French President François Hollande lost no time declaring a state of emergency following the ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Paris this past November, which killed 130 people. Within hours the ink was dry. Two days later, French pilots were bombing ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria.
“We must face up to a war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam,” declared Prime Minister Manuel Valls. This is the alleged rationale behind France’s moves.
Except that the real story began more than a century ago. Since that time, imperialist terror from France, the U.S., England, and other big investors in Middle East oil has rained untold destruction on the region. For oil profits, millions of innocent people have died. Workers and women have lived under repressive dictatorships imposed by the West to protect their investments.
The people of the region have always fought back. With imperialist terror recently rising, so is resistance.
Unfortunately, so is the Islamic State. ISIS postures as a resistance, and recruits on that basis. In reality, its goal is also to enrich itself with territory and oil. It is a would-be state seeking to build itself on Sunni-Shiite rivalries fostered by the West and on a reactionary, anti-worker and anti-woman ideology. As such, its violence is kin to the state terrorism of the very countries it condemns.
As in France, politicians in the U.S. also lost no time intensifying the drumbeat of the “war on terror” after the attacks in Paris and then in San Bernardino, Calif. Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, for example, called for “a coalition of the Western democracies along with the Muslim nations to destroy ISIS.” But it is precisely the policies of such a coalition which gave birth to ISIS. They are fighting a monster they helped create.
There is indeed a state of emergency. Only it is the one that workers and women need to declare: the terror of the most powerful nations has grown so large that the lives of people everywhere are now at risk.
What is terrorism?
Working people understand terrorism as the indefensible killing of civilians to achieve a political objective. They naturally abhor such actions; after all, they are its victims.
But as defined by capitalist governments with large investments at stake, “terror” is all about whose side the murderers are on.
U.S. officials called the Nicaraguan contras “freedom fighters,” for example, because their indiscriminate killing of innocent workers aided Washington’s efforts to overthrow the Sandinista government. And the U.S. supported the anti-communist terrorist Osama bin Laden when he fought the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, only to demonize him later.
Imperialist governments and their regional allies can’t even agree on who the terrorists are. It’s strictly about which way the guns are pointed.
Terrorism by states is the most prevalent and devastating kind of terrorism, but it isn’t the only kind. There’s also the individual and small-group terrorism of the powerless fighting back.
Marxists uphold the workers’ perspective. We oppose all terrorism, even when carried out in the name of the oppressed. At best it is a counterproductive substitute for the workers’ own mass liberation struggle — one that is conveniently used by a country’s ruling class to whip up patriotism and fear of “the enemy,” justifying war and repression.
As V.I. Lenin pointed out, terrorism is a strategy of defeatism. Leftist terrorists are removed from the general, working-class movement, and have no confidence in a revolutionary party against capitalism. They have lost faith “in the possibility of marching in formation and working hand in hand with the masses.”
Similarly, Leon Trotsky wrote, “Individual terror belittles the role of the masses in their own consciousness, reconciles them to their powerlessness.”
Pretext for war
To protect their massive investments, imperialist countries exploit terrorism by individuals and small groups — real or falsely alleged — to build support for their own terroristic wars against weaker opponents.
The U.S. invoked the attacks of 9/11 to invade first Afghanistan and then Iraq, insisting — falsely — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. Once it gained its foothold, it stayed put. ISIS provides a fresh pretext for prosecuting the war.
Washington’s Middle Eastern allies exploit the pretext too. Saudi Arabia, taking time out from its public beheadings, announced an anti-ISIS coalition of 34 Islamic nations, including Turkey and Nigeria. Neither Syria nor Iran is included. “Fighting terrorism” is also the justification for the Saudi bombing of Yemeni rebels, Turkey’s war on the Kurds, and U.S. troops in oil-rich Nigeria, where Boko Haram jihadists are active.
Fuel for racism and repression
Imperialist war is always fought to enrich the few, but its perpetrators need to find ways to win at least a measure of support from the working-class majority.
Because of its wanton destructiveness, terrorism helps the rulers sell the lie that we are all in this together. We need to protect “our civilized way of life” from “the other.”
In this way, the anti-Muslim rhetoric currently sweeping Europe and gaining traction in the U.S. helps drive the war. Muslim residents of a nation are caricatured as the enemy within. War and racism go hand in hand.
The capitalist media could easily tell people that ISIS has murdered far more Muslims in the Middle East than it has Europeans and people in the U.S. But they don’t. They could broadcast poll results showing that ISIS has virtually no support among vast numbers of Arab workers in several countries — but that at the same time Arab workers regard the U.S., not ISIS, as the biggest threat to peace. But this would imply that the imperialists should get out of the region and leave it to that region’s people to defeat ISIS. So they don’t.
They could refrain from showcasing racists like Donald Trump. Or, if they believed their own democratic rhetoric, they could give equal time to real socialist dissent (meaning the revolutionary kind, not the Bernie Sanders and François Hollande kind).
In truth, Trump is given endless airtime not just for his entertainment value, but because his extremism allows politicians along the whole spectrum to move rightward.
For example, consider the humanitarian crisis of 250,000 dead and four million displaced people in Syria alone. President Obama has allowed in 2,550 refugees, and proposes increasing this to 10,000 for 2016. Clinton, who needs to set her record apart from Obama’s, proposes taking in 65,000 refugees. That still strands millions of suffering people!
Meanwhile, the war on terror has also provided the excuse for massive crackdowns on dissent and steady erosions of civil liberties.
The National Security Agency exploited 9/11 to track U.S. residents’ phone calls. France’s recent emergency decree was used to order house arrest for 24 organizers of upcoming protests against climate change.
When Baltimore’s Black youth rose up against the murder of Freddie Gray, Obama employed a different “T” word: “thugs.” His name-calling helped justify bringing in the National Guard and imposing a curfew.
To end the terrorism of war, the world needs what it has needed for a long time: a radical, nonsectarian anti-war movement, above all in the U.S., that demands:
Bring all imperialist troops home immediately!
No to war abroad and police-state measures at home!
Open the borders to all refugees!
Contact Steven Strauss at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As politicians demonized Muslims after the November 2015 ISIS-inspired terror in Paris, Miriam Padilla (shown) grieved for her cousin Nohemi González, the only U.S. citizen killed — and stood up against the racism being fanned in Europe and the USA.
Miriam Padilla speaking
in Olympia, Wash. Photo:
Rachael Rose Michelle Meares.
A student activist and child of immigrants, Padilla called shame on the imperialist governments for using Paris as an excuse to block escape routes for desperate refugees.
Speaking for herself and the Freedom Socialist Party at rallies and with media, she urged the 99 percent — of every color, religion and nationality — to organize in unison against war and repression.
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