The Red Menace look at how the governments of Iran, Pakistan and the West have used the 1989 Salman Rushdie affair to shore up support for their own regimes.
Behind the sabre-rattling in the Rushdie affair various factions are pursuing their interests. It is difficult for us to know exactly what is going on. The Irangate scandal partly exposed the secret machinations of world diplomacy and we cannot be sure what deals are being made behind the scenes this time. Some things are clear however.
In the West attention has mainly focused on Iran but it is in Pakistan and India that deaths have actually taken place, rather than just being talked about.
In Pakistan Bhuttto, the Oxbridge-educated prime minister, is busy trying to shore up her tentative grip on the state. She is purging the army of old pro-Zia brigadiers. In particular she is out to clip the wings of the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate. This organisation of 100,000 people was responsible for channelling $1 billion of U.S. aid to the Afghani rebels. They helped organise Zia’s coup in 1977 and were involved in setting up the Islamic Democratic Alliance, the umbrella organisation which fought Bhutto in the elections and now runs the Punjab. It is the I.D.A. which has been behind the demonstrations against Rushdie (as well as against having a woman prime minister) as part of its anti-Bhutto campaign.
At the same time the I.S.I. has attempted to swing the Afghani Mojahedin behind the hardline Islamic fundamentalists. Khomeini’s fatwa (religious condemnation) against Rushdie relates to Afghanistan as well as to his own internal power struggle in Iran. So does the USSR’s intervention in the crisis. Mindful of the millions of Muslims in southern republics they are anxious to see a weak but stable regime in Kabul.
The commotion has also spread to India where the death toll has increased again in the context of mass unemployment and communal tension. The Indian state has been struggling against both Islamic and Hindu fundamentalism, as well as against the better known Sikh nationalism.
Peace is war
In Iran Khomeini is using the Rushdie affair to strengthen national unity, both by uniting the divided factions of the ruling class and keeping the lid on wider social discontent.
The ceasefire in the Gulf has not brought peace for the proletariat in Iran. State repression has been stepped up to new heights with more than 5000 prisoners being executed in the past few months. This repression has not succeeded in crushing the class struggle that helped bring the war to an end- for instance in December workers at Pirshex building company in Jardasht staged a successful strike for higher wages.
With the war over Rushdie has replaced Iraq as the enemy against whom all must unite. The Iranian poor are being told to forget their own interests and rush to the defence not only of the nation but of Islam itself.
In the demonology of the West it is Khomeini not Rushdie who is the Great Satan-Mitterand has even referred to the death threat as "absolute evil". The western rulers are using the affair to push for a pro-western government in Iran and to mobilise support for the anti-terrorist campaign within Europe (police repression is conveniently justified as a means of defending us from "Islamic terror"). The campaign is also being used to fuel racism - witness Robert Maxwell’s call for the repatriation of Iranians (Sunday People, 19/2/89), and the rubbish about the Muslim threat to the Great British Way of Life in all the media.
The west is the best?
President Bush has said that Khomeini’s statements are "deeply offensive to the norms of civilised behaviour", neatly stating the lie that the West stands for the defence of humanity against barbarism. The governments of the USA, Europe and Iran are all expressions of a single world economic system which daily sentences thousands of people to death through starvation, repression, "accidents" at work etc. And the West’s civilised behaviour has been every bit as brutal as Iran’s- remember the sinking of the~ Belgrano, the shooting down of an Iranian airliner by the USS Vincennes last year, or the French state’s bombing of "the Rainbow Warrior" (there was no question here of New Zealand breaking off diplomatic relations with France for "exporting terrorism to its soil").
"It is a fundamental matter of free speech" (Thatcher)
"Free speech" is a myth in Britain and everywhere else. All states have attempted to suppress discussion, ideas, publications etc. when it suits them. In 1981 Simon Los, a 16 year old anarchist from Nottingham, was jailed for 3 years just for giving out leaflets supporting riots. The new Official Secrets Act will make it easier than ever to jail government employees for exposing state secrets.
Thoroughly modern militants
Islamic fundamentalism, so we are told, is a throwback to middle ages fanaticism; Christianity on the other hand has emerged from its feudal "excesses" as a modern, tolerant religion. This century however Christians have been directly involved in numerous atrocities. Between 1941 and 1945 for instance, over 200,000 people were exterminated at the Jasenovac death camp as part of the Croatian fascists’ attempt to forcibly convert local Serbs to Roman Catholicism. In the same war the Vatican backed Hitler while the Russian Orthodox Church backed Stalin and Churchill.
Last year 13 people were injured in Paris when tolerant Christians set light to a cinema showing the ‘blasphemous’ film "Last Temptation of Christ".
All our rulers use religious and other ideologies (with all their fine phrases about morality and justice) to make their rule seem more acceptable. This applies even in the USSR where humanist, but no less religious, slogans perform this function (e.g. those bombing Afghan villages were doing their "duty to the brotherhood of man"). In the words of a famous revolutionary of the last century: "Everywhere, in short, religious or philosophical idealism.., serves today as the flag of material, bloody and brutal force, of shameless material exploitation "(Bakunin, God and the State).
As much as we oppose Islam we also oppose any new Western crusade against Islam. The old cry remains as true as ever: "humanity will never be free until the last priest (and mullah) is hanged with the guts of the last capitalist".
The Red Menace, Number Two, March 1989. Taken from the Practical History website.