regimes have one crime in common:  Using their national resources to
develop modern secular states – independent of imperial dictates.
 implements its campaigns through conservative ‘moderate’ or armed
fundamentalist Islamist movements depending on the specific needs,
circumstances and range of options in any given target nation.  With
the fall of  pro-Empire ‘secular dictatorships’ in Egypt and Tunisia,
pliable conservative Islamist leaders are the fall back “lesser evil”.
When the opportunity to overthrow an independent secular or nationalist
regime arises, armed and violent fundamentalist mercenaries become the
political vehicle of choice.
with European empires in the past, the modern Western imperial
countries have relied on retrograde religious parties and leaders to
collaborate and serve their economic and military interests and to
provide mercenaries for imperial armies to savage any anti-imperialist
social revolutionaries.  In that sense US and European rulers are
neither ‘pro nor anti’ Islam, it all depends on their national
and class position.  Islamists who collaborate with Empire are
“moderate” allies and if they attack an anti-imperialist regime, they
become ‘freedom fighters’.  On the other hand, they become “terrorists”
or “fundamentalists” when they oppose imperial occupation, pillage or
colonial settlements.
Contemporary History of Islamist-Imperial Collaboration
historical record of western imperial expansion reveals many instances
of collaboration and cooptation as well as conflict with Islamist
regimes, movements and parties.  In the early 1960’s the CIA backed a
brutal military coup against the secular Indonesian nationalist regime
of Sukarno, and encouraged their puppet dictator General Suharto to
unleash Muslim militia in a veritable “holy war” exterminating nearly
one million leftist trade unionists, school teachers, students,
farmers, communists or suspected sympathizers and their family
members.  The horrific ‘Jakarta Option’ became a model for CIA
operations elsewhere.  In Yugoslavia the US and Europe promoted and
financed fundamentalists Muslims in Bosnia, importing mujahedeen who
would later form part of Al Qaida, and then backed the Kosovo
Liberation Army, a known terrorist organization, in order to completely
break-up and ethnically ‘cleanse’ a modern secular multi-national state
– going so far as to have Americans and NATO bomb Belgrade for the
first time since the Nazis in the Second World War.
President Carter’s administration, the CIA joined with Saudi Arabia’s
ruling royalty, providing billions of dollars in arms and military
supplies to Afghan Muslim fundamentalists in their brutal but
successful Jihad overthrowing a modern, secular nationalist regime
backed by the USSR.  The murderous fate of school teachers and educated
women in the aftermath was quickly covered up.

to say, wherever US imperialism faces leftists or secular, modernizing
anti-imperialist regimes, Washington turns to retrograde Islamic
leaders willing and able to destroy the progressive regime in return
for imperialist support.  Such coalitions are built mainly around
fundamentalist and moderate Islamist opposition to secular, class-
based politics allied with the Empire’s hostility to any
anti-imperialist challenge to its domination..

