Struggling against fascism: an open letter

Considering the horrors wrought by the Islamic State, a professor writes to his former students at the University of Duhok to remind them that the starting point of the struggle for emancipation is within ourselves. 

Saladdin Ahmed
12 March 2015


Flickr/Glenn Hogg. Some rights reserved.

The events of the last year or so have touched everyone’s life in one way or another, yet many still refuse to ask the right questions. However you look at it, the Islamic State is a state of believers who take their legitimacy from something that has very little to do with reason and a lot to do with faith. 

If there is one thing we must learn from this crisis, it is to truly doubt and question both the rational and ethical grounds of everything rooted in dogmas: any kind of absolute ahistorical truth arrived at through an unquestioned tradition of sacredness. Minds that hate thinking and questioning produce absolute ideals. In turn absolute ideals produce minds that hate questioning and forbid it for all. Still, they do not stop there. The cycle will continue, giving us fascism, Nazism, Baathism, or the Islamic State.

The forces of irrationality

What the Islamic State is committing now is the continuation of centuries of horrors carried out by the same forces of irrationality. 

We need to always bear in mind that what the Islamic State is committing now is the continuation of long centuries of horrors carried out by the same forces of irrationality. Projecting your natural sense of goodness onto religion will only prevent you from seeing what crimes religion helps people to commit. Through the dogmatic denial of any link between these crimes and the “real” religion, most believers still choose the least intellectually and morally demanding way out, precisely to avoid the critical moment of facing their inherited belief systems. 

If we want to step into an age of enlightenment, it is time to “dare to know,” as we learned from Kant. Following patterns of predetermined judgments on social and political phenomena only renders one’s own autonomous capacity to think unnecessary. Whatever God we do or do not believe in, the metaphysical and ethical grounds of every single belief deserve doubting and questioning. Virtue is not a set of dead metaphysical codes to be followed blindly. On the contrary, to be virtuous is to learn how to put ourselves in the position of others; to question everything we are told represents “us” as opposed to “them”; to harshly judge any internal voice that may excuse the violence any individual or group is subjected to merely because of their identity; and, most importantly, as we learned from Nagarjuna’s Buddhism, to reject the myth of the self. 

The wisdom of doubt

Those who commit crimes against humanity believe in a collective myth – that in-groups are fundamentally better than out-groups. They give themselves the special right to be the police of some idealistically defined entity – be it God, race, nation or something else. Their major problem is their lack of self-doubt. Again, wisdom is not derived from the strength of your conviction in your own rightness. Rather, it begins with knowing that you do not know, as we learned from Socrates. We need to know that we can never know the pain of the victim, but we can stand with them. It all comes down to a major point: the ability to learn together, with the marginalised and the oppressed. 

Wisdom is not derived from the strength of your conviction in your own rightness.

Minds that question the norms and search for something other than what the dominant presents as right, as truth, and as beauty are the minds capable of rebelling, of living deeply, dangerously, and freely. For such minds, the goal of life is not comfort at any price, but rather justice at any price, not merely a happy life in the real or some imaginary world, but wakefulness. To such minds, home is not where one happens to be born or raised, but wherever there is a struggle for equality, freedom, and justice based on the material conditions of life, not on sacred instructions of religious or political institutions. 

There is nothing easier than realising what a free and just life should not look like if one liberates one’s mind from the shackles of the dominant ideology, which is always, as Marx noted, the ideology of the dominant class. On the other hand, those who submit to the rules of the sacred books, the father figures, and the dominant groups prolong the dark ages, while at the same time blinding themselves to the injustice they sustain. Remember the prisoners in Plato’s allegory of the cave; how they refuse to accept that what they have been conceiving as reality is an illusion, how they even want to kill the free prisoner who challenges their conception of truth?  

The starting point of this struggle for emancipation is within you.

Everything you do or do not do, say or do not say, will play a role in this conflict between rationality and irrationality, freedom and slavery, justice and exploitation. It is in your power to leave the side of the exploitative dominant once and forever, to join the side of those who are turning the dominant value systems upside down. Once you see how the struggle involves the triangle of domination – race, gender, class – it will be clear to your autonomous thinking which sides to take, even if you stand alone.

The starting point of this struggle for emancipation is within you. It is essential to fight the little fascists in all of us in order to be able to defeat the Islamic State and everything it stands for. It is safe to assume that the little fascist inside each one of us looks and speaks like the dominant majority, and acts like a man, a bourgeois man. Every time you meet him, you are face to face with the fascist enemy, the Islamic State. Kill him. Just kill him.

In solidarity,


Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData