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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Tunisia year five: Caught in a tightening vice - Part 2

From A World to Win News Service:
By Samuel Albert.

Because of its reactionary nature, Islamism often has ambiguous relations with imperialism and its local regimes. In Algeria, for instance, the 1990s civil war between Islamists and the ruling military had a dimension of a mutual war against the people, the slaughter of intellectuals and others that both sides hated. We've seen this in Tunisia, too. In fact, today's Tunisian government itself rests on an uneasy and unstable alliance between forces representing imperialism and its traditional local flunkies on the one hand and Islamism on the other. 

After initially dismissing the significance of the Sousse massacre, President Essebsi declared, "If such incidents happen again, the state will collapse." One reason for his alarm is that his governing Nidaa Tunes party, answerable to both France and the U.S, was elected on its promise to overturn the Islamisation process initiated by its predecessor in government, Ennahda. At the same time, it cannot (and does not want) to govern without Ennahda's parliamentary support. 

But the problem goes deeper than electoral opportunism. Since Tunisa's formal independence the country's rulers have always used religion and religious identity (the constitution's first article defines Tunisia as a Moslem country) to disguise their fealty to imperialism. They have never forgone the legitimacy of religion and tradition and the religious suffocation of those it governs. This has been combined with repression, including against Islamism when it presented problems – when Ennahda was in rebellion against the government rather than one of its pillars. 

Now, especially because today's Tunisian government suffers from the inherited illegitimacy of the Ben Ali regime, whose ignominious downfall at the hands of the people has not been forgotten even by those currently politically inactive, and because it has even more reason than Ben Ali to fear the masses of people, it is extremely unwilling to confront Islamism, especially in ideological terms, but in other ways as well. 

For instance, take the 2013 assassination of Chokri Belaid, a major leader of the Tunisian electoral left and an important symbol to many secular intellectuals and others. The fact that he had defended the Islamists under the Ben Ali regime did not stop Islamists from killing him. Neither the Ennahda government at the time nor today's supposedly secular government tried very hard to elucidate this crime. In July 2015, when 30 men accused in connection with the murder were summoned for trial, most of them refused to appear in court. The government did not dare try to defeat this challenge to its legal system and moral authority in the name of Islam.

After the Sousse massacre president Essebsi called for the shuttering of 80 mosques he said were run by Salafists, but religious fundamentalism is thriving throughout the extensive state-supervised religious establishment, the public educational system and the dominant culture in general, pressuring and intimidating the many millions who are not eager to live in a society governed by religious law. For instance, the police have started arresting people for public possession of beer, which is not illegal and until now not uncommon, with the explanation that such behaviour by Moslems (and all Tunisians are presumed to be Moslem) constitutes "public debauchery". Foreigners with non-Moslem-sounding names are free from the religious restrictions the police have taken upon themselves to enforce. 

How can a ruling class and power structure that constantly reproduce Islamism, and depend on it ideologically and politically, confront armed Islamism without endangering its own existence? This seems to explain Essebsi's warning about how the state might not be able to withstand another Islamist attack, not because it would be defeated militarily but because of its own explosive political and ideological contradictions.

While Ennahda's role in the current government is small, no major political force considers its Islamist project out of bounds or opposes the growing Islamization of Tunisian society as a matter of principle rather than taste or lifestyle preference. This is especially striking in the case of many people in the "leftist" Popular Front, the self-appointed representatives of the country's "patriots" and "democrats", which in the last elections supported Essebsi in the name of opposing Ennahda. 

More recently, in response to Islamist pressure, the Front's spokesman, the former "communist" Hamma Hammami (in reality an opponent of the revolutionary communism represented by China's Mao Tsetung) declared that he had no "ideological problem" with Islamists because he, too, is a Moslem. Regardless of his personal beliefs (and "leftists" perpetuating and worshipping traditional thinking is an old and serious problem in most countries), the society any kind of Islamists want is totally unacceptable, even if only considered from the point of view of what it means for women, half of the world's population, not to mention other aspects of the emancipation of humanity from ignorance and superstition, and all forms of oppressive social relations. If some political organizations, whether Trotskyist or falsely self-proclaimed Maoists, can use the excuse of opposing imperialism to find anything to support in Islamism, that speaks volumes about what kind of
society they are willing to accept or help govern.

Not unexpectedly, the Front's response to the Sousse massacre was capitulation of another sort. In the face of imminent danger, they demand the beefing up of the army – whose job is to defend the status quo for imperialism. It is all too typical to see "leftists" who never considered how to make a real revolution scuttle back and forth from tailing Islamism to throwing themselves into the arms of the imperialists. 

The architectonic forces that began to break through the surface in December 2010 are still at work. That revolt involved a broad section of the people, spurred by youth in the interior and relayed by students in coastal cities and finally the capital. People from all social classes took part, including elements of the bourgeoisie excluded from Ben Ali's favoured inner circle or those who felt that dumping him was the best available alternative to a prolonged and cascading upheaval. That unity of "the people" quickly hit the limits of the fundamentally antagonistic class interests at work. Islamists as such played very little role in the revolt. But those domestic and foreign observers who congratulated the Tunisian people for the "moderation" of the outcome, which they attributed to a supposed Tunisian character, misjudged the depth of the crisis and what it would take to resolve it. 

What has come even more clearly to light after the Sousse attack is not the importation of exterior conflicts into Tunisian society but a particular, localized and explosive expression of contradictions at work on a world scale. There would be no modern-day Islamism without the economic and social changes in the predominantly Islamic countries brought about by imperialist development. Further, the criminal actions of the U.S. and its allies in recent years (in Palestine, Iraq, etc.) have been inseparable from this development. Without all that, Islamism would still be a minor trend with little future. 

Instead it has become a "perverse expression", as Bob Avakian has put it, of the fundamental contradiction at work in today's world: between the socialization of production that is drawing the whole globe into productive processes and transforming economic relations, and the private – and therefore exploitative and competition-driven – appropriation of the surplus value thus produced. This is what has led to the accumulation of capital in the hands of the monopoly capitalist rulers of the imperialist countries and the horrendous and unbearable intensification of the world's inequalities and lopsided development. 

It is a "perverse expression" because instead of a solution, it is an obstacle to resolving this contradiction by moving toward a world where the abolition of the private ownership of the necessary means to live, and all the social relations and ideas based on that, enables everyone to work for the common good while fully blossoming as individuals. Imperialism and Islamism can be called "the two outmodeds" because neither represents what the world could be if the enormous productive forces developed by humanity, and most basically the people, could be liberated and enabled to transform the world and themselves. 

Tunisia cannot be a haven from the world's storms. It remains a country whose contradictions cannot be solved by anything other than a full revolution – the emergence of a flag, programme, party and broad revolutionary movement whose goal is to defeat the forces of the old state and establish a new kind of political power that can free the people at the bottom, along with the middle strata and intellectuals and others, to begin transforming society in a far more radical and liberating fashion that Islamism or imperialism could even pretend to offer. 

Otherwise, the conflict between the "two outmodeds" will continue to rage and wreak death and destruction, with the masses of people deluded victims instead of conscious protagonists. 

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