International TV interview with Fariborz Pooya and Bahram Soroush

Maryam Namazie: Theo van Gogh had made a film with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Dutch MP (originally from Somalia) of a racist, right-wing political party in Holland, one of whose slogans is ‘the boat is full’. Their film ‘Submission’ is very critical of Islam and its abuses on women’s rights. The first question that comes to mind is when you hear opposition to Islam and political Islam, often you hear it coming from the Right-wing in the mainstream. Why is that?

Bahram Soroush: Maybe because the Left is so quiet. If you don’t have a Left which is standing up firmly to political Islam, then you have the right-wing taking the field and filling the vacuum. At the same time, I’m not sure if the characterisation that the Right is critical of Islam or political Islam is quite accurate. If you look at their politics, when they are attacking Islamists, they are attacking groups of people; there’s a strong racist element in their criticism. Many times they are prepared to accommodate Islam and Islamic groups. And as governments, they follow a policy of appeasement of Islamic states. It is the same with their attitude towards Islam as an institution and a religion. Although one should not put everyone in the same category, what we know as the right-wing critique of political Islam quite happily accepts religious schools, regards criticism of Islam as a religion as blasphemy, as a no-go area, and when you look at the core of their politics, you see a strong racist element against immigrants, against whole groups of people.

Fariborz Pooya: The whole building block of the ruling-class analysis of religion is inhumane, because the world according to the bourgeoisie is divided between various nations and various races at its core – as opposed to the Marxist and progressive analysis and vision of society, which looks at class society, and its analysis is based on the uniformity of societies that exist and class interests… Religion is part of that analysis, part of that vision and a supposed characteristic of people. Apparently it is something inherent, you can’t change it and you have to live with it. The ruling class in all countries never discarded religion as an institution and as a political force and actually accommodate it and use it in different forms. In different historical periods – and recently as well, with regard to political Islam – we see how the West-European governments come to terms with it and make use of it. It is the same within European societies as well – in relation to religion, Islam and political Islam. Both the right wing of the bourgeoisie and its left wing regard and accept religion as part of ‘people’s culture and characteristics’. I agree with Bahram that unlike the Marxist, progressive and humanist movement, the various sections of the bourgeoisie are trying to accommodate Islam and political Islam and work with it.

Maryam Namazie: What we are seeing though is a Left, or what is called the Left, actually apologising for Islam, calling any sort of criticism of Islam ‘Islamophobic’. We have heard recently that the editor of the Socialist Workers’ Party paper has even implied that secularism is Islamophobic! They are defending religion to that extent. I agree with Fariborz that right-wing governments are defending political Islam ‘over there’, if not in the West itself. But they are much more ‘critical’ of Islam and the political Islamic movement. So why does this problem exist?

Bahram Soroush: Historically, the banner of secularism and humanism has been in the hands of society’s Left. But that is absent now. It is not just on the question of religion, but on a whole set of issues. I think what is dominating the Left in Europe and North America generally, the prevailing wisdom, is the characterisation of the world, the division of the world between the North and the South, the rich countries against the poorer ones, the North oppressing the South, and, thereby, oppressing ‘their religion’ too. Their characterisation of a country [in the Third World] is not based on a class point of view; they do not differentiate between the ruling classes and the people there. So, for example, if there’s a threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the USA, that Left automatically rushes to the aid of that regime, never mind that it is a reactionary, murderous regime and 99% of the people are fighting it and trying to get rid of it. The worker-communist standpoint is different. The ‘Left’ is the general umbrella term for a whole movement. However, what we have argued in Iran, for example, has been from a Marxian standpoint. In the 19th Century, a communist was someone who was at the forefront of the fight against religion, nationalism, a champion of secularism and atheism, for the liberation of the human being at its most fundamental level – politically, economically, philosophically. But that has disappeared from what we know as the Left today. So what you have now, what is characterised as the Left, the dominant viewpoint, is radical and socialist only in name. When this happens, then you obviously have the right wing taking the field. But again the criticism of the Right is not from a humanist standpoint, but from an inhumane and racist standpoint. As you mentioned, Ayaan is a member of a party which at the same time is against immigrants. That is a dilemma for a person like Ayaan herself. We can talk about it; about what has made her join that party, for example. But what makes Ayaan an interesting figure in Holland is not that she is a member of the Conservatives there, but what she has said, what she has exposed about Islam and its atrocities, about political Islam. That is why we should not be so much hung up about the fact that she is a member of that party.

