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The Resiude of Shock

The common refrain from the left in the post-9/11 era has been to link the emergence of radical Islam, terrorism, etc., as a result of the end of the emancipatory, universal project of socialism. The popular interpretation from liberals is to point to the “irrationality”, the “particularity”, “immoral” and even “evil” nature of their “ideological” convictions, which run counter to the universal agent, embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the logic of the ‘end of history’. However, contrary to the ‘popular religion’ in the West, communism was not destroyed via the mechanism of ideas; the defeat of the left in many parts of the world was a result of a coordinated effort by the United States and its allies to suppress communist movements throughout the world and install highly repressive, authoritarian regimes to create the conditions for capitalist accumulation and to undermine the ‘organic’ basis of anti-capitalist struggle—peasantry, unionization, intellectuals, etc. This repression, this destruction of emancipatory alternatives, has led to frustration and nihilism—a nihilism that can either be expressed with resignation; ‘fetishist disavowal’, like the belief that Sarah Palin is capable of enacting change, whilst knowing she can’t and won’t; or, in the case of many ‘terrorists’, suicide. This is has given rise to proto-fascistic forces of cynical, racist, disparate, intellectually inconsistent—if not blatantly and proudly dishonest—, right wing, reactionary populism and outrage worldwide. It suggests that Walter Benjamin’s famous argument that “Every fascism is an index of a failed revolution”, couldn’t be starker. 

Famous examples of this suppression include: the Red Scare, 1919; McCarthyism, 1950’s; Iran, 1953; Guatemala, 1954; Cuba, 1961; Brazil, 1964; Indonesia, 1965; Vietnam 1945-1975; Chile, 1973; Operation Condor, post-1976; the Contras, 1980s; Grenada, 1983; etc. If aggregated, the anti-communist struggle in the Cold War had victims, easily, in excess of 4 million. Throughout the world, the material and thus, intellectual basis for anti-capitalist struggle was undermined. For example, in Latin America, many of the states that had enacted ISI forms of industrialization, under the subsequent dictatorships, undermined industrial development, via liberalization, to undermine the organizational power of unions and the labour-force. Also, the countryside saw increasing forms of dispossession for peasants, who were among the most dangerous anti-capitalist forces, forcing them into the slums surrounding decaying cities. For many in Latin America, this experience of torture, death, totalitarianism and primitive accumulation ‘shocked’ alternatives out of the system. A good example is the future President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, who was a Tupamaro (communist revolutionary). He was tortured and locked in a hole for 12 years; he is now pleading with capital to invest in Uruguay and expressly defends private property as inviolable and sacred. It is no coincidence that the Latin American states that today have proto-revolutionary socialist governments, like Venezuela, or Bolivia, were largely immune from the ‘shocks’ of Operation Condor. 

However, the greatest err in the Cold War for the vantage point of the United States was to materially support the Islamic mujahedeen in the mountains of Afghanistan against the USSR in the 1980s. This support for Islamic fundamentalism created the basis for a truly transnational organization, with highly efficient and secretive means of money transfers, arms trade, and ideological proliferation—all of which was supported by billions of US aid. The support for these rebels, who expressly rejected the Enlightenment, served America’s anti-communist cause and with the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan both sides felt that they had won the war with the elan of God on their side. For the United States, the Islamic radicals were an after-thought, especially with the ‘end of history’ and the emergence of its hyperpower status. However, the battle for the radicals was just beginning, the real battle would be for the heart and soul of the entire Islamic world and that would put it in conflict with the other power, the United States.

The spread of this Islamic ideology of salafism—to go back to the ways and means of the first virtuous generations of Islam—and wahhabism—the extremely orthodox application of Hadith and Qu’ranic jurisprudence, emerging from the Hanafi school—was enabled by the United States and her allies to undermine progressive movements in the region, i.e., Israel funded Hamas to undermine the power of the P.A. In the zeal of the Western powers to undermine communism, they created a new enemy, one that the West finds it impossible to communicate with in a ‘deliberative’ manner. One reason is that the Islamic radicals reject the liberal notions of humanism and rationalism as the basis for social relations, but rather emphasize a pre-Enlightenment ideal of hierarchical relations—Allah→man→woman—and a cosmological order ordained by God, embodied in Shari’a. Equality only exists within Islam and under Shari’a, under the notion of Dar-al-Islam (House of Peace); whilst the rest of the world is characterized by its rebellion and ignorance of the universal laws, or Jahiliyyah—this part of the world is known as the Dar-al-Harb (the House of War), which is fundamentally inferior—albeit, not inalterably so, giving the ideology a sense of justice. The very notion of unconditional universal human rights is foreign and “evil”, because not all are equal in Islam and it undermines the divine authority and world-order as ordained by Allah. Therefore, the purpose of the radicals is to take back the Islamic world from the Jahiliyyah brought forth by European and American imperialism and the virus of the Enlightenment. Therefore, there is no basis for discussion, since the terms themselves are contested; there is no basis for a “rational” discourse, along the lines prescribed by the liberals to solve conflict, because there is a total lack of a hegemonic base from which one can start that discussion. 

This ideology spread, because within many of these countries, there were no convincing alternatives to counter American liberal-capitalist hegemony. The critiques that the radicals state are not that far-off from the critiques of the left, but they have been articulated in a reactionary manner. The physical elimination of many of the left’s prominent intellectuals, their censorship and marginalization has denied the ability of these frustrations to be articulated in a progressive manner. Therefore, with the left-option closed and with a total absence of liberal-democratic methods of representation, a residue of the anti-communist struggle of the Cold War, in the Middle East, we saw the emergence of modern terrorism. As Chantal Mouffe argues:

Terrorism has always existed, and it is due to a multiplicity of factors. But it undeniably tends to flourish in circumstances in which there are no legitimate political channels for the expression of grievances. It is therefore not a coincidence that since the end of the Cold War, with the untrammeled imposition of a neoliberal model of globalization under the dominance of the United States, we have witnessed a significant increase in terrorist attacks. Indeed, the possibilities of maintaining sociopolitical models different from the Western one have been drastically reduced...

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