The Left and Hamas

Nadine Rosa-Rosso
11 March 2009

Massive demonstrations in European capitals and major cities in support  of the people of Gaza highlighted once again the core problem: the vast majority of the left agrees in supporting the people of Gaza against Israeli aggression, but refuses to support its political expressions such as Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon. The left not only refuses to support them, but also denounces them and fights against them.Support for the people of Gaza exists only at a humanitarian level, but not at the political level. <!-- /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;}

Nadine Rosa-Rosso is a Brussels-based independent Marxist.

She has edited two books: "Rassembler les résistances" of the French-language journal 'Contradictions' and "Du bon usage de la laïcité", that argues for an open and democratic form of secularism.

She can be contacted at [email protected]

The left may register the support Hamas and Hezbollah have amongst the Arab masses, but it pays no heed to Israel's clear and aggressive intention to destroy these resistance movements. From a political point of view we can say without exaggeration that the Left's wish (more or less openly stated) echoes that of the Israeli government: to expunge popular support for Hamas and Hezbollah. This is an issue not only in the Middle East, but also in European capitals today, where the bulk of those engaged in protest are people of North African origin, or South Asian Muslims in the case of London.

I will cite a few but there are dozens of examples of this. The headline of the French website ‘Res Publica' following the mass demonstration in Paris on January 3 read: "We refuse to be trapped by the Islamists of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah!" The article continued: "Some activists of the left and far left (who turned out only in small numbers) were literally drowned in a crowd whose views are at odds with the spirit of the French Republican movement and of the twenty-first century Left. Over 90% of the demonstrators championed a fundamentalist and communitarian worldview based on the clash of civilizations, which is anti-secular and anti-Republican. They advocated a cultural relativism whose harmful tendencies are well known, particularly in England." 

Res Publica is neither Marxist nor communist, but one would be hardpressed to find 
even the most remotely positive words about Hamas on Marxist websites. One does  find formulations such as, "Whatever we think about Hamas, one thing is  indisputable: the Palestinian people democratically elected Hamas to lead Gaza  in elections held under international supervision." Looking further at "what can we make of Hamas?" one finds on the websites of both the French Communist Party and the Worker's Party of Belgium an article entitled, "How Israel put Hamas in the saddle." The article itself supplies us with little more than the assertion that Hamas has been supported by Israel, the United States and the European Union. It was published on January 2, after a week of intensive Israeli bombardment and on the day before the ground offensive whose declared aim was the destruction of Hamas.

The Res Publica quotation sums up rather well  the general attitude of the European left not only to Palestinian resistance, but also to the Arab and Muslim presence in Europe. The most interesting comment is in parentheses: ‘the Left and far Left (who only turned out in small numbers)'. One might expect following such a confession some self-critical analysis regarding the lack of mobilisation in the midst of the slaughter of the Palestinian people. But no, instead their ire is turned on the demonstrators (90% of the whole protest) who are accused of conducting a "clash of civilizations."

Mutual understanding?

At the demonstrations I went on in Brussels, I asked some of my co-demonstrators to 
translate the slogans chanted in Arabic: they were always happy to oblige. I heard a lot of support for the Palestinian resistance and denunciation of Arab governments (in particular of the Egyptian President Mubarak), Israel's crimes, and the deafening silence of the international community as well as the complicity of the European Union. In my opinion, these were all political slogans quite appropriate to the situation. Some people seemingly only have to hear Allah-u-akbar, before they start jumping to completely unfounded conclusions. The very fact that slogans are shouted in Arabic is enough to irritate them. One organizing committee was, for example, highly concerned about which languages would be used. But could we not have simply distributed the translations of these slogans? This might be the first step towards mutual understanding. When we demonstrated in 1973 against the pro-American military takeover by Pinochet in Chile, no one would have dared to tell the Latin American demonstrators, "Please, chant in French!" In order to lead this fight, we all learnt slogans in Spanish. No one was offended. 

