Somebody I know responded to the killings in Paris with the two word comment: “F___ ISIS”. Here’s this writer’s response:
I’m not sure what people mean when they say “f__k ISIS”. Do they mean they hate them? That’s all well and good, but there’s a lot of forces worthy of hatred out there. Do they mean “we” should attack them? Who is “we” — the US or the French government? The French regime has already started that, and you can be sure that even more innocent civilians will die due to those attacks than what happened in Paris. If that is what you’re supporting, you are really advocating even more terrorist attacks, this time by Western governments. If that’s not what you mean, then what, exactly?
The approach of simply “hating” IS leads us away from our starting task, which is to understand how they developed and what they represent. How else can they be combatted?
The historic background is the general spread of Wahabbism, a very crude form of religious fundamentalism whose base is in Saudi Arabia among a layer of the clerical/semi-feudal ruling class. As for ISIS in particular, the basis for their development was the defeat of the “Arab Spring”, especially in Syria, where the revolt was, as one participant put it, “a revolution of the poor.” As that revolution became militarized, a layer of the Kuwaiti ruling class (another totally reactionary force) started financing a most extreme wing of “rebels” against the Assad regime. That was the origins of ISIS. They seem to be mainly self-financing today, probably through taxes but also through oil sales. There are some claims that the US government is helping to finance ISIS, but we haven’t seen any serious evidence for that, nor does it make sense politically. (Here is a more in-depth article on the origins of ISIS.)
It seems that at least some of their local recruits are simply young men in need of a job. But probably their foreign recruits have a more ideological motivation. Evidently at least one or two of the attackers in Paris were French born. This seems to speak to the alienation that Muslim immigrants feel in Europe.
More generally, it seems that the rise of ISIS is a symptom of the alarming weakness of the workers’ movement everywhere in the world. We saw what happened in Greece – the former high point of the workers’ movement in Western Europe – for example. There, the leadership of that movement was unable or unwilling to really mobilize the power of the working class and as a result capitulated to Eurpoean capital. I think IS is just one tip of the iceberg. We see a similar force developing in Israel, for example. Then, in the US, there is the mass insanity that is seen by the support for Donald Trump. It’s true that there is a parallel support for Bernie Sanders, but as his most recent “debate” performance shows, he has nothing radically different to offer as far as this threat. The IS attack will strengthen the support for Trump and similar types.
In the period leading up to 9/11, there was a radical, anti-“global capitalism” movement developing. It started among the youth but workers were starting to join in. 9/11 reversed all of that. In the last year, an anti-corporate mood has started to develop, although it is not as strong as was the movement before 9/11. And even before the attack in Paris, a right wing, racist/nationalist/xenophobic tendency was developing alongside of the anti-corporate mood. In fact, it could be argued that worldwide it was already the stronger of the two trends. I don’t think any of us thinks what happened in Paris will be the last of such attacks.
The Paris attack, as well as similar attacks in Kenya, Lebanon and elsewhere are a warning. If a united workers’ movement is not built, what’s coming will be even worse.