International

Theocracy, Intervention and the Left in the Age of Reason

Mitchell Goff on state interventionism.

When Galileo Galilei first proposed to the then supreme Roman Catholic Church that perhaps, after all, the old Ptolemaic models which put Earth not just at the centre of our solar neighbourhood, but indeed the centre of the universe, might in fact be wrong, the Church’s response was shameful. Galileo, refusing to allow the scientist within to play second-fiddle to Catholic dogma, nonetheless pursued the emerging Copernican notion that posited the Earth’s position as dynamic in a perfect circular orbit around our star (the ‘circular orbit’ theory was later put to bed when observations suggested that an elliptical orbit was more accurate). A reluctance to allow his curiosities to be spoiled by the inane commentary of old megalomaniacs, Galileo pursued and later published works that ran counter to the position of the Church. Seventeenth century Christendom was not at all kind to Galileo, and he found himself under house arrest, forbidden to diffuse a unique and spectacular genius.

Enlightening Principles

The foundations that were thus laid, indeed by both theologian scientists and their atheist colleagues, set in motion a field of study that took the notion that nothing was certain as a Golden Rule: a theory, when raised and subsequently proofed through predictive observation, would remain valid, living to fight another day but always at risk against the tyranny of the mysterious universe which has laid waste to so many cosmological postulations over the centuries.

The greatest culmination of this new age of discovery came amid Galileo’s life in, what I would choose to call the single greatest victory for liberalism, socialism, rationality and science in humanity’s brief history, the Enlightenment. Not since the time of the Hellenic philosophers were so many permitted to engage in free and frank discussion: a feature notably lacking during the era of totalitarian theocracy that was to follow. Friends and Comrades, nothing would please me more than to say that this spirited exchange of ideas has prevailed throughout the present years into an international phenomenon but, unfortunately, it has not. You needn’t conjure many examples where people’s very thoughts are disallowed, some predictable others more shocking and insidious, but in every instance we must be disgusted and unwilling to tolerate it.

The secularists of the world have been increasingly derided recently for their supposed crusades into the realm of religion. One of the greatest articulations of this was when Pope Benedict XVI warned us against slipping into moral relativism, and directed blame squarely at the secularists. While warnings of moral relativism are of particular relevance to my arguments, I suspect he was not spurred to action by the same concerns, more likely a concern for self-preservation. Why he decided to address ‘moral relativism’ while endemic clerical sexual abuse continues throughout his church betrays His Holiness’s wilful ignorance to these heinous human rights violations. Nonetheless I take the man’s point: atypical, leftist ethical relativism is becoming more overt to the point where it almost seems that grotesque murders, rapes and tortures are not worthy of a serious Western response with many socialist groups (of whom, all things equal, I would find like-minds) instead merely wish away the problem by labelling any kind of intervention as ‘imperialistic’. The similarities between my arguments and the Pope’s end insofar as that objection carries.

The Dormant Left

Many of my western Comrades, while eager to hold the power of Christianity to account for its many transgressions into their lives and the lives of the less fortunate, have been reluctant to apply the same principles to theocracies abroad: particularly, as Christopher Hitchens coined, to the regimes of ‘fascism with an Islamic face.’

Perhaps the Western left feels it is safer to fight the uncontroversial, domestic theocratic movements than risk repudiation by wading through the complexities and disceptations of statist Islam abroad: where malicious the Islamaphobia of some often masks others’  genuine humanitarian concerns. I’ll own up to once (quite recently in fact) being an isolationist with respect to crises such as those in Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon. But, as is often the case, the more thought is given to this subject, the more one begins to see that intervention is the only democratic solution in circumstances so extreme: a realisation that is strikingly absent among the Western left and academia; Noam Chomsky being a case-in-point. To stand up for leftist principles is to stand up for their Enlightenment counterparts and despite the divisions in the world today, we should nonetheless be proud of how the Enlightenment has pervaded our Western political structures and, in so being proud, enable those in backwater dystopias an opportunity to forge their own democracies.

Of Mullahs, Ba’athists and Rabbis

The theocracies of the world are small but terrifying in their power. Idiosyncrasies of this monstrous form of political entrenchment vary, of course, but perhaps the most infamous of them all is Iran: a nation whose religious fanatics leer into the private lives of their subjects with unrestrained temerity; a country where sharia law is the rule of the land, where ‘criminals’ appear before Islamic courts and the police carry out the will of the Ayatollah. Generally speaking, an Islamic theocratic state is loosely defined as any which operates, explicitly or implicitly, under the guise of sharia law (directives which are occasionally evident in various national constitutions) or a state to which Islam is given primacy under any or all arms of government. Through the application of this definition, it can be argued that Yemen, Afghanistan (though we wait with bated breath and humble hope for the resilience of its newfound democracy), Pakistan (whose affairs have made headlines recently regarding its blasphemy laws), Somalia, Saudi Arabia (whose borders have reportedly housed international terrorists), Mauritania and Oman. There is also significant weight to the argument that Lebanon, Israel (of a different persuasion), Iraq, Egypt (though recent events could either weaken or perhaps strengthen this charge) and Palestine constitutes theocracies of a sort, as I shall examine later.

