Thoughts on the Cartoon Crisis and the Protest Actions of the Muslim Masses
Garbis Altinoglu, February 2006
Publication of cartoons portraying prophet Mohammad as a terrorist by Jyllands-Posten, a reactionary Danish newspaper on September 30th, 2005 and their re-publication in Norvegian papers on January 10th, 2006 and in French, German, Spanish and Italian papers on February 1st, 2006, opened the way for a serious discussion and a political confrontation. Demonstrations were held in several Muslim countries as well as in Western Europe during which these cartoons were condemned. Dozens of people lost their lives at the demonstations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and Nigeria and hundreds were wounded, though most of the events were more or less peaceful.
Freedom of the press?
Corporate bourgeois media and Western European governments have defended the publication of the Mohammad cartoons under the pretext of “freedom of the press”. Moreover, they have tried to portray the confrontation over the cartoons as one between the forces of barbarism and religious fanaticism on the one hand and those of democracy and secularism on the other. This asssessment, however, has nothing to do with the real state of affairs. In the US and Western Europe, considered the cradle of democracy, print and electronic media, has long been under the control and domination of big corporations, general staffs and bourgeois state apparata. Yes, the freedom of the press is under threat; however this threat does originate from the Muslim world and Muslim peoples, which do not command any serious economic and political influence; it originates from the US, sliding towards fascism and igniting the flames of a new world war, and the monopoly bourgeoise of Western Europe, which has been following in the footsteps of Washington.
The task of the bourgeois mediea has been to dupe and deceive workers and other exploited people, to distract their attention away from genuine problems emanating from capitalist exploitation and oppression and to create false agendas for this purpose. This media does not dwell upon attacks on workers’ rights and political freedoms and gradual drift towards fascism in “advanced” capitalist countries; nor does it dwell upon neo-colonial wars, waged in the name of “war on terrorism”, “peacekeeping” and “promotion of democracy” on the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Western corporate media is on the way to becoming a replica of the mouthpieces of Nazi Propaganda Ministry supporting the preparations of a new world war led by the axis of evil, comprising the US, Israel and Britain. Let’s take a look at some examples:
“Free” western corporate media raised a hue and cry for weeks over the destruction of two statues of Buddha in Bamian, Afghanistan by the Taliban prior to the invasion of that country; however it dwelt very little upon the wide-scale destruction and pillage of the cultural wealth of Afghanistan and Iraq by American invaders and their accomplices.
“Free” western corporate media has been clamoring about the crimes of Saddam Hussein, who was armed, financed and supported by its “own” bosses, that is by various imperialist countries, including the USSR, the US, Britain, France etc. for decades; but it has been almost entirely silent over the fact that, according to the figures provided by the UNICEF and other UN bodies, more than a million people lost their lives in Iraq as a result of the UN Security Council embargo imposed upon that country in 1991.
“Free” western corporate media has preferred not to mention the massacre of thousands of Taliban POWs and their burial in mass graves by collaborationist “Northern Alliance” forces in November 2001 at Mazar-i Sharif under the supervision of the US military in the wake of the overthrow of The Taliban government.
“Free” western corporate media, had times and again “revealed” Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction at the behest of the White House and the Pentagon and systematically warned the world over the “danger” this small, weak and worn-down country posed for the security of the much stronger West; however it has never dared to utter a word about Israel’s hundreds of nuclear and thermonuclear warheads, its state-of-the-art conventional arsenal and dirty record of aggression and expansionism.
With regard to Iraq, “free” western corporate media does not venture much beyond announcing the “security incidents” in accordance with the communiques of the Pentagon, British “Defense” Ministry and Telaviv. In this context, this media sheds crocodile tears over the prospect of Shiite-Sunnite civil war, which is being actively provoked by its bosses, as exemplified by the recent bombing of the Al-Askariya Mosque, that is by the intelligence organizations of the US, Israel and Britain and their local stooges.
“Free” western corporate media, which purports to be very sensitive over the freedom of the press, is not concerned with the killing of dozens of Iraqi and foreign reporters, cameramen etc. by US soldiers and their accomplices and the control of the Iraqi media by the invaders. Neither does it raise its voice over the systematic and CIA and MOSSAD-led massacre of hundreds of Iraqi academics and intellectuals.