Maryam Namazie: That’s a question for me then. Does it not matter if the critique of Islam and political Islam is coming from a right-wing perspective? I agree with Bahram Soroush about Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the MP. She has actually said she is not comfortable with some of the positions of that party, but she says it has given her an avenue to be able to critique Islam and defend women’s rights. In a sense, it shows the absence of a Left in which she can become a member and an MP of. Again I’m not sure about all her comments, because we don’t speak Dutch and we can only look at the things that have been translated. Bahram says we should not be so hung up on the fact that she is a member of a right-wing party, but some might disagree.

Fariborz Pooya: I think the danger is, if the worker-communist movement does not occupy the centre stage in the fight for secularism, if it does not broaden its appeal against Islam as a political movement in Europe, naturally the centre stage will be filled by the right-wing critics of Islam. And that’s a disaster. The scenario they are actually fighting for and advocating is a race war, a religious war, the exclusion of everybody else. So it’s a dark scenario. It’s doubly important for the progressive, humanist, socialist and worker-communist movement to cover that centre stage quickly. It saddens me that people from the Left, in the name of socialism actually, are totally supporting a reactionary political Islamic movement, which has not even an iota of progressiveness about it. It’s not even like a national-liberation movement that at some stage in the last century people could have argued with possibly having some element of progressiveness in it. There is nothing progressive here. It’s a totally reactionary, fascistic political movement. It’s important to criticise it from a humanist point of view, from a class-interest perspective, and to show to the population at large in Europe that it’s OK to criticise Islam from a progressive point of view; it’s beneficial to society; it helps the lot of children; it helps the lot of women; it helps society in general and improves the lot of the general population in Europe to have a very clear progressive and socialist criticism of Islam. It’s critical and essential for European society actually to raise that humanist criticism of Islam.

Maryam Namazie: Fariborz says that political Islam is a fascistic movement and it’s dangerous. So my question to you is, if Islam and political Islam are being criticised from a racist perspective, is it OK to support that perspective then, because the aim is to get rid of and eradicate political Islam?

Bahram Soroush: No. The right-wing’s presence actually is a problem; they are in fact part of the problem. The apologists for Islam point to them to say that by criticising Islam you are joining the racists, and all that. Moreover, many times in the past, these forces have actually collaborated with and helped foster the political Islamist movement in the Middle East. The Western governments poured arms and millions of dollars to boost that movement against the Left. I think something that much of the Left in Europe actually forgets is that the Islamic movement that they are supporting is now responsible for genocide; for massacring an entire Left generation in Iran, not to mention all their other atrocities. They were a force that came into existence as a right-wing, anti-socialist, anti-Left movement, supported vehemently by Western powers at that time in order to stop the progressive and Left-wing, socialist ‘threat’ to society. It’s only after 9/11 that their relationship changed; past friends becoming present foes. I’m sure there are many genuine activists amongst the Left who at the moment are supporting the politics of their organisations because there is not a strong enough alternative…

Maryam Namazie: We are the alternative and they should be listening to us…

Bahram Soroush: Exactly!

Maryam Namazie: Briefly, irrespective of what perspective Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who is actually in hiding now because she has been receiving death threats) are coming from, what would you say about their death threats and about Theo’s assassination? Just one sentence. Because there are some on the so-called Left who say that he deserved to die because of his racism.

Fariborz Pooya: That comment is outrageous. No one deserves to die because of their views or the views that they have expressed. Actually that shows the essence of the political Islamic movement. It is a violent movement; it is an atrocious movement, and it needs to be stopped. They will start with van Gogh and Ayaan and then try to impose their dark scenario and rule in the West over the rest of the population.

Maryam Namazie: What is a progressive and non-racist perspective on Islam and the political Islamic movement – in one or two sentences?

Bahram Soroush: It is difficult to say it in one sentence. In essence, it’s from the standpoint of the human being, from a humanistic perspective, against religion as an ideology, against political Islam as a political movement, in defence of women’s rights, in defence of children’s rights, in defence of political freedoms and the right to freely and safely criticise any religion.

The above is an International TV ( interview dated November 7, 2004.

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