same ‘coalition’ of Islamists and the Empire has been glaringly obvious
during the NATO assault on Libya and continues against Syria:  The
Muslims provide the shock troops on the ground; NATO provides the
aerial bombing, funds, arms, sanctions, embargoes and propaganda.
Islamist-Imperialist coalitions are usually temporary, based on a
common secular or nationalist enemy and not on any common strategic
interest.  After the defeat of a secular anti-imperialist regime,
militant Muslims may find themselves attacked by the colonial
neo-liberal regime most favored by the imperial west.  This happened in
Afghanistan and elsewhere after the overseas Islamist fighters (Afghan
Arabs) returned to their own neo-colonized, collaborating home
countries, like Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Egypt and elsewhere.
Contemporary History of Islamist-Imperial Conflict
The relation between Islamist regimes and imperialism is complex, changing and  full of examples of bloody conflict.
US backed the “modernizing” free market dictatorship of the Shah in
Iran, overthrowing the nationalist Mosaddegh regime. They provided arms
and intelligence for the Savak, the Shah’s monstrous secret police as
it hunted down and murdered tens of thousands of nationalist-Islamists
and leftist resistance fighters and critics in Iran and abroad.  The
rise to power of the fundamentalist-anti-imperialist Khomeini
regime fueled US armed attacks and provoked retaliatory moves:  Iran
backed and financed anti-colonial Islamist groups in Lebanon
(Hezbollah), Palestine (Hamas) and Iraq (the Shia parties).
to 9/11 the US invaded and overthrew the Islamist Taliban regime,
re-colonized the country, establishing a puppet regime under
US-European auspices.  The Taliban and allied Islamist and nationalist
resistance fighters organized and established a mass guerrilla army
which has engaged in a decade long war with armed support from
Pakistani Islamist forces responding to US military incursions.
Palestine, Washington, under the overweening control of Israel’s
Zionist fifth column, has armed and financed Israel’s war against the
popularly elected Palestinian Islamist Hamas government in Gaza.
Washington’s total commitment to the Jewish state and its colonial
expansion and usurpation of Palestinian (Muslim and Christian) lands
and property in Jerusalem and elsewhere reflects the profound and
pervasive influence
of the Zionist power configuration throughout the US political system
.They secure 90% votes in Congress, pledges of allegiance from the
White House, and senior appointments in Treasury, State Department and
the Pentagon.
determines whether the US Empire will have a collaborative or
conflict-ridden relation with Islam depends on the specific political
context.  The US allies with Islamists when faced with nationalist,
leftist and secular democratic regimes and movements, especially where
their optimal choice, a military-neo-liberal alternative is relatively
weak.  However, faced with a nationalist, anti-colonial
Islamist regime (as is the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran),
Washington will side with pro-western liberals, dissident Muslim
clerics, pliable tribal chiefs, separatist ethnic minorities and
pro-Western generals.
key to US-Islamist relations from the White House perspective is based
on the Islamists’ attitude toward empire, class politics, NATO and the
“free market” (private foreign investment).

Today’s ‘moderate’ Islamist parties in Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco
(and elsewhere), which have offered their support to NATO and its wars
against Libya and Syria, uphold ‘private property’ (i.e. foreign and
imperialist client control of key industries) and repress independent
working class and anti-imperialist parties:  They are the Empire’s “new
partners” in the pillage of the resource-rich Middle East and North

