Do you want to know if we condemn the slaughter? We do. Do you want to know if we regard it as horrific, inhuman, unjustifiable? We do. Pick your noun – butchery, massacre, murder – and your adjective – horrendous, heinous, ghastly, barbarous – and we’ll sincerely sign off on it. We lost comrades. We don’t take lessons in grief.
Where did that get you, though? Any closer to understanding what happened, and where it came from? Any nearer to a world without such monstrosities? Haven’t you heard the shop-worn 1930s references before, and it doesn’t get any better, just metastasises into more and worse? Haven’t you seen the inherent resolve, the Iraqi Freedom, the Prevent come and go without freeing anyone, without preventing anything, resolving nothing? The Islamophobic back-lash that is by now indistinguishable from the front-lash, the calls for unity: do you think that’s going anywhere good? Now, more than ever, we need division.
We need the right kind of division. Tragedies, as Sam Kriss writes, are always political in their origin and consequences – if you want fewer of them you have to politicise them in the right way. It is political to demand that politics be put on hold. It is political to insist that now is not the time for thought – that if you do not emote, the terrorists have won. And this is a politics we reject. Here are our theses:
Daesh is the noxious by-product of a rotting system, the system of imperialism and capital accumulation. Not a conscious creation – the claims batted around the internet about Daesh being the implement of US imperialism to topple the Assad regime are both empirically false and slanderous to the Syrian revolutionary uprising – but an oozing morbid symptom. That the flows and circuits of neoliberalism and imperial violence have been key in the growth of Daesh, even Tony Blair himself has admitted. The solution to the symptom is not to aid the disease.
Amid the mainstream jabbering about psychopaths and madness, truly to weaken Daesh, we must understand it. The organisation consists of three main elements. First, the fragments of the Iraqi Ba’athist security state sutured to Sunni ultra-chauvinists in the fight against the US occupation after 2003. It is simple fact this part would not exist without that invasion – carried out, you may recall, to stop terrorist atrocities from occurring again. The second element is the Takfiri Islamists released by the Assad regime in 2011 in a largely successful attempt to undermine the Syrian revolution and win international legitimacy. That bourgeois dictatorship, and its imperialist and sub-imperialist backers Russia and Iran bear no small measure of paternity of the monster. The third element is the international adventurers, colonialists and war fantasists who have taken over large parts of Syria. The Paris attackers seem to come from this group. They are not a product of Islamic society: they are exports from decrepit, anomic Euro-capitalism to the unfortunate people of Syria. Few of them have much knowledge of the Islamic religion – not that that should matter, except it does, when all Muslims are violently conflated with Daesh. In Scotland, Islamic centres are being torched and Muslims advised ‘not to go out alone’. When the ‘centrist’ candidates for the Republican presidential nomination and Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful press baron in history, suggest that only Christian refugees be admitted; when the governors of more than half the US states announce they will exclude Syrian refugees – fleeing from the very regime of institutionalised barbarism that has claimed responsibility for Paris – from entry; when the incoming Europe minister in Poland flatly refuses to honour the EU’s refugee plan, this is the kind of fire with which they play.
More bombing, more ‘anti-radicalisation strategies’? Maybe that will work, for a while. It did, somewhat, with Al-Qaeda and look what followed them. What do you want to be grieving in 2028?
It doesn’t really matter whether Daesh’s reasoning for the attacks is strategic – to initiate a wider conflict or ground invasion of Syria – or theodic – hating freedom, striking at the den of prostitution etc. The question is – who is this ‘we’? The answer to the attacks is not that ‘we’ go out and enjoy ourselves, keep calm and carry on, restore the basic rightness of the world. It is be angry, be hate-filled, turn this fucked-up world that produced Daesh upside-down. Those men, the ones with the corpses in their pockets, the ones who want to do what they’ve always done, to shut people up, to use their bombs, to do more locking up: they’ve been in charge this long and see where we’ve got to?
No more repression. In France a massive police operation has been extended, a state of emergency is extended for three months, and revisions are proposed to articles 16 and 36 of the constitution, that are supposed to provide limits to presidential powers in an emergency – a process that one activist has described as a ‘constitutionalisation of the state of emergency’. George Osborne has lost no time in pressing the case for cyber-surveillance on the backs of the Paris dead. We reject this stages theory by which democratic rights must be temporarily foregone, only later to be re-employed safely for emancipatory purposes once the likes of Daesh are vanquished. In fact, the apparatuses of repression in Europe have most likely contributed to the flow of recruits to the jihadist right. Consider the Charlie Hebdo murderers, who went through the mill of France’s prison system, 65 per cent of whose inmates are Muslim, as part of the arc of their ‘radicalisation’. The only answer to Daesh is political combat by those who offer a better vision, of emancipation. Theresa May and Francois Hollande are not such people. Their laws are designed to block any such project.
The question ‘are Daesh fascist?’ even when asked by our comrades and by those we respect, is not at this time the right starting point. The claim is controversial on the Left, breaking as it does with certain nostrums with regard to the nature of fascism and we remain open-minded on the question. Yet, while there may be a fair amount of fascism in Daesh, there is much more besides: colonialism and Baathism, most of all. It is not an exotic, foreign doctrine, to be treated with muscular neo-imperialism. It is the perfect match for the post-political ruins over which its purported enemies preside. It is they who have promoted the growth of a sadistic and racist kulturkampf that has moved – in a sign of neoliberal societal degradation – from far-right fringe to unabashed mainstream. It is they who have the poisoned the terrain of our politics and culture, just as much as our planet, beyond the tipping point. Nihilistic death-cult? You’re living in it.
Daesh are our enemies because they are counter-revolutionaries. Salvage emerges from a tradition that held ‘with the Islamists against the state, sometimes: with the state never’. We freely adapt the slogan: never ever with Daesh in a million years. But unity with the ruling classes who preside over and preserve the system that produces Daeshes? We’d rather burn in hell.