Fundamentalism, a challenge for the Left - Zely Ariane, Farooq Tariq (2012, extracts)

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Fundamentalism, a challenge for the Left Thursday 13 September 2012, by Farooq Tariq, Zely Ariane

The idea of interviewing Farooq Tariq came from a lecture he gave during the Asian Global Justice School in Manila at the end of July 2012. I remember him stating firmly that Marxism is totally opposite of religion, particularly because the main basis of religion is private property, which is in line with class based society and capitalism. He also highlighted the position of Labour Party Paksitan towards religion, that they don't discuss religion nor make jokes about it, just as they oppose using religious arguments for socialism. At the same time, Farooq also gave inspiring examples of the role of socialists to defend religious freedom in Pakistan. For my context in Indonesia, a majority Muslim country which is seeing an increase of religious intolerance and violence, this conversation was very important, especially concerning the attitude of the left. I also took the chance to ask him on the recent left collaboration project in Pakistan.

Q: There has been a growing number of islamic fundamentalist groups threatening religious minority, women and LGBT’s groups and democratic principles in Indonesia. As far as I know, no left forces take this development seriously or organise a significant response. These fundamentalist groups are growing in term of numbers, supporters, and activities, even though the number of people who really support Islam as a political idea and agenda in general is declining as was shown by the 2009 general elections [1]. So for us the violence of fundamentalist groups, such as the Islamic Defence Front (FPI) is a new issue. Their activities are creating new atmosphere in which we need to take them seriously. I would like to get a sense of your struggle in Pakistan as a socialist party which takes this issue very seriously.

But first, I’d like to go back to what you’ve raised during your lecture about the increase of fundamentalist forces in the world, particularly in South and South-East Asia after 9/11. What you can say about this?

Farooq: After 9/11 religious fundamentalism has been on the rise. All the efforts of the imperialist forces to cope with the activities of fundamentalists by military means have failed. Fundamentalism in different shapes has grown. They’ve grown as political forces, they’ve grown as very militant forces, new groups have came up, new ways of suicidal attacks have taken place not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but even spreading to some African countries, and Indonesia as well. And the attack are promoted by religious fanatics as a means of resistance.

Fundamentalism as a force has to be countered on political grounds, it has to be taken very seriously. We cannot think that imperialism will do our job for us by repressing them, killing them, through their drone attacks, through their war on terror and so on. Osama Bin Laden was killed, but not his ideas, his ideas still survive. New Osama bin Ladens have come to the front, with different name and activities. Did their activities decrease after Osama’s death? No. Things have even been getting worse after his dead, because the death of Osama was hailed by the US as a major victory for them. The president came on the air and said that Osama’s death could be an end of the fanaticism . But we have seen since 15th May 2011, Osama was killed, that the fundamentalists have not decreased their activities. They emerged in different shapes, it took little time for them to reorganise. In Pakistan there are more suicide attacks, there are more fundamentalists in different shape, and we have seen them increase in the parliamentary field, in Egypt they are coming to power, they lost narrowly in Libya, they gained good results in Algeria, Tunisia. So you can see the progress they are making, also in Indonesia. The growth of fundamentalism has to be taken very seriously by the left.

I can tell you that we had a long debate in our party in 1998-1999 and 2000. There were debates on the growth of fundamentalism. We had two trends, one trend in the party was saying fundamentalism growth is orchestrated by imperialist forces and whenever they want, the imperialists can discard the fundamentalists. Fundamentalists, this trend said, are promoted by imperialism, and they will always be controlled by the imperialists. This was before 9/11. I was one of the leaders in the party who said fundamentalism will progress by leaps and bounds, because of the crisis of capitalism, and because of the inability of the capitalist parties to solve any of the problems of the people. So fundamentalism would become to be seen like an alternative. I did not realise the extent to which they would go to attack America, 9/11 for instance.

It was argued by some comrades that fundamentalism was like a balloon with air inside: once you put a needle in it the balloon will burst, the air will go out and they will come to their own small size . We said no, it’s not a balloon, it’s a real problem, it’s a real monster, brought up by imperialist forces but it has gone out of control. We said the fundamentalist would form their own movements, build their own strength. We have seen 9/11 and then in 2002 fundamentalism for the first time in Pakistan got over 50 per cent of the vote. Before, they never had more than three, four per cent. They could not beat this record 2008 because of several factors. There was the opposition from us and some of the fundamentalist forces were boycotting the elections while some were participating. So the fundamentalist forces split during the 2008 election. Paving the way to a PPP (Pakistan People Party) majority in parliament.

But it’s a real phenomena we have to face it. And the left should not think it’s not their problem. The left should not think someone else will handle the fundamentalists for them, the left should really take them seriously. Although they are not the main enemy, which remains the capitalist system. But you should keep an eye on this growing enemy, which is threatening mainly the weakest section of our class, like women, and religious minorities. These sections are most threatened by the growth of fundamentalism.