Your Letters

Winter 2007

Upon reading Eric Laursen's "Lebanon After the Whirlwind" in your fall issue, I was disturbed to find the American left's paradoxical flirtation with Islamic fundamentalism infecting your pages.  Laursen writes that "leftists are just as prone as Bushites to apply ideological litmus tests to Islamic culture A clear case of cultural chauvinism is in play here.  Leftists who support indigenous movements in Latin America, for example, seldome if ever make an issue about these cultures' attitudes toward abortion or women's status... yet they often become uncomfortable about such issues when Islamic communities are the focus."

I'm curious which indigenous movememts Laursen is referring to.  Mexico's Zapatistas have forcefully challenged the culture of patriarchy, put women in positions of leadership, and promulgated a "Women's Law" for the territories they govern.  Has Hizbollah?

Having to get along in cosmopolitan Lebanon, Hizbollah is not as blatantly reactionary on these questions as the Iranian "Islamic Republic" they emuate.  But the Tehran ayatollahs who sponsor them not only enforce the subservient role of women (to the point of stoning women to death for such "crimes" as adultery), but bust unions, repress student protesters and persecute ethnic and religious minorities.  Far worse still are the Islamist insurgents in Iraq, who too many on the American left would portray as today's answer to Vietnam's National Liberation Front.

As progressives in the West, our allies are not the forces of political Islam, but of secular anti-imperialism.  Examples are the civil relief committees that organized in Lebanon during the bombardment, and groups such as the Iraq Freedom Congress and Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq.

-- Bill Weinberg, World War 4 Report

Secular anti-imperialists don't live in a vacuum.  If we insisted on organizing only with completely like-minded people, we would refuse to work with any number of religious left groups, such as the Catholic Worker and Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq, which have done a great deal of good work opposing U.S. policy in the Middle East.

That said, my article was not the result of a "flirtation with Islamic fundamentallism," but rather an attempt to sketch the complex interplay of forces that has spawned Hizbollah.  The pivotal factor explaining this group's persistent popularity, I believe, is the U.S. and Israel's longtime habit of intervening violently in Lebanon's affairs, and Hizbollah's effectiveness at resisting them.  Their use of Hizbolah as a bogeyman -- the evil Islamic terrorists -- is designed in part to conceal their true objective, which is to reimpose and reenforce Lebanon's Christian-Sunni-Druze oligarchy and keep the Shiite masses in a state of subjugation.

It's important for us, as U.S. peace activists, to see behind this smokescreen and focus ourselves on the task of opposing U.S. and Israeli intervention in Lebanon.  This has got to be the starting point for any effort by us to support secular anti-imperialist groups in the country.

One obstacle to effective activism on our part is the aversion to Islam and Islamic cultures that is planted so deeply in Judeo-Christian culture. So long as we on the left fail to recognize Islam as an equally legitimate cultural experience, we'll have difficulty seeing past the right-wing forces in our own society that exploit anti-Islamic prejudice to justify and clear a path for Western neo-colonialism in the Middle East.

-- Eric Laursen