Colonialist and racist mentality of “free” western corporate media does not allow it to defend the rights of –especially ‘backward’- nations to self-determination, a notion which is part and parcel of the Charter of the United Nations. It does not even question the “right” of the US and other imperialists to occupy other countries, loot their resources and establish puppet regimes there, under the pretext of “war on terrorism”, “peacekeeping” and “promotion of democracy”.
“Free” western corporate media is not very much concerned over the arbitrary capture and arrest of people suspected of being “terrorists” by American neo-fascists and their illegal transfer to secret interrogation centers, where they can be tortured and killed.
Accustomed to dub the legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people against Zionist occupation as “terror” and “violence”, “free” western corporate media has, in perfect accord with Washington and Telaviv, initiated another smear and disinformation campaign over the victory of Hamas at the January 25th elections. Moreover, right after the elections, it has begun to threaten both Hamas and the Palestinian people at the behest of American and Zionist state terrorists with the aim of breaking their will and discrediting their legitimate resistance.
No doubt, this list can be extended indefinitely. However, this much is sufficient to expose the role of the corporate media, which is nothing but a mouthpice of the monopoly bourgeoisie, and to show the racist/ colonialist mentality of the imperialist bourgeoisie in general and the false and hypocritical character of bourgeois democracy in particular. In his “Theses and Report on Bourgeois Democracy and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat” presented to the First Congress of the Communist International on March 4th, 1919, Lenin had said:
“8. ‘Freedom of the press’ is another of the principal slogans of ‘pure democrasy’. And here, too, the workers know -and the socialists everywhere have admitted it millions of times- that this freedom is a deception while the printing-presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists, and while capitalist rule over the press remains, a rule that is manifested throughout the world all the more strikingly, sharply and cynically the more democracy and the republican system are developed, as in America for example. The first thing to do to win real equality and genuine democracy for the working people, for the workers and peasants, is to deprive capital of the possibility of hiring writers, buying up publishing houses and bribing newspapers. And to do that the capitalists and expoiters have to be overthrown and their resistance suppressed. The capitalists have always used the term ‘freedom’ to mean freedom for the rich to get richer and for the workers to starve to death. In capitalist usage, freedom of the press means freedom of the rich to bribe the press, freedom to use their wealth to shape and fabricate so-called public opinion…” (Theses, Resolutions and Manifestoes of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, London, Pluto Press, 1980, pp. 9-10)
The situation is not much different today, despite the great advances in communications technology. The so-called mainstream media, both printed and electronic, is under the control of big corporations, the general staffs and intelligence organizations, while the opponents or critics of the existing system can make themselves heard only through the internet and newspapers, journals or radio stations, which command the attention of a much smaller audience.
The Position of Jyllands-Posten and the Real Motives Behind the Publication of the Cartoons
Jyllands-Posten, the paper publishing the Mohammad cartoons in the first place, stands close to Danish People’s Party, a neo-fascist and racist party which supports the right-wing government of Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen. This paper is also known for its affinity to the views of the neo-fascist Bush clique and the position of the “Atlanticist” faction of Western Europan monopoly capital, which is eager for the rebuilding of the “Cold War” alliance between the US and Western Europe and is in favor of pursuing a more aggressive line against the Muslim peoples and countries. As we all know, despite the irreconcilable contradictions between the US and Western Europe, there has emerged a more or less solid tactical alliance between the two, not long after the piratical attack of the US and its allies on Iraq. Since then, American imperialists and their Western European counterparts have been collaborating on several fronts, such as the DR of Congo, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ivory Coast, Georgia, the Ukraine. Both sides are cooperating in putting pressure on Cuba, Serbia-Montenegro, Belarus, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and even Russia. There is also growing behind the scene cooperation between the two sides in Iraq.
Western European monopoly capital, which has initiated the so-called First and Second World Wars for the redistribution of colonies, semi-colonies, spheres of influence, sources of raw materials etc. is now assisting US imperialists in their aggression against the peoples of countries of the Muslim world and in this manner contributing to the initiation of an impending Third World War. The war against the Muslim peoples and countries of the Middle East and Central Asia and the scramble for the control of this vast region and its resources is also a war against other aspiring imperialist powers, such as China, Russia and the Shangai Cooperation Organization formed under their leadership. Despite their contradictions with the US and their cooperation and trade with both Russia and China, EU imperialists have thrown their weight behind Washington. The transatlantic alliance is firmly supported and promoted by Israel and powerful Zionist lobbies all over the Western world, which have played a very important role in the ongoing aggression on Iraq and play a very important role in the preparation of planned aggression on Iran. For the moment, this rivalry between different imperialist powers and blocs is mainly being carried out under the guise of fighting “Islamic terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism.” To deceive their “own” workers into supporting their prospective military adventures in the Middle East or elsewhere, EU imperialists need to frighten them with this scarecrow.
EU imperialists led by Germany and France need an atmosphere of fear, terror, militarism and war for internal purposes as well. To gain a competitive edge vis-a-vis the US, China, India etc. and to outdo their imperialist rivals, they’ve been striving to push wage levels down, destroy the organizations of workers and abolish their social and economic gains. This drive is being met with sporadic, but growing resistance on the part of workers in France, Germany, Italy etc. Here too, the scarecrow of Islamic terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism” provides the European bosses with a suitable scapegoat and an excuse for diverting the discontent and anger of the workers towards the Muslim minority, which is being portrayed as potential terrorists and/ or unfair competitors on the job market etc. For some time, especially after the events of September 11, 2001, Western corporate media has been, more and more eagerly fanning anti-Muslim feelings towards the growing and mostly poor Muslim minority. Several incidents of reactionary terror, (Bali, October 12, 2002, Casablanca, May 16, 2003, Istanbul, November 15 and 20, 2003, Madrid, March 11, 2004 and London, July 7, 2005) which have targeted ordinary people and allegedly perpetrated by “Muslim terrorists” are being utilized to instill fear in European workers and toilers and to sow distrust between the Muslim minority and the great mass of European workers. In this way, EU imperialists strive to divide the ranks of the workers along religious and ethnic lines and build a social basis for their plans to build a fascistic police state.
However, it is not so easy to deceive European workers into supporting such military adventures and to cheat them away from their hard-won gains. Despite the absence of communist and more or less consistent revolutionary leadership and the betrayal of leaderships of revisionist parties and trades-union, European workers have not entirely lost their fighting spirit. After all, they are the repository of several revolutions and have a great tradition of resistance and struggle against fascism and capitalism. This, indeed, must be the reason behind the publication and re-publication of the cartoons of Mohammad, which is only a link in the much longer chain of imperialist psychological war against the Muslim peoples AND the workers of Western Europe and the US. So, the cartoon crisis has almost nothing to do with the defense of the freedom of the press or that of democratic values of the West, values which are in danger of being trampled underfoot by the monopoly bourgeoisie in power. The attempt to limit the context of the discussion with censorship vs freedom itself betrays an attitude to deflect the attention of the masses from the real issues involved.
The Political Character of Islamic Anger
The protest actions that have taken and are taking place in Muslim countries and partly in Western Europe lack a revolutionary or more or less consistent democratic leadership. Most seem to be spontaneous actions and/ or actions organized and led by groups which describe themselves as “Islamic”. In some places, such as Syria and Iran, it appears that these actions are organized by state agencies, for the purposes of utilizing the anti-imperialist potential of the wave of popular Islamic anger and with the aim of reducing the aggressive pressure of the US, Israel and the EU. In the special case of Nigeria, where tens of thousands of people have lost their lives during the last decade as a result of inter-communal violence, cartoon actions have degenerated into a Christian-Muslim confrontation; we can surmise that here, state agencies or other reactionary cliques were behind the attacks and counter-attacks. In several Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia, the ruling cliques tried to ride the wave of popular Muslim anger and maybe to make political capital out of it by displaying false anger or engaging in noisy, but empty rhetoric. Though targeting Denmark, Norway etc. initially, these actions took on a more and more distinct anti-US and anti-EU character. This has been especially true for Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the latter two, cartoon actions have blended into protest actions against imperialist invaders and their local collaborators. Although the demonstrators have mostly demanded apologies from the Danish and other European governments and condemned the Jyllands-Posten and other papers involved, demands for the non-interference of Western powers in the internal affairs of Muslim countries and for the expulsion of Danish and other foreign troops from Afghanistan and Iraq have also been raised.