Egypt: Past and Present

Egypt has a constitution which implicitly requires, at least since the 1980 amendment, that sharia law ought not to be contradicted through laws passed by its legislature. While this does not explicitly forbid the legislature from passing laws upholding secularist principles it grants the religion inalienability, particularly with respect to personal law issues such as marriage, divorce and citizenship. Of course there are those matters in Egypt where sharia law is not permitted oversight; such are those which relate to the nation’s penal system which is indeed secular. While this is to Egypt’s credit and a distinction that sets it apart from the draconian Iranian state, it nonetheless grants primacy to a particular religion above others or none. It is commonly accepted that, where the individual is concerned, the state ought not to intervene insofar as one’s actions do not bring harm to others.  It is the greatest principle that J. S. Mill bestowed upon us and has proven time and time again to be an acceptable benchmark of sensible legal systems. In the case of Egypt, parts of the law that uphold sharia give a distinct advantage to devout Muslims at the expense of others. This is an unacceptable feature of a country defiantly calling itself a democracy. It is worth noting that since I wrote this portion of the article, the 2011 Egyptian Revolution led to the dissolution of its constitution, hopefully this will lead to a secular alternative. In order to achieve this, however, the Muslim Brotherhood must be willing to allow secularism to find a home in the new Egypt. Though judging by their still-present ambitions to create an Islamic state, it seems unlikely that this will occur, especially given the social mobility and electoral influence wielded by many of its charismatics, who claim to be moderate. MB’s policies relating to women are of particular concern, and all their fatuous views can be viewed freely on its website ikhwanweb.com

Iraq, Justice and the Left

We turn now to a hotbed of controversy: the Iraq war. This has been, perhaps, one of the single greatest displays of disgrace from commentators on the left, including some from Australia most notably the Australian Greens. There may have been legitimate grievances relating to whether Howard misled the nation, though not ones, I contend, that are strong enough to repudiate the necessity of Iraqi liberation. While the justification that Saddam Hussein was capable of employing WMD in the immediate sense was wrong, it pales into gut-wrenching insignificance due to recent information stating that Hussein at the very least had a latent capacity to produce WMD, the Coalition forces beating them there by a month: all this in spite of the plethora of United Nations sanctions and resolutions expressly forbidding this. We know that there was also significant contact between Baghdad and Pyongyang who, as we knew, were already in possession of WMD. Just months before the invasion of Iraq by Coalition forces, a US$10 million transaction was being conducted to arrange for the purchase of Rodong missiles from Kim Jong-Il; missiles that had range capabilities in excess of UN regulations. We now also know that Syria acted as the middle-man in these dealings: unsurprising when you consider the fraternal relationship that existed between both the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’athist parties.

What I’ve always found a curious defence by members of the Socialist Alliance and the Greens was the claim that had we not entered Iraq or pulled out a lot earlier, things would have been better or would get better for the Iraqi people: an absurdity of the highest order, given Hussein’s clear desire to employ WMD, and his tendency to carry out ‘ethnic purges’ and invade foreign territory. Saddam was a man who persecuted Shiite Muslims and Kurdish ethnics and the country’s Ba’ath party was composed of mostly Sunni Muslims who had little time for ethno-religious diversity. Human rights officials estimate that genocides under his rule amounted to around half-a-million and this does not include the million or so that died as a result of the Iraq-Iran war. In addition, the Ba’athist regime breached a host of international customary laws including crimes against humanity, war crimes (through the use of gas attacks on a Kurdish village during the Iran-Iraq war) and committing aggressive war. What conceivable justification could there be for inaction and isolationism on this matter? We know also that Hussein was in regular cahoots with al-Qaida leadership: the acolytes of bin Laden and the man himself were among Hussein’s most steadfast supporters.

While Iraq does not technically count among the theocracies (while the Ba’ath party was predominantly Sunni, Saddam himself was a dictator motivated by his own earthly whims), it is a distinction that made very little difference to the Shiite Muslims who were slaughtered merely for existing. Calls for an immediate withdrawal were incredibly credulous and callous: typically speaking, the withdrawalists were, sufficiently but not wholly, on the left of the political spectrum. The utter backwardness of some of my Comrades was on display when SocialistWorker.org ran a story on its website on the 22nd February in which Tony Blair’s sister-in-law called for the former UK Prime Minister to receive immediate imprisonment for committing war crimes. To openly purport such a call by my British Comrades should be utterly repudiated by any socialist with even a semblance of conscience: Blair was neither immoral in his sending Britain to war nor is he legally culpable for any war crimes committed by British troops (of which none were documented). For the SocialistWorker to manipulate the issue in such a way as to suit their own partisan ends represents a disturbing trend in its recent publications pertaining to international relations.

While the war in Iraq has officially ended now, it nonetheless requires careful observation and it is our duty to ensure that the West continues to play an active role in nation building, it is a battle of justice that the Iraqi people cannot afford to lose, lest they find themselves under the fist of a virulent, thanatocratic Iranian funded, Islamic regime.

