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Reactionary Islamic Fundamentalism and the ISIL (or ISIS)

Message Larry Everest
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Islamic fundamentalism is a political, religious-ideological movement and trend, with different branches, variations, and organizational expressions, that is spreading across North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia in particular, but also globally.

Islamic fundamentalism or Islamism's ideological and political program is completely reactionary and against the interests of the people, especially the oppressed for whom these forces often claim to speak, no matter what country or region to which it is applied.

These forces aim to forcibly impose religion, in particular a fundamentalist or absolutist, literalist interpretation of the Koran and Sharia law (the body of religious rulings made by Islamic clerics), on society as its governing law and ideology--in short by creating a theocracy and obliterating any separation of church and state.

This means imposing and violently enforcing patriarchal, separate and unequal laws for women, including forced veiling, forced control by male family members, and denial of equal legal rights. It includes society-wide indoctrination in religious obscurantism and discrimination and often attacks on other religions or non-believers. It means defending feudal and capitalist private property and exploitation. And the Islamists' methods often reflect their reactionary ideology and program, including targeting and murdering non-combatants, terrorizing whole populations, and sanctioning severe corporal punishment or death for infractions of Islamic law.

This movement is an expression of the class and social interests of reactionary and outmoded bourgeois and feudal social forces in countries dominated by imperialism, which have come into conflict with or been undercut by imperialism. However, their goal is not a fundamental break with imperialism; instead their aim is to advance their vision and interests within a capitalist-imperialist world.

While the "modern" roots of this Islamic fundamentalist political trend go back to the 1920s, it has gained traction in large part because of the enormous suffering and oppression imperialism has inflicted on people in the oppressed (or Third World) countries, and the enormous social, cultural, and demographic dislocations it has led to. By the late 1970s, anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism began to emerge as a powerful current in the wake of the 1976 defeat of communism in China, the 1979 Iranian revolution, and the 1979-1988 war in Afghanistan.

The group ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as ISIL--the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is part of this overall trend. It is very important to understand that these are not nationalist forces, operating under the cloak of religion. ISIL is a jihadist group, committed to holy or religious war across national boundaries. Recruiting fighters from around the world, its program is not forming a Sunni-dominated state in Iraq, but an Islamic caliphate first encompassing the entire area from Iraq, across Syria and Lebanon to the Mediterranean, and then expanding to other countries having a predominantly Muslim population.

None of this is to say--or imply--that all Muslims or everyone living in the Middle East or Central Asia is an Islamic fundamentalist, or that Islamic fundamentalism is part of the "identity" of the peoples in these regions. Nor does it mean that Islam is "inherently violent," or any more reactionary than literal or absolutist interpretations of Christianity or Judaism. And none of this justifies the targeting, persecution, harassment, and repression of Muslims in the imperialist countries.

However, it is very important to face the reality that Islamic fundamentalism is the increasingly dominant pole of opposition to the U.S. and the status quo across the arc from Morocco in North Africa, through the Middle East to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that this is a nightmare for the people that must be recognized. Pretending that what is going on in the Middle East has nothing to do with religion or Islam, or that in countries like Iraq nationalist forces are really driving and cohering the anti-U.S., anti-Maliki opposition, or that Islamic fundamentalism is simply a creation of the U.S. and the CIA, is illusory and extremely harmful.

The last 12 plus years of the "war on terror" show that imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism reinforce each other, even as they clash. Supporting either ends up strengthening both.

For further background, see:

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Larry Everest is the author of Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the U.S. Global Agenda (Common Courage 2004), a correspondent for Revolution newspaper ( where this first appeared, who has reported from Iran, Iraq and Palestine, and a (more...)
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