US-brokered counter-revolutionary alliance among moderate Islamists,
the previous military rulers and Washington is fraught with tensions.
The military demands total impunity and a continuation of its economic
privileges; this includes a veto on any legislation addressing the
previous regime’s brutal crimes against its own people.  On the other
hand, the Islamist parties uphold their electoral victories and demand
majority rule.  Washington insists the alliance adhere to its policy
toward Israel and abandon their support for the Palestinian national
struggle.  As these tensions and conflicts deepen, the alliance could
collapse ushering in a new phase of conflict and instability.
of “moderate Islamiist” collaboration with US-EU imperialism is the
role of Qatar, home to the ‘respectable’ Arabic media giant,
Al-Jazeera, and the demagogic Qatari “spiritual guide” Sheik Youssef
al-Qaradawi.  Sheik Youssef quotes the Koran and Islamic moral
principles in defense of NATO’s 8-month aerial bombing of Libya, which
killed over 50,000 pro-regime Libyans (themselves Muslims).  He calls
for armed imperial intervention in Syria to overthrow the secular Assad
regime, a position he shares comfortably with the state of Israel. He
urges the “moderate Islamists” in Egypt and Tunisia to cease any
criticism of the existing economic order, ( see “Spiritual guide steers Arabs to moderation”, Financial Times,
December 9, 2011 – p5).  In a word, this respectable Muslim cleric is
NATO’s perfect Koran-quoting “moderate Islamist” partner – a dream come
The Strategic Utility of “Moderate” Islamist Parties
Islamist parties are approached by the Empire’s policy elites only when they have a mass following
and can therefore weaken any popular, nationalist insurgency.
Mass-based Islamist parties serve the empire by providing “legitimacy”,
by winning elections and by giving a veneer of respectability to the
pro-imperial military and police apparatus retained in place from the
overthrown client state dictatorships.
Islamist parties compete at the “grass roots” with the leftists.  They
build up a clientele of supporters among the poor in the countryside
and urban slums through organized charity and basic social services
administered at the mosques and humanitarian religious foundations.
Because they reject class struggle and are intensely hostile to the
left (with its secular, pro-feminist and working-class agenda), they
have been ‘half-tolerated’ by the dictatorship, while the leftist
activists are routinely murdered.  Subsequently, with the overthrow of
the dictatorship, the Islamists emerge intact with the strongest
national organizational network as the country’s ‘natural leaders’ from
the religious-bazaar merchant political elite.  Their leaders offer to
serve the empire and its traditional native military collaborators in
exchange for a ‘slice of power’, especially over morality, culture,
religion and households (women), in other words, the “micro-society”.
their part, they offer to marginalize and undermine the left,
anti-imperialist secular democrats in the streets.  In the face of mass
popular rebellion calling into question the imperial order, a
‘moderate’ Islamist-imperial partnership is a ‘heavenly deal’ praised
in Washington, Paris or London (as well as Riyadh and Tel Aviv).
Conclusion:  How Viable is the Imperial-Islamic Coalition?
who thought that the spontaneous pro-democracy movements spelled the
end of the imperial order left out the role of organized “moderate”
Islamist electoral parties as able collaborators of Empire.  The
brutally repressed mass mobilization of unemployed youth was no match
for the well-funded grass roots community organization of the moderate
Islamists.  This is especially true when politics shifted from the
street to the ballot box, a process that the Islamist parties
facilitated.  In the absence of a mass revolutionary party, seeking
state power, the existing military-police state was able to work around
the mass protesters and put together a power sharing agreement at least
in the short-run.
In the November 2011 elections, the radical Egyptian Islamist party, Nour, gathered
one-quarter of the vote in Cairo and Alexandria.  Their showing was
even higher among the urban poor districts, which promises even greater
support among poor rural constituencies in the coming elections.
Essentially a Salafist Islamist party, Nour, unlike the
Muslim Brotherhood, combined denunciations of class abuses and elite
corruption with mass appeals to a return to a mythic harmonious life.
They used effective grass roots organizing around basic services in
order to gain a greater proportion of the working class vote than all
the leftist parties combined.  Nour’s message of “class retribution against the …abuses of Egypt’s elite fueled Nour’s new found popularity”, (Financial Times December 10, 2011 p6).

Despite the successes of the Islamist-Imperial partnership, the world
economic crises and especially the growing unemployment and misery in
the Arab countries will make it difficult for the ‘respectable
moderate’ Islamists to stabilize their societies. They are inextricably
constrained by their alliances to function within the confines of the
‘orthodox neo-liberal framework’ imposed by the Empire.  For that
reason, the “moderate” Islamists will try to co-opt some secular
liberals, social democrats and even a few leftists as ‘minority
partners’, so that they won’t be held solely responsible for dashing the expectations of the poor in their countries.

The fact of the matter is that the pro-imperial Islamist parties have absolutely no answer to the current crises:
Charities delivered from the mosque during the dictatorship won them
mass support; now more austerity programs imposed from their
ministerial posts will certainly alienate and infuriate their mass
base.  What will follow depends on who is best organized:  Liberals are
limited to media campaigns and tied to economic orthodoxy; the leftists
have to advance from protest movements in the downtown squares to organized
political units operating in popular neighborhoods, workplaces,
markets, villages and slums.  Otherwise radical fundamentalist, like
the Salafists, will exploit the people’s outrage with moderate Islamist
betrayals and promote their own version of a closed clerical society,
opposing the West while repressing the Left.
US and EU may have ‘temporarily’ avoided revolution by accommodating
electoral reforms and adapting to alliances with “moderate” Islamists,
but their ongoing military interventions and their own growing economic
crisis will  simply postpone a more decisive conflict in the near future.
Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton
University, New York. He is the author of 64 books published in 29
languages. He has a long history of commitment to social justice,
working in particular with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement for
11 years. In 1973-76 he was a member of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal
on Repression in Latin America. He writes a monthly column for the
Mexican newspaper, Le Jornada, and previously, for the Spanish daily,
El Mundo. He received his B.A. from Boston University and Ph.D. from
the University of California at Berkeley.

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"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear."
(James Hollingsworth)

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