Hostage crises: French offensive in the Middle East

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Hostage taking has become an almost daily part of warfare today. In Chechnya, in the Middle East, in Africa, wherever imperialist conflicts are out in the open, human beings are abducted, decapitated, massacred and filmed by the media. Capitalism was born in mud and blood, but if the proletariat leaves it with a free hand, it will drown us all in an ocean of suffering and destruction. French imperialism's offensive in the Arab/Muslim world

A month ago, two French journalists, Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot were abducted in Iraq. In spite of a strong and active military presence, other journalists were seized in the Ivory Coast, while a journalist from Canal Plus, Jordanov, was held by an Islamic faction in Iraq for several days last year. But never before has the French bourgeoisie waged such a fervent ideological campaign over the hostage issue as it is doing now. The working class should have no illusions: the French state doesn't give a fig about the lives of these two journalists. Capitalism has always had a total contempt for human life and this is hardly likely to change in its period of decomposition. We only have to recall the cynical and barbaric role played by France in the genocide of nearly a million people in Rwanda in 1994 to be convinced of that. All the diplomatic efforts of French imperialism in the Arab and Muslim countries have a single objective: to strengthen the influence of French imperialism as much as possible. An article in the Courrier International of 20 September begins thus: "if the kidnappers of the two French journalists Christian Chenot and Georges Malbrunot had known that their action would have been met with such disapproval in the Islamic world, they probably wouldn't have done it". From the moment the kidnapping was officially announced, we saw a major diplomatic offensive - no doubt with a secret component as well - led by the highest representatives of the French state in all the Arab/Muslim capitals. The result of this political offensive by the French bourgeoisie is that France has never before enjoyed such support and sympathy in this part of the world. Not one state, including those like Egypt which have for years been the USA's most loyal allies, failed to make an appeal on behalf of the hostages. All warmly welcomed the declarations by French imperialisms about how firmly it supports the Arab/Muslim world. In this respect France's position on the war in Iraq is only one aspect of its overall policy in the region. But a more significant sign of the pro-Arab and pro-Muslim orientation of French imperialist policy is the large number of messages of support and sympathy that the French state has received from high ranking religious dignitaries and from a number of armed terrorist groups: Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi (a leading Sunni cleric); Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah (one of the leaders of Hizbollah); the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq; Hamas; the Islamic Jihad group in Palestine�. It is impossible to know who is behind the seizure of the French hostages or what the political colouring of the group that kidnapped them might be. There are so many totally uncontrolled gangs in the chaos that is Iraq today. In any case, it seems that for the moment the French bourgeoisie has taken maximum advantage of this kidnapping in order to reactivate its network of political links in this part of the world. It is undeniable that France has used the affair to score real points on the imperialist game board.

No respite in the confrontation between the great powers

It is obvious that the main rivals of French imperialism, in particular the USA, can't be indifferent towards this offensive. It should be noted that the French state, through the intermediary of its chief diplomat Michel Barnier or its interior minister Dominique de Villepin, was initially very optimistic about the chances of getting the two journalists freed. This optimism could only have been based on reliable information on the positive results of the diplomatic offensive about the liberation of the hostages. And yet, a month later, they have yet to be freed. If, as everyone is saying, the hostages are being held in the Fallujah region, it is worth noting that the international campaign for the freeing of the two French journalists has coincided with a major US bombing offensive against Fallujah: "The American army has said in the last few days that its target has been the presumed hiding places of the group led by the Jordanian Islamist Abu Moussad al Zarkawi, linked to al Qaida. This has resulted in numerous civilian deaths" (Courrier International, 20.9.04). There is no doubt that this new armed offensive by the US, centred especially on the region where the French hostages are being held, is only the visible part of America's reaction to France's imperialist offensive. This gives added significance to the statement by the Chirac government that the continuation of the violence in Iraq is the reason for the delay in the liberation of the French journalists and their Syrian driver.

The religious dignitaries seem to have been a particular target for some time: "Two members of the Sunni Ulema Committee were assassinated in the Iraqi capital. Armed men killed Sheikh Mohamed Djadou on Monday when he left a mosque in west Baghdad. A few hours earlier, another leader of the committee, Hazem al Zadi, was killed at the entrance following prayers at a mosque in Sadr City, the Shiite area of the Iraqi capital. The Committee fears an 'organised campaign' of assassinations of its dignitaries" (ibid). These targeted assassinations are in turn a very important factor in the radicalisation of part of the Iraqi population, in particular the more religious elements, and thus help plunge the country even further into chaos. In this context, whatever the real motives of the terrorist group which holds the two French hostages and the level of influence that the religious authorities may have on them, it seems that the kidnappers are in a very dicey situation which seriously complicates the possibility of the freeing of the two French journalists. Both the wide-scale and quite threatening reaction to this kidnapping and the whole game of imperialist tensions, directly implicating France and the USA, have trapped the hostage-takers between the hammer and the anvil. On all sides they face the prospect of being crushed. In this sense, the fatwa issued by the highest religious authorities, permitting the killing of the kidnappers, is a significant expression of the support for French imperialism in the Arab/Muslim world. On 16 September two Americans and a Briton were taken from their residence in a comfortable neighbourhood of Baghdad; this coincided with the abduction of the two young Italian women working for an aid organisation. Here it is noteworthy that none of the states or religious and political institutions which mobilised to support France in its hostage affair moved on behalf of the Americans. In fact there was almost complete silence, implying their effective support for the kidnappers. The barbaric murder of the two Americans, beheaded on the Internet, followed soon after�..

The proletariat must refuse any unity with the bourgeoisie

The proletariat can have no illusions. Iraq is heading for a further slide into war and chaos. Behind the civil war in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the imperialist powers are playing their games. Whatever the outcome of the kidnapping of the two French journalists, this episode has been another moment of inter-imperialist confrontation, notably between France and the USA, with France scoring the points for the moment. The life of the hostages is just a pretext for developing this confrontation.

France has drawn an added advantage from the media barrage around this event. It has made it possible to create a climate of national unity which has linked everyone from the right wing parties to the PCF and the Trotskyists on the left. The working class has nothing to gain and much to lose by being drawn into campaigns which only serve to divert it from its own struggle.

Tino, 25/09/04.

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