It must be asked, are the left and far left able to mobilize on these issues at all? The problem was already surfacing when Israel invaded Lebanon in the summer of 2006. I would like to quote here an anti-Zionist Israeli who took refuge in London, jazz musician Gilad Atzmon, who already said, six months before the invasion: "For quite a long time, it has been very clear that the ideology of the Left is desperately struggling to find its way in the midst of the emerging battle between the West and the Middle East. The parameters of the so-called "clash of civilizations" are so clearly established that any "rational" and "atheist" leftist activist is clearly condemned to stand closer to Donald Rumsfeld than to a Muslim." It's a stark claim.

There are two issues that need to be addressed in any attempt to get to grips with this paralysis of the left in its support for Palestinian, Lebanese, and more generally the Arab and Muslim resistance: they are religion and terrorism.

The Left and religion

Perplexed by the religious feelings of people with an immigrant background, the left, Marxist or not, continuously quotes the famous statement of Marx on religion: "religion is the opium of the people". With this they think everything that needs to be said has been said. But what if we cite the fuller quote of Marx and give it more context. I do this not to hide behind an authority, but in the hope of provoking some thought amongst those who hold this over-simplified view:

"Religion is the general theory of this world, (...), its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. (...) The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."(Translated by Prof. W. Banning, Life, Learning and Meaning, 1960, The Spectrum (p.62-63)

I have always been and remain an atheist, but the rise of religious feelings is hardly surprising. In today's world most politicians, including those on the left, do little more then display their weakness against the military power of the US, they do nothing or almost nothing against financial speculation and the logic of profit that plunges billions of people into poverty, hunger and death. All this, we are told, is due to "the invisible hand" or "divine intervention". Where is the difference between this and religion? The only difference is that the theory of the "invisible hand" denies people the right to struggle for social and economic justice against the "divine intervention" that maintains the status quo. Like it or not, if we want to ally ourselves with them, we cannot look down on billions of people who may harbour religious feelings.

The left does exactly what it accuses the Islamists of doing: it takes religion literally. Rather than regard such religious expressions as a "protest against misery", imperialism, colonialism, or neo-colonialism, leftists cut themselves off from a huge swathe of the masses. Gilad Atzmon expressed it well when he said: "Rather than imposing our beliefs upon others, we had better learn to understand what others believe in". If we continue to refuse to learn, we will continue to lament the religious feelings of the masses instead of struggling with them for peace, independence and social and economic justice.

Left neo-colonialism

But there is more. The fate of Islam is very different from that of Christianity. I have never known the left to hesitate in showing solidarity with Latin American bishops, followers of liberation theology and the struggle against Yankee Imperialism in the 70s, or the Irish Catholic resistance to British Imperialism. Nor have I known the left to criticize Martin Luther King for his references to the Gospel, which was a powerful lever for the mobilisation of Black Americans that did not have political, economic or social rights in the US in the sixties.

This discriminatory treatment by the Left, this systematic mistrust of Muslims who without exception are suspected of wanting to impose sharia law on us, can only be explained by a colonialism that has profoundly marked our consciousness. We should remember that the Communist Party of Belgium (KPB), praised the benefits of colonization that were enthusiastically propagated by Christian missionaries. For example, in the 1948 program of the KPB, when the party had just emerged from a period of heroic resistance against the Nazi occupation, it foresaw the following developments in the Belgian Congo: "a) Establishment of a single economic unit Belgium-Congo; b) Development of trade with the colony and realization of its national resources; c) Nationalization of resources and trusts in Congo; d) Development of a white colonists class and black farmers and artisan class; e) Gradual granting of democratic rights and freedoms to the black population."

It was this kind of political education which meant that there was hardly any protest from Belgian workers influenced by the KPB when Patrice Lumumba, Pierre Mulele and many other African anti-imperialist leaders were assassinated. After all "our" Christian civilization is civilized, is it not? And democratic rights and freedoms can only "gradually" be assigned to the masses in the Third World, since they are too barbaric to make good use of them.

Along exactly the same line of political colonialist reasoning, the left rather regrets having supported democratic elections in Palestine. Perhaps they should have adopted a more gradualist approach towards the Palestinians since the majority of Palestinians have now voted for Hamas. Worse, the left bemoans the fact that "the PLO was forced to organize parliamentary elections in 2006 at a time when everything showed that Hamas would win the elections". You will find this response on the sites of the PCF and Belgian PVDA.

