Over the last few years, and especially since the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, there have been indications across the world of a growing convergence between the forces of Islamist militancy, on the one hand, and the “anti-imperialist” left on the other. Leaving aside widespread, if usually unarticulated, sympathy for the attacks of September 11, 2001, justified on the grounds that “the Americans deserved it,” we have seen since 2003 an overt coincidence of policies, with considerable support for the Iraqi “resistance,” which includes strong Islamist elements, and, more recently and even more explicitly, support for Hezbollah in Lebanon. In the Middle East itself, and on parts of the European far left, an overt alliance with Islamists has been established, going back at least to the mass demonstrations in early 2003 that preceded the Iraq War, but also including a convergence of slogans on Palestine—supporting suicide bombings and denying the legitimacy of the Israeli state. Last year, for example, radical Basque demonstrators were preceded by a militant waving a Hezbollah flag. Moreover, since most of those who oppose the U.S. action in Iraq of 2003 also opposed the war in Afghanistan in 2001, this leads, whether clearly recognized or not, to support for the anti-Western Taliban, armed groups now active across that country.
At the same time, some far left-wing politicians in Europe have sought, on issues of “anti-imperialism” and of social exclusion within the West, to find common cause with representatives of Islamist parties. An example of this is the welcome given by the British left, including the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to the Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi. More important, of course, and separate from support for Islamist guerrilla groups, has been alignment at the state level: Iran, for example, has received increasing support from Venezuela. Hugo Chávez has been to Tehran no less than five times. This partnership has been made all the easier by the shift noticeable over the past two decades whereby solidarity based, at least formally, on class or socialist grounds has been replaced by identity politics as the basis for political activism. Inchoately perhaps, a new international united front is being created.
This relationship of the radical left to political Islam has a long history, one that should give pause to those who now seek to form an alliance, however “tactical,” with Islamist movements and states. The early Bolsheviks tried to establish just such an alliance: faced with the blocking of the proletarian revolution in Europe after 1917, they turned to the anti-imperialist and sometimes Islamic forces then active in Asia. The first state in the world to recognize the Bolshevik Revolution was the monarchy of Afghanistan, then locked in a conflict with the British. As a result, Lenin gave instructions that Soviet Russia must always pay “particular at...
For just $19.95 a year, get access to new issues and decades' worth of archives on our site.
Print + Online
For $29.95 a year, get new issues delivered to your door and access to our full online archives.