There is a general dearth of leftist discourse critical of Islamism in the English speaking West. In fact, the dominant leftist discourse in that regard is characterized by a mixture of portraying Islam as the ultimate victim and Islamism as a force of resistance to, or at least an excusable reaction to, Western policies. Meanwhile, millions of people throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continue to struggle against the rising wave of Islamism on a daily basis in the absence of acknowledgment or support from the Western left.
For the colonized peoples of the MENA region such as Amazighs, Assyro-Chaldeans, Copts, Nubis, Kurds, and Yezidis, Islamic imperialism is the most serious threat to their very existence. One would hope that the situation of these peoples would form the foundational parameters of the international left’s outlook on the MENA region. However, it is far more often the right in the West that takes issue with the genocidal campaigns waged against these peoples.
Likewise, the growing number of women and men from the MENA region who have bravely stood against the oppressive Islamic value system have typically found more support among the Western right than the left. As a case in point, activists, intellectuals, and ordinary citizens in the Islamic Republic of Iran continue to be executed for their alleged “enmity against God” (Moharebeh), yet the lives of those victims seem to matter much less than a Hamas militant who targets Jews indiscriminately. Even vocal critics of Islam/ism such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Maryam Namazie, Hamed Abdel-Samad, Tarek Fatah, Brother Rachid, and Raif Badawi have been largely discounted by the Western left.
Despite the fact that imperial nationalist trends run through the right and the left alike in the MENA region, entailing a general denial of indigenous and minority rights, most progressive forces adopt a clear stance in opposition to the Islamic establishment. Radical feminism has also long played a vital role in the struggle against Islamic hegemony. Indeed, at the forefront of progressive revolutionary movements is the women’s liberation movement in Northern and Western Kurdistan, which is physically fighting Islamism as part of a broader revolution to emancipate all oppressed groups and colonized peoples of the region.
And yet, criticism of Islam/ism is still largely considered politically incorrect by the Western left. A major reason for this, I argue, lies in the West’s reductionist image of the myriad peoples of the MENA region as the Arab-Muslim Other, the West’s ultimate colonized Other. To this already problematic portrayal of the Other, the dogmatic Western left then adds a layer of permanent victimhood. It should be obvious that the main problem with this Othering process is the oversimplification of entire societies shaped by complex historical contradictions and ideological conflicts.
This oversimplification has typically resulted in the dismissal of not only Pan-Arab-Islamic imperialism within the MENA region but also the anti-Islamist left. By reducing entire societies, classes, and, most importantly, individuals, to an image of a Muslim victim, the dogmatic Western leftist view does not negate Western imperialism. On the contrary, that view is rooted in Eurocentrism insofar as it sees the Other only in relation to the European colonizer’s self. The left should instead commit itself to a universal negation of imperialism in all its forms, including Islamic imperialism.
Leftists who fail to acknowledge the magnitude of Islamist crimes in the MENA region or continue to blame Americans and Israelis for the rise of Islamism will only further render their politics obsolete. In fact, failing to recognize the complex ideological map in the MENA region, and, thus, continuing to see the region through Islamic lenses amounts to submitting to the hegemony of our age’s most barbaric and fascist force: Islamism.