Consistent democrats and internationalists cannot approach these protest actions from the extremely narrow and distorted perspective of the freedom of the press or the defense of the so-called sensibilities of the Muslim peoples. The Muslim world has been under the occupation and/ or domination of Western colonial powers for more than 150 years; colonial powers which have constantly interfered in the internal affairs of Muslim peoples, oppressed them directly or through their agents and pillaged their wealth and resources. Decades long occupation of Palestine by Zionist aggressors, the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian people with the open, “generous” and unabashed support of the US and Western Europe and consistent backing of several reactionary cliques and dictatorships by Washington and Brussels under the guise of promoting democracy and human rights etc., has added to the discontent and anger of Muslim peoples. This discontent and anger has been exacerbated by the heinous occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, massacre of more than 150,000 people in this “war on terror” and by haughtily declared plans of American neo-fascists to re-design the map of the Middle East and promote further regime change. It has been further exacerbated by US-Israeli actions meant to suffocate Palestine, to destabilize Lebanon, dominate Syria and bomb and occupy Iran etc. Should one be surprised at seeing the Muslim toilers reacting on a massive scale and sometimes in a violent manner against this whole system of exploitation, oppression and degradation under the pretext of offensive Mohammad cartoons under these conditions? Not at all. Therefore to neglect or to pretend not to see the deep discontent and anger of the Muslim masses and focus the attention of the public opinion on the cartoons and the question of the freedom of the press is not only entirely misleading, but utterly immoral and unacceptable as well. In one of his articles written in January-February 1916, discussing the impact of the Dreyfus case in France, Lenin had said:
”The socialist revolution may break out not only in consequence of a great strike, a street demonstration, a hunger riot, a mutiny in the forces, or a colonial rebellion, but also in consequence of any political crisis, like the Dreyfus affair, the Zabern incident, or in connection with a referendum on the secession of an oppressed nation, etc.” (“The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination”) To a certain extent, the situation in the Muslim world may be likened to the situation in Western Europe in 1915-1916. In a somewhat similar fashion, this long accumulated and entirely legitimate discontent and anger of the Muslim toilers has exploded on the pretext of Mohammad cartoons. Next time around, the Islamic anger might burst on another pretext.
How to Approach the Protest Actions of the Muslim Masses
Under the conditions mentioned and in view of the lack of a revolutionary or more or less consistent democratic leadership, it is understandable that the anger of the Muslim peoples can at times assume irrational forms, be diverted towards incorrect targets and be utilized for reactionary ends. Class-conscious proletariat is aware of this danger; it is also aware of the endless machinations and provocations of the intelligence organizations of the imperialist invaders, their allies and local stooges, who strive to incite violence between workers and toilers of different nationalities, religions and sects. A case in point is the provocative bombing of Al-Askariya Mosque in Samarra, Iraq on February 22, with the aim of furthering their plans for a civil war between Shiite and Sunni toilers. Unless the Muslim masses are illuminated with the internationalist and revolutionary world view of the proletariat, resistance actions conducted under the banner of political Islam are liable at times to deviate from their real aims and target potential and indisputable allies and friends of the Muslim peoples, such as revolutionary groups, foreign workers, Christian communities, women’s groups etc., rather than their enemies. This is true, for the cartoon protests as well. On the other hand, the relatively low level of development of capitalism in Muslim countries and the resulting preponderance in these countries of petty-bourgeoisie and semi-proletarians coupled with the frustration and desperation of the Muslim toilers, who have been oppressed, exploited and degraded for decades and hundreds of years by colonialists, imperialists, Zionists and their local servants leads to a semi-anarchistic state of mind and at times to a tendency to blind terrorism. In his article “Anarchism and Socialism” written in 1901, Lenin had described anarchism as “a product of despair. The psychology of the unsettled intellectual or the vagabond and not of the proletarian.” To a certain extent, this, unfortunately, is very much the case in certain Arab countries, such as Palestine and Iraq.
