I begin today, thirty days after the taking of the presidential oath of office by Donald Trump, a series of nineteen posts on the Trump administration.
The Executive Order emitted by Donald Trump on January 27, temporarily prohibiting people from seven Islamic-majority countries from entering the United States, has provoked a conflict between a number of organizations (including the American Civil Liberties Union, Islamic organizations, technology corporations, and scientific associations) and the executive branch of the federal government. For the moment, the judicial branch has stayed the order. The people are divided, with slightly more support for the Executive Order than opposition, according to opinion polls. In this debate, the issues that are at stake, their root causes, and their solutions are not addressed, and they will not be addressed. As C.J. Hopkins notes in an excellent and somewhat satirical article, the conflict in essence is between the neoliberal establishment and a neo-nationalist insurrection, and thus the terms of the debate are limited (Hopkins 2017).
The Executive Order touches upon two complex and emotional issues, terrorism and immigration, that are scarcely understood by the politicians or by the people in the United States, and the Left has failed to provide an historically and globally informed explanation and proposal. Both issues are signs of the profound structural crisis of the world-system. I will discuss terrorism in this and the following post, and immigration in the subsequent.
Since 1967, there has emerged a “distinctive genre of violence” as a social phenomenon (Ansary 2009:332) that we know today as terrorism. It is different from the classical strategy of terrorism that was debated internally in popular and nationalist movements, which was far more limited. Classical terrorism involved the assassination of officials of the state, especially those known for their brutality; or the assassination of collaborators with the regime. Moreover, although classical terrorism was debated within revolutionary movements and apparently was adopted in some cases, it was used on a very limited scale, even in cases in which the struggle took the form of a guerrilla war. The Communist International took an explicit position against terrorism, and prohibited its member parties from practicing it. The Cuban Revolution rejected the practice as immoral and unethical and as a dysfunctional political strategy.
The terrorism that has emerged since 1967 as a new social pattern involves a much higher level of violence. It kills civilians intentionally, not an as an accidental byproduct; and it kills indiscriminately, without selecting the people that are its victims on the basis of their specific role in the political and social system.
The deliberate indiscriminate killing of civilians by clandestine groups also is different from the numerous examples of the mass murder of civilians in the modern era, which were carried out by armies and other agents of nation-states. Examples include: wars of conquest by European nations directed against the nations and peoples of America, Asia and Africa from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, which murdered civilians on such a massive scale that it in some cases constituted genocide; the massive bombing raids against densely populated areas of cities carried out by the United States, Great Britain and Germany during World War II; and the bombing of Vietnam by the United States from the period 1965 to 1972. Such mass murder of civilian populations by nation-states took a far greater number of victims than the new form of terrorism. But they belong to a different category, because they were carried out by nation-states seeking to increase or preserve power and wealth in the world-system; whereas terrorism, in both its classical and new forms, has been carried out by clandestine groups tied to popular movements. Because of this fundamental political difference, mass murder by nation-states and terrorism by clandestine groups are perceived differently by the people; and we historians, social scientists and philosophers also should maintain an analytical distinction between these two forms of violence against innocent people.
The deliberate indiscriminate killing of civilians by clandestine groups occasionally occurred prior to 1967. For example, an underground Jewish militant group bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946, killing ninety-one civilians, which remained the most destructive single act of terrorism until 1988, when Libyan terrorists brought down a commercial flight in Scotland, killing 270 people. But after the Six Day War of 1967, the new form of terrorism emerged in the Arab world as a social phenomenon, occurring with a degree of regularity. Although the clandestine groups adopting the new terrorist strategy take the Islamic concept of jihad and present themselves as Muslims, their understanding is very different from the great majority of Muslims, so they should be referred to as “jihadists,” rather than “Islamists” or Islamic radicals. Following the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, jihadists from the Arab world and Pakistan flocked to support the Afghan guerrilla resistance, supplied with money and arms by the oil-rich Arab states and the United States. As jihadism grew during the 1980s, it spread to the non-Arab Islamic world, and it increasingly turned to the killing of civilians, with citizens of Western nations included among its victims. Jihadism promoted and created an apparent clash between Western and Islamic civilizations, casting aside the effort since the 1950s by Third World nations, including those of the Islamic world, to forge universal human values through various international organizations, including the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement (Ansary 2009:321-22, 332, 344; Huntington 1997:19-39; Prashad 2007:272-73).
