Revolution #104, October 14, 2007
You Can’t Defeat Fascism By Ignoring It
The past week has seen increasing attention and polarization around “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” David Horowitz’s attempt to shut down dissent against the war on terror on campus, set for October 22-26. Some of this has come as Horowitz’s threats against women’s centers and Muslim students have come closer to reality. Some was generated by the exposure of a hoax by Horowitz—his fraudulent attempt to pass off a picture from a fictional movie of a woman being stoned to death in Iran as if it were authentic. And some of this came off the uproar at Columbia University over the speech there by Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the president of Iran. The debate among progressive people over how to respond has correspondingly sharpened.
Last week we posed the choice as one of either confronting this fascist threat, or hoping that it will just go away if it is ignored. We argued for the first course and people responded. This week we’re going to outline and address their responses.
“Yes, this ‘Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week’ poses a threat. In particular, there is a danger in the demonizing of Muslim students on campus, with Horowitz’s demand that they sign an oath supporting the ‘war on terror.’ But if you try to counter this by confronting and debating Horowitz about the truth, you run the danger of offending people on certain questions. It’s better to figure out non-confrontational ways to promote peace and understanding.”
Clearly, one big intent of this week will be to promote a pogromist atmosphere on campus against Muslim and Arab students. One example: following the Ahmedinejad speech, racist graffiti appeared at Columbia University attacking Muslim students, as well as Black and minority students. As Horowitz’s campaign picks up momentum, there will be more. The main website for “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” is promoting the idea of pressuring Muslim students to sign petitions supporting the “war on terror”: “[A] petition,” they write, “forces students and faculty to declare their allegiances: either to fighting our terrorist adversaries or failing to take action to stop our enemies. For this reason, we encourage you to make a special effort to bring this petition to those groups who might be least likely to sign it, for example to campus administrators, student government officers, and the Muslim Students’ Association.”
Horowitz aims to label every Muslim student with the brush of Islamic fundamentalism, to conflate any opposition to U.S. imperialism and its violence with support of Islamic fundamentalism, and then on that basis to force Muslim students to prove their loyalty to imperialism and to shut up about the huge amount of reactionary violence carried out by the U.S. Forcing people into public avowals of allegiance is medieval and truly ugly—and is a typical tactic of fascists.
Horowitz points to the fact that there have been many instances of violent acts directed against ordinary people by Islamic fundamentalist political groups. And, of course, there have been. But, let’s be real clear: the scriptures of ALL major religions contain quite a bit that upholds and indeed commands reactionary violence on every major social issue. When people apply these scriptures politically, they find “divine justification” for all sorts of horrible acts against “unbelievers.” But as Bob Avakian’s article in our paper last week pointed out, the only reason that at this point not as many Christian fundamentalists are going around outside the government engaging in the kinds of violent acts that are commonly labeled terrorism on the same scale as the Islamic fundamentalists is because “violence which serves ends that are passionately supported by the Christian fascist fundamentalists [within the U.S.] has been carried out on a massive scale by the imperialist ruling class of the U.S., utilizing the armed forces and police of the imperialist state.” And the violence perpetrated by the U.S. has been on an immeasurably greater scale and incurred a far greater human cost for literally millions of ordinary people in Iraq alone than anything yet done by Islamic fundamentalists.
But back to Horowitz’s attempts to create a pogromist atmosphere against Muslims: can this be effectively countered by calls for peace and understanding? Horowitz takes advantage of a whole set of assumptions which are deeply embedded in this society and, consequently, in most students—the most fundamental of which is that “the Americans are the good guys.” And there is a whole habit of thought—of not wanting to know, or perhaps better put, wanting not to know, what their government actually does—that goes along with that assumption. Unless and until that foundational thinking is sharply challenged, people will find a way to turn their heads or, worse yet, will be enlisted into Horowitz’s fascist crusade. The only way to make people feel compelled to examine those assumptions is by effectively challenging them with the truth—with hard-hitting and documented facts to back it up. That means taking on and tearing to shreds Horowitz’s arguments and bringing forward the truth in opposition to that.
The controversy at Columbia last week provided what is sometimes called “a teachable moment.” Yes, things became polarized—people argued and lost their temper and all those other things that happen when core beliefs are challenged. But that polarization aroused the students from the narcotizing effects of the everyday routine and the radicals were, even in those difficult conditions and on extremely short notice, able to influence the terms of the debate among the students (with some even breaking into the national coverage of it). In the process, many people began to change their minds—and had the progressive side been nimbler and bolder in seizing on this opening, and if more people who do know better had thrown themselves into it, much more could have been accomplished. The “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” poses the potential to be much more two-sided if the people who understand what is really going on here dare to take it on, compellingly.
This leads us to another argument: “I agree—the danger of letting this go unchallenged is great. And if we could do what you propose—actually confront the Horowitz-led forces with the truth and involve thousands of students in debate, winning over a good section of them—that would be very important. But if we can’t—if we try and are not able to mount a sufficient counter-challenge—that will grant Horowitz a victory and put us in a worse position.”