However, all these considerations do not detract from the revolutionary potential of the Muslim peoples and their protest actions with regard to Mohammad cartoons. The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have risen and are on the streets is in itself is a source of fear for the reactionary cliques in power and their imperialist masters. What is more, as I have mentioned above, in several countries, such as Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, these protest actions have assumed an anti-imperialist and anti-Zionist character and dealt blows at imperialists and their local agents. Under conditions of imperialist aggression and/ or fascist dictatorship, Islamic (or other religious) resistance movements may play a limited progressive role, as long as they fight against the enemies of the people. We can remind ourselves of the “liberation theology” of Latin America, of the protest actions of Buddhist monks during the Vietnamese national liberation war in the 1960s and 1970s, of the victorious struggle of Hizbullah against Zionist occupation and terror in Lebanon during 1978-2000 and of the presence of Islamic resistance movements in Afghanistan and Iraq. In view of the continuing US-led imperialist-Zionist aggression, we may and should expect further upsurges of the Muslim masses with more explicit anti-imperialist demands. Such mass movements may lead to the destabilization and weakening of pro-US collaborator states, such as Jordan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. and their replacement with anti-US and anti-Zionist Muslim states. Such developments, of course, would mean tactical blows at the US; the main enemy of the workers and peoples of the world. Strictly guarding its political and organizational independence, class-conscious proletariat and its party will not and should not flinch from engaging in united action with such Islamic groups against imperialists and their quislings.
Of course, being materialist, class-conscious proletariat is against religion and all sorts and manifestations of idealism. It also is aware of the fact that, ruling classes and their state apparata have been using and continue to use religion to confuse and dupe workers and other toilers for the purpose of perpetuating their reign. Moreover, proletariat and its party defend the gains of great bourgeois-democratic revolutions have won in their struggle against the monarchy, aristocracy and clerical reaction, including the freedom of the press. On the other hand, it is obvious that, real and consistent struggle against fascism, militarism, imperialism and capitalism can only be waged under the flag of Marxism-Leninism, that is, under the leadership of the Communist Party of the class-conscious proletariat. Even the most radical and advanced political representatives of the petty-bourgeoisie are unable to wage a determined struggle against fascism, militarism, imperialism, let alone overthrow capitalism. Therefore, it goes without saying that, in the middle and long run, Islamic resistance movements, which are even more backward than petty-bourgeois revolutionary democracy ideologically and politically, do not really have the prospect of providing real leadership to the Muslim masses. Only class-conscious proletariat and its party will be able to lead the Muslim workers and toilers, in their resistance against imperialist oppression, occupation and terror. Formation of communist parties of the proletariat in the Middle East, who will unite under their banners all workers and exploited strata of all nationalities, religions and sects, is task of foremost importance. Arab and Muslim masses shall be liberated from the clutches of imperialism, Zionism and local reaction only under the leadership of such parties, which will crown the first stage of revolution with the overthrow of capitalism and the victory of socialist revolution.
This is no empty rhetoric. Before the October Revolution of 1917 and for some time after it, Russia was one of the most backward countries of Europe. At the First Conference of Industrial Managers in 1931 Stalin had said:
“We are fifty or a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must make good this distance in ten years. Either we do it, or they crush us… Bolsheviks must master technique. It is time Bolsheviks themselves became experts. In the period of reconstruction technique decides everything.” (“The Tasks of Business Executives”, Problems of Leninism, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1940, pp. 366-67) And he was right. Ten years after that speech, Nazi Germany, accompanied by its vassals invaded the Soviet Union with a huge army. In spite of initial setbacks and heavy losses, workers and other toilers of the land of the Soviets were repulse and crush the most formidable war machine of the time. And this was due to the correct and courageous leadership of the Communist Party, the internationalist fraternity of the workers and peoples of this vast country and to the gigantic strides the Soviet Union had taken in the building of socialism and the conquest of technique. Without mastering technique and as a direct result of it, without producing better tanks, airplanes, guns etc., it would be much more difficult, if not impossible for the Red Army of the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union to defeat Nazi invaders. If the Muslim toilers and peoples want to put a stop to the bullying and aggression of the imperialist West (and to that of other imperialists), they are obliged to follow in the footsteps of the Soviet Union of Lenin and Stalin. That is, they are obliged to overthrow the corrupt, reactionary cliques exploiting and oppressing them on behalf of imperialists, begin the construction of a genuinely just social order, that is socialism and replace private ownership of the means of production with that of public ownership and outdo or at least equal the technique at the disposal of their imperialist tormentors.