Why did the social phenomenon of the deliberate indiscriminate killing of civilians by clandestine groups emerge? If one’s viewpoint is limited by the assumptions and beliefs of the American grand narrative, understanding the answer to this question is impossible, because the American grand narrative ignores fundamental historical and social facts. It overlooks the role of European colonial domination of the world during the course of five centuries in creating the present world-system, which has evolved to a neocolonial world-system. It does not grasp the connection between colonial/neocolonial domination and the spectacular ascent of the United States. It does not see the historic struggles of the nations and movements of the Third World, seeking to transform the colonial structural foundations of the world-economy, reaching its height in the Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order. It does not know that the Third World proposal for a New International Economic Order, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1974, was ignored by the global powers. It is only superficially aware that the most revolutionary of the Third World governments, those most strongly committed to true sovereignty and to economic and cultural autonomy, were attacked through any and all means by the global powers, with the intention of undermining their political and economic viability. And it does not take into account the fact that, beginning with the imposition of the neoliberal project in 1980, the sovereignty of even accommodationist Third World governments was undermined, resulting in even higher levels of poverty and social dislocation for the peoples of the world.
In the Arab world, the Third World project of national and social liberation was most fully represented in the 1950s and 1960s by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt. In 1952, Nasser led a group of young military officers in overthrowing a corrupt monarchy that was subservient to European interests. The officers represented various strains of Egyptian political thought, including nationalism, Islamic modernism, the Muslim Brotherhood, communism, and Pan-Arabism. Once in power, Nasser forged the ideology of Arab socialism or Islamic socialism, by which he meant a classless society built on a foundation of the principles of Islam. The Egyptian revolutionary government of Nasser: nationalized the Suez Canal; nationalized foreign companies and banks; refused to participate in military alliances against the Soviet Union; purchased arms for the modernization of its army from Czechoslovakia, avoiding the political conditions that were tied to the U.S. offer of arms; and recognized the Popular Republic of China. Egypt became a center for solidarity organizations from Africa and Asia as well as for nationalist organizations from the Arab world, and Cairo hosted the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Conference in 1957. Nasser was one of the leading voices (along with Sukarno of Indonesia, Nehru of India, and Tito of Yugoslavia) in the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. During the period 1956 to 1967, Nasserism was the hope of the Arab world (Ansary 2009:324-26; Prashad 2007:31-34, 51-52, 96-99, 148; Schulze 2000:148-52).
Nasserism represented a form of Islamic modernism, taking a middle position between accommodation to the West and Islamic traditionalism. It envisioned independent, modern and republican nation-states, synthesizing the basic concepts of Third World nationalism, Western bourgeois democratic revolutions, Western socialism and Islam (Ansary 2009:261-68; Schulze 2000:148-49, 174-75). It was a fully reasonable proposal, consistent with the principle of the sovereign equality of nations advocated by the Third World project and affirmed by the UN Charter.
These basic historical facts with respect to the Arab world and the Islamic world are overlooked by the American grand narrative. At the same time, the Left has failed to formulate an alternative to the American grand narrative. It has failed to explain the reasons for the emergence of a new form indiscriminate violence against civilians, and it has failed to propose an alternate strategy. As I will develop further in subsequent posts in the series of posts on Trump, the Left ought to formulate a narrative that explains the new terrorism as a symptom of the sustained structural crisis of the world system and that proposes a strategy of cooperation with the governments and movements of the world in order to participate in the development of a more just and sustainable world-system, in accordance with the common interests of humanity.
The limited, partial understanding of the American grand narrative leaves the people confused before the new phenomenon of the indiscriminate killing of civilians by clandestine groups. The failure of the Left to formulate an alternative grand narrative contributes to the confusion, and it has left the people vulnerable to the scapegoating and ultranationalist discourse of Trump. In Part Two of this post, which I will publish tomorrow, I will try to point to an understanding of the reasons for the emergence of the new form of terrorism, drawing upon a horizon beyond the American grand narrative and the superficial discourse of the Left.
Ansary, Tamim. 2009. Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes. New York: Public Affairs.
Hopkins, C.J. 2017. “The Resistance and Its Double,” www.counterpunch.org, January 30.
Huntington, Samuel P. 1997. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. New York: Simon Schuster, Touchstone Edition.
Prashad, Vijay. 2007. The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World. New York: The New Press.
Schulze, Reinhard. 2000. A Modern History of the Islamic World. New York: New York University Press.