Obviously, it would be better if we could only choose struggles that we were assured of winning. And, granted, it will take a lot of work and “coming from behind” to do this well. But what if this week goes effectively unchallenged? What if the core assumptions that the Horowitz crowd will be promoting and reinforcing—and all with the avowed open aim of building support for the “war on terror,” which as we write is being used to justify U.S. military aggression against Iran—what if all that just sets the terms, and if people just assume that there is no counter-argument, that what these reactionaries say, after all, is the truth? Especially when everything that these forces will put out is reinforced by the media and even their so-called liberal opponents, with Columbia President Bollinger as a case in point. What effect will that have on mounting any protest at all against the current further depredations being carried out by this government against people all over the world? And how will that play around the world, to those who do not want to be forced to choose between U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, but who see no hope of the American people doing anything meaningful to stop the horrors perpetrated by their government?
There’s really no time to lose here. Either those who know better will mount an effective challenge to this, or there WILL be a major victory for the reactionaries and fascists. The chill will set further in at the very time when aggressive new actions are being planned by Bush. And make no mistake, these people will follow up on any such victory and not just make life hell for any who dare to oppose them, but silence the dissenters and drive them out of the academic arena—as they have already done to Ward Churchill and Norman Finkelstein and now threaten to do with others, openly and boastfully publishing “hit lists.”
“But hasn’t Horowitz already exposed himself as a fraud by putting that hoax of a picture on his website? Maybe if we don’t give him attention he’ll go away.”
Briefly, on whether this will give Horowitz attention. Horowitz has attention and will get much more through this week. He is a dangerous force, attempting to transform the universities into sites of uncontested reactionary indoctrination. Moreover, he is backed by people at the very center of the ruling core of the government. The problem right now is not “too much attention,” but the fact that not enough people know about this fascist and understand his aims and methods of deception and coercion.
As to the fraudulent photograph, Horowitz has in fact shown people a great deal about his utter lack of respect for the truth, and his corresponding lack of integrity, through his attempt to pass off a posed still from a movie as a real incident, and everyone should be constantly reminded of this wherever Horowitz goes. On the other hand, the fact is that women are stoned to death for adultery in countries ruled by Islamic theocracies and that the treatment of women overall in these countries is oppressive and unconscionable—and this issue has to be boldly addressed.
First, Horowitz’s proposed solution—the imposition of U.S. rule on these countries—in addition to making things much worse overall, will only make it less possible to deal with this particular outrage. Horowitz actually cites the Shah of Iran as a positive example in this regard! Yes, the Shah carried out certain reforms, from above. What Horowitz neglects to say is that the Shah was implanted in Iran by a military coup engineered by the U.S. against the popularly elected nationalist leader Mossadegh. The U.S. then backed the Shah in carrying out the most horrible methods of torture—indeed, the CIA and Mossad, the Israeli spy force, trained SAVAK, the Shah’s torturers—against any who dared oppose his rule. Thousands died at the hands of the Shah’s repressive forces and when the dam finally burst, a good 80% to 90% of the population participated in his overthrow. Why and how the ayatollahs were able to gain control of and essentially short-circuit and betray this revolution—a revolution which was made by a very broad front of forces, including communist, revolutionary and progressive forces—including the role of the U.S. within that, is beyond the scope of this article.
But if Horowitz is searching for examples of Middle Eastern governments that attempted to carry out reforms of some aspects of women’s oppression, why doesn’t he mention the Afghanistan regimes of the late 1970s and ’80s? These regimes, which were backed by the Soviet Union, including through military invasion and occupation, did in fact institute many reforms in the situation of women which were, at least on paper, much more thorough than either the Shah’s Iran or the laws of the current U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan (which, by the way, is officially an Islamic state). But the regime did not do this through a bottom-up revolution and the reforms did not take root. The power relations in the rural areas remained essentially untouched. And as Bob Avakian notes in his article in this current issue, “the U.S. backed and provided arms to the Islamic fundamentalist Mujahadeen, because it was recognized that they would be fanatical fighters against the Soviets. Other forces, including not only more secular nationalists but Maoists, opposed the Soviet occupation and the puppet governments it installed in Afghanistan, but of course the Maoists in particular were not supported by the U.S., and in fact many of them were killed by the ‘Jihadist’ Islamic fundamentalists that the U.S. was aiding and arming.”
Horowitz doesn’t mention this because this is one of those “inconvenient truths” that undermine the whole framework of “the Americans are the good guys” that he is trying to reinforce, and because he doesn’t really give a damn about the oppression of women, as he’s shown by his alliances with the most reactionary patriarchal forces in this country, like Pat Robertson. The fact that Horowitz is now working with someone like Phyllis Chesler, who was once a progressive feminist, shows however that this notion that the U.S. will somehow emancipate women in the Arab world has to be taken on with real substance, and from different points of view. We intend to address this in more depth next week—including going into how women’s oppression in both the oppressed nations AND within the imperialist countries themselves can be abolished through revolution. But it is crucial for everyone who envisions and works for a world without the oppression of women to enter the fray, from their own points of view, to combat this attempt by Horowitz to create a “wedge issue.” And the same holds true for taking on Horowitz’s claiming to oppose the persecution of gay people when he is aligned with people like Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell who declared that the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and the attacks on 9/11 were God punishing America for—among other things—tolerating gays.
There are high stakes here. How people understand such things as the U.S. role in the world and the direction of U.S. society; the real choices before people, here and around the world; the roots of women’s oppression and what keeps it going with such virulence everywhere on the planet; and the actual role of religious fundamentalist political movements of all stripes are going to be very contested during this “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” There can be no bystanders; the question is whether the right side of this argument will speak up with all the power and sweep that it can muster and not only prevent a worsening polarization on campus, but start to change things for the better.
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