The cartoons of Mohammed originally published in a Danish newspaper have not only provoked violent protests around the world. They have also been a dramatic illustration of the growing tensions between imperialist states.
A story of imperialist gangsters
On 30 September, the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten published two cartoons showing the prophet Mohammed as a terrorist bomber. In the weeks that followed the cartoons were published by numerous newspapers, including France-Soir. We know the result. Demonstrations, some of them very violent, broke out in numerous ‘Muslim’ countries. In Afghanistan, there were confrontations leading to serious injuries and deaths. In Nigeria, there were pogroms between the Muslim and Christian sectors of the population. How did a few cartoons give rise to such an outburst of hatred? How did a few drawings in a Danish paper stir up such an international storm?
At the beginning of October, this affair was limited to Denmark. Ambassadors from Muslim countries asked for an interview with the Danish prime Minister Fagh Rasmussen, who is close to the Jyllands-Posten. The PM refused to meet them and a delegation from the Muslim associations of Denmark made a tour of a number of capitals in the Muslim world, officially to draw the matter to public attention. It was this that led to demonstrations in Pakistan. In January, the demonstrations began throughout the ‘Muslim world’, especially in the Middle East. The protests very quickly took on a violent, anti-western character which cannot be explained simply by the offence caused by the cartoons. To understand the situation, we have to remember that since the Second World War this region of the world has been a continuous theatre of war and barbarism. Since the end of the 1980s, the tensions have become more and more explosive and uncontrollable. The irreversible destabilisation of the Muslim world, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, generally under the impact of military adventures by the great imperialist powers, above all the USA, is what today lies behind the rise of the most archaic religious radicalism among the population of these regions. The total impasse these countries have reached has strengthened the hand of the most retrograde factions of the bourgeoisie. This is the significance, for example, of the accession to power in Palestine of the Hamas movement. The same goes for the ascendancy of the ultra-conservative party led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. Tensions between the powers of this region, and between these powers and the USA, have grown sharper and sharper. In this situation of chaotic confrontations and ideological regression, the various bourgeois cliques in this part of the world have leapt onto the cartoons bandwagon in order to advance their interests within this general imperialist free for all. Behind the apparently spontaneous demonstrations lies the organised presence of the various bourgeois factions, generally operating from inside the state machine. After the attacks on Danish embassies, Libya decided to close its embassy in Copenhagen. The Danish ambassador in Kuwait was summoned. The Syrian and Iraqi governments publicly announced that they were shocked. This goes well beyond the publication of a few cartoons in the western or Jordanian press. The cartoons have in fact become a weapon of war in the hands of the bourgeoisies of the Muslim world, responding to the increasingly aggressive imperialist policies pursued by the US, France, Germany and Britain. How can we fail to notice the connection between the use of these cartoons and the threats which the USA and France have made to Iran over its nuclear programme? The desperate populations of the Muslim countries are being cynically manipulated, and there is nothing spontaneous about the demonstrations that have taken place. They are the product of the policy of war, of hatred, of nationalist mobilisation being followed by all the bourgeoisies of the globe.
Since the September 11 attacks, the USA has posed as the champion of western values and the main enemy of Islamic terrorism. And yet we have seen the Bush administration being extremely ‘understanding’ over the reactions to the cartoons in Iran and elsewhere. Why? This has nothing to do with the defence of people’s rights to have their religious beliefs treated with respect, which is what we are told. The reality is much more cynical. The USA is very pleased to see rivals like France being dragged into a confrontation with a whole number of Arab and Muslim states. In a world of permanent warfare, of every man for himself, each capitalist state can only rejoice to see its rivals falling into a trap.
The position taken up by Hamas provides further illustration of this cynicism. Hamas, a party of religious radicalism and suicide bombing, has put itself forward as an honest broker in this affair! The head of its political bureau, Khaled Mechaal said that “the movement is ready to play a role in calming the situation between the Islamic world and the western countries as long as the latter agree to cease causing offence to the feelings of the Muslims” (Le Monde, 9.2.06). In order to gain official recognition on the international level, Hamas is ready to draw in its claws.
In the context of this free for all, where every bourgeois clique is stirring up hatred, all the propaganda about the freedom of the press or respect for religion can be seen for what it is: a vast fraud.
Freedom of the press and respect for religion: two poisons administered by the bourgeoisie
The Independent summed up the bourgeois ideological campaign very well when it wrote: “there is no doubt that the papers must have the right to publish drawings which some people find offensive”. This is the sacrosanct right to free expression which a whole part of the bourgeoisie is going on about today. The same paper goes on to say “in such a complex situation, it’s easy to take refuge in banal declarations about the rights of a free press. The most difficult thing is not settling what’s true and what’s false, but taking a decision which takes account of the rights of both sides. There is a right to free expression without any censorship. But there is also the right for Muslims to live in a pluralistic and secular society without feeling oppressed, threatened and insulted. Raised to a right above all others, this can become a mask for fanaticism”. The ideological trap which bourgeois democracy uses against the working class is clearly illustrated here. It has to choose between what is a right, freedom of expression, and a moral duty, the respect for other people’s beliefs. In any case, the proletariat is called to show moderation and understanding in this matter, to the benefit of its bourgeois masters. This is what Lenin wrote in the Theses on bourgeois democracy at the First Congress of the Communist International in 1919: “’Freedom of the press’ is another of the principal slogans of ‘pure democracy’. And here, too, the workers know — and Socialists everywhere have explained millions of times —that this freedom is a deception because the best printing presses and the biggest stocks of paper are appropriated by the capitalists, and while capitalist rule over the press remains—a rule that is manifested throughout the whole world all the more strikingly, sharply and cynically—the more democracy and the republican system are developed, as in America for example”. And at that time Lenin and the communists were not yet acquainted with the vast ideological power of the radio and TV.
As for the other choice, respecting the beliefs of everyone, we only have to cite a phrase from Marx to know what communists think: “religion is the opium of the people”. All religions are an ideological poison, one of the numerous means used by the ruling class to block the development of class consciousness.
Freedom of the press is just the freedom of the bourgeoisie to cram its ideology into the heads of the workers! And respect for religion is the respect of the ruling class for everything that mystifies the proletariat!
It’s obvious that the spread of violent protests about the cartoons is not a matter of indifference for the proletariat. It is vital that the working class does not get drawn into the anti-western agitation sweeping the Muslim world. This is just an expression of the acceleration of chaos and makes the development of the class struggle more vital than ever. At the same time, the proletariat cannot fall for the false alternative offered in the west – the defence of the free press and secular democracy.
Faced with the irrationality of the whole of capitalist society, the proletariat must stand for the rationality of the class struggle, for the development of its consciousness and for the perspective of communism. Tino 20.2.06