Israel, Palestine and Lebanon

I now turn to the Israel-Palestinian dispute which again proves to be a cornerstone of some leftist groups’ outrage with the West. A particularly vacuous organisation whose inane and inaccurate ramblings on the issue are always being heard, are the tunnel-vision prone men and women at the Socialist Alternative. As recently as February this year, the SA’s official website engaged in a spectacular display of historic revisionism when it omitted inconvenient motives and facts about the actions of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) which eventually resulted in an aggressive military action against Israel, to which they retaliated (then a newly formed nation established under the edicts of the international community at the UN). The SA then has the audacity to call the ‘guerrilla tactics’ of the PLO as ‘heroic’, effectively legitimising the aggressive war that it waged, and condoning the actions of those who killed and were killed. But, as we know, the PLO’s power has weakened severely in recent years with the rise of Hamas in the Gaza strip. Whereas the PLO leadership and its largest faction Fatah were beginning to concede the possibility of a two-state solution, Hamas, whose demented aspirations are the very definition of theocratic, will not commit to a similar agreement and thus, will not deliver peace to the Palestinian people. Like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine is another propped up Shiite paramilitary regime under the ever watchful eyes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, openly purporting the full vulgarity of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (a copy of which can be found on its website). Small wonder that Israel is not amenable to negotiate with such a group: a group that is nonetheless receiving an increasing level of support among the people, as reactionary groups tend to.

Christopher Hitchens, whose commentary on this topic is frequent and candid, puts it best when he speaks on the emergence of Hamas, noting ‘I am uncomfortably reminded of the tripe talked by many liberals and leftists about the Khomeini revolution in Iran in 1979, where it was said that religion was merely the form that protest against the corrupt and repressive shah happened to take, and that the mullahs could be contained’. The western left should not make the same mistake again when attempting to rationalise the motives of Hamas or its cousin Hezbollah in Lebanon (the latter of which has been actively supported by some elements of the Western left, think: ‘We’re all Hizbollah now’).

Like the Islamic theocracies I’ve mentioned earlier, the leaders of Hamas are committed also to the enforcement of sharia law on both Muslims and non-Muslims and the Hamas representative in the Bethlehem City Council even called for the reinstatement of the ancient dhinni tax for those who refuse to conform to Islam or profess an open belief that Mohammed is Allah’s messenger. No one should be under any illusion that despite the fact that Hamas was delivered to Palestine under democratic elections, it is not a democratic party. It is not only Hamas who needs to be repudiated for its role in these scrofulous diatribes but also racist elements within Israel’s own command structure: enter Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who commands the spiritual authority of the Shas Party, a senior actor in Netanyahu’s coalition.  Shas partisans control, perhaps not by coincidence, the crucial ministries of the Interior and of Construction and Housing (no doubt a major contributing factor in the continued colonisation of what is effectively foreign territory). Positions that have been adopted by Shas partisans are very worrying: ‘Atias [the Minister for Housing and Construction] has expressed alarm about the tendency of Israeli Arab citizens to try to live where they please—or ‘spread,’ as he phrases it—and has advocated a policy of segregation in housing within Israel proper. He also advocates the segregation by neighborhood of secular from Orthodox Jews, adding that he does not wish his own children to mix with their nonreligious peers. It is Yishai’s [Interior] ministry that is famous for making announcements about new “housing” developments outside Israel itself and in legally disputed territory. Very often, Netanyahu himself has claimed to be taken by surprise at these announcements’.

So long as Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah to the north, continue to arrogantly demand a single-state fuelled by the deranged fantasies of a pan-Middle Eastern Shia Republic, and so long as Israel refuses to weed out the cynical and ultra-Orthodox right-wing elements of its own government, peace will never come to the Middle East.

Final Thoughts

Unlike an article I note that appeared in the last edition of State, when I criticise my Comrades on the left, I provide a substantive, causal justification: not merely anti-democratic ad hominem dressed up as relevant argument. It is great to see that of the theocracies I listed earlier, Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Iran and Oman have undergone their own protests in light of the recent Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions. Let us hope that democracy succeeds and that the people do not look to the power-hungry theocratic reactionaries to assume leadership but rather to true democratic secularism. However I am not so naïve as to believe that a mere change in leadership, even if it is to true democrats, will undo the damage that fanaticism has wrought, which is precisely why the West need to be prepared to lend aid when necessary (both military and humanitarian) but also to keep out of affairs when appropriate. I would like to see my Comrades leading the cause but, failing that, I would have no qualms about working with liberals and even the neo-cons to ensure that every human being on this planet can enjoy a dignified standard of living. In the case of the left and theocracies abroad, the link is clear and it is worrying: we are socialists and we stand counter to the moribund forces of the mosque-state, the church-state and fascism. Rather than be quiescent or, in some cases, supportive of these abominations, we ought to be screaming at the top of our lungs until these forces are removed from the business of the state whether here or around the globe.

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