If we agreed to stop staring with blind prejudice at the religious beliefs of people, we would perhaps "learn to understand" why the Arab and Muslim masses who today demonstrate for Palestine are screaming ‘Down with Mubarak', an Arab and Muslim leader, and why they jubilantly shout the name of Hugo Chavez, a Christian-Latin American leader. Isn't it obvious that the frame of reference used here is not primarily religious but a judgement of their leaders' relationship to US imperialism and aggressive Israeli Zionist expansionism? And if the left formulated what is at issue in these terms, might they not partly regain the support of the people that formerly gave them their strength?

The Left and terrorism

Another cause of paralysis in the anti-imperialist struggle is the fear of being associated with terrorism.   On January 11, 2009, the Speaker of the Berlin House of Representatives, Walter Momper (SPD), the head of the parliamentarian group of ‘Die Grüne' (the German Greens), Franziska Eichstädt-Bohlig, and a leader of ‘Die Linke', Klaus Lederer, and others held a demonstration in Berlin with 3000 participants to support Israel under the slogan ‘stop the terror of Hamas'. One must bear in mind that Die Linke are considered by many leftists in Europe as the new and credible alternative Left - an example to follow.  

The entire history of colonisation and decolonisation is the history of land that has been stolen by military force and reclaimed by force. From Algeria to Vietnam, from Cuba to South Africa, from Congo to Palestine: no colonial power ever renounced its domination by means of negotiation or political dialogue alone. For Gilad Atzmon it is this context that constitutes the significance of the barrage of rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian resistance organizations throughout the conflict:  

"It occurred to me that the barrages of Qassams that have been landing sporadically on Sderot and Ashkelon were actually nothing but a message from the imprisoned Palestinians. First it was a message regarding stolen land, homes, fields and orchards: ‘Our beloved soil, we didn't forget, we are still here fighting for you, sooner rather than later, we will come back, we will start again where we had stopped'.  But it was also a clear message to the Israelis. ‘You out there, in Sderot, Beer Sheva, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tel Aviv and Haifa, whether you realise it or not, you are actually living on our stolen land. You better start to pack because your time is running out, you have exhausted our patience. We, the Palestinian people, have nothing to lose anymore". (Gilad Atzmon - Living on Borrowed Time in a Stolen Land)

A message an Israeli receives loud and clear, the European left completely fails to grasp; rather they find 'indefensible' the necessity to take by force what has been stolen by force. Since 9/11, the use of force in the anti-colonial and the anti-imperialist struggle has been classified under the category of ‘terrorism': one cannot even discuss it any more. It is worth remembering that Hamas was placed on the proscribed list of ‘foreign terrorist organizations' by the United States in 1995, seven years before 9/11. In January 1995, the United States elaborated the ‘Specially Designated Terrorist List (STD)' and put Hamas and all the other radical Palestinian liberation organisations on it.

Capitulation on this question by a great part of the Western left, however, only really got going after 9/11, after the launching of the aggressive response by the Bush administration. The fear of being classified ‘terrorists' or apologists of terrorism has spread. This attitude of the left is not confined to theory: it has practical consequences. The European ‘Council Framework Decision' of 13 June 2002 on ‘combating terrorism' incorporated a copy-and-paste version of the American terror list into European legislation, allowing the courts to prosecute those who are suspected of supporting terrorism. During an anti-war rally in London, some activists selling a publication which carried a Marxist analysis of Hamas were stopped by the police and their magazines were confiscated. In other words, the simple attempt to inform people of the political programme and actions of Hamas and Hezbollah has become an illegal enterprise. Such a political atmosphere intimidates people into distancing themselves from these resistance movements. It is not long before they are denouncing them without reservation.

I have a concrete suggestion to make: let the left launch an appeal to remove Hamas from the terror lists. At the same time we must ensure that Hezbollah are not added to the terror list. It is the least we can do if we want to support the Palestinian, Lebanese and Arab resistance. It is the minimal democratic condition for supporting the resistance and it is the essential political precondition for the left to have a chance to be heard out by the millions of people involved.

I am fully aware of the fact that my political opinions put me in a small minority of European leftists. This worries me profoundly, not because of my own fate - I am only one activist among many - but for the fate of an ideal, of an end to exploitation of man by man, a struggle which can only happen through the abolition of the imperialist, colonial and neo-colonial system.

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