What is it that has led so many members of the secular political left today to sympathize with Islamist groups, particularly Hezbollah and Hamas? Fred Halliday of the London School of Economics answers the question, and manages to do so without abandoning his own roots on the political left. He writes:
The most recent manifestation of this trend arrived during the Lebanon war of July-August 2006. The Basque country militant I witnessed who waved a yellow Hizbollah flag at the head of a protest march is only the tip of a much broader phenomenon. The London demonstrators against the war saw the flourishing of many banners announcing "we are all Hizbollah now", and the coverage of the movement in the leftwing press was notable for its uncritical tone.
All of this is–at least to those with historical awareness, sceptical political intelligence, or merely a long memory–disturbing. This is because its effect is to reinforce one of the most pernicious and inaccurate of all political claims, and one made not by the left but by the imperialist right. It is also one that underlies the US-declared "war on terror" and the policies that have resulted from 9/11: namely, that Islamism is a movement aimed against "the west".
This claim is a classic example of how a half-truth can be more dangerous than an outright lie. For while it is true that Islamism in its diverse political and violent guises is indeed opposed to the US, to remain there omits a deeper, crucial point: that, long before the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadis and other Islamic militants were attacking "imperialism", they were attacking and killing the left–and acting across Asia and Africa as the accomplices of the west.
Halliday goes on to investigate the relationship between the left and militant Islam, and while he sees parallels in their rhetoric, approach to political action, and organization, he underlines that these only conceal a more fundamental rift. He concludes, "It does not need slogans to understand that the Islamist programme, ideology and record are diametrically opposed to the left–that is, the left that has existed on the principles founded on and descended from classical socialism, the Enlightenment, the values of the revolutions of 1798 and 1848, and generations of experience."
The article provided an apt echo to my reading of a nutty piece of writing by Norman Finkelstein, introducing an even nuttier one by his friend Samah Idriss, Lebanese editor of the literary magazine Al-Adab. Finkelstein writes, "In the U.S. Congress yesterday one of our "representatives" said we are all Israelis now. I beg to differ, and I say this without fear: for those who believe in freedom and dignity, We are all Hezbollah now." Quite why Finkelstein should imply that fear is appropriate here is beyond me. The worst he risks by such a phrase is an extra half hour of earnest debate in the faculty lounge.
However, it is Idriss' text that merits a lengthy reading, for precisely the reasons that Halliday outlines. In his zeal for militancy, for ideological purity of action, Idriss drifts into the messianic, never able to separate between what is of the left and those who have systematically demolished the left in Lebanon in recent years: "What I pity about you, Lebanon, is your class of phony leftists (specifically the "Democratic Left") who have no other concern but to suspect everything redolent of dignity and to seek out anything with which they can denounce the Syrian and the Iranian regimes, HizbAllah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP-General Command–anything, even that which might result in the ultimate release of heroes who paid the price of their freedom to attain ours."
You have to wonder about someone who implies that the Syrian and Iranian regimes, as well as Islamic Jihad and the PFLP-General Command, qualify as being "redolent with dignity." You have to wonder, too, why Idriss, like Finkelstein on a visit to Lebanon several years ago, never mentions that the Syrians and Hezbollah at one time participated actively in the killing of leftists fighting Israel, because Syria wanted Hezbollah to seize control of the anti-Israeli resistance. Should you have any doubts, ask one of the leaders of the "Democratic Left", Elias Atallah, a former member of the Communist Party, who was among the first to bear arms against Israel in the 1980s, yet is now taken to task by Idriss (who has never taken up arms against anyone).
That Idriss and his many comrades worldwide should find themselves on the side of the anti-humanitarians, on the side of religious intolerance, on the side of the gun and the totalitarian slogans; that they do so and still claim to be of the left shows a lack of direction not at all visible on the other side. Here is what Hezbollah's leader Hassan Nasrallah had to say about his teenage years in his village of Bazzouriyeh:
But, later on, when we moved back to [Bazzouriyeh], I joined the ranks of the Amal movement. That was a choice that I made very eagerly, because I deeply admired Imam Musa al-Sadr. At that time, I was just 15-years-old and the Amal movement was … known as the movement of the underprivileged. I was becoming less interested in the village of [Bazzouriyeh], because that village was turning into an arena for the activity of intellectuals, Marxists, and especially supporters of the Lebanese Communist Party.
At least Nasrallah knew who his enemies were.