Azar Majedi of the Organisation of Women's Freedom in Iran and the Worker-Communist Unity Party delivered the following speech at a conference on secularism at Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris, on 2 December 2011. Although Workers' Liberty does not necessarily agree with all of Majedi's positions, this speech is a worthwhile contribution to debate on the topic.
The last time I spoke on the question of secularism at a conference in Paris, I differentiated between secularism of the right and of the left, and I spoke of the need to organise a movement for left-wing secularism. A movement which does not simply defend a radical form of secularism, opposing the influence of religion at the heart of the state, legislation and education, but which is equally opposed to what we could call after 9/11 the two poles of terrorism: state terrorism driven by the US and armed by NATO and Islamist terrorism whose principal leader is the Islamic Republic of Iran, but which is not limited to this regime.
This speech was met with opposition from amongst those attending the conference and also following its publication in French, English and Farsi. Today, nearly a year after the first wave of demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa, this question has become even more crucial. Why is it necessary to distinguish these two currents, and to take the side of one against the other? It is an important question.
Over the past year we have seen how these two currents have reacted to the events which unfolded in the Middle East. The right, under the pretext of the Islamist danger and preoccupation for so-called women’s rights, has timidly defended the status quo. I took part in an online conference entitled “Arab demonstrations and women’s rights”, where certain participants expressed only concern at the idea of the fall of the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes. Later, the rightwing also defended the NATO engagement in the matter of the coming to power of the NTC in Libya. But now that Islamic Sharia is on the point of becoming national in Libya, they claim that the NTC has fooled NATO!
Religion and religious organisations are sources of political reactionaries. It is true. But it is only a part of the truth. Religion is an integral part of the dominant reactionary and ruling ideology. This dominant ideology exists to defend a system based on discrimination, inequality, economic exploitation and a lack of liberty. It is capitalism. If we needed to develop these questions in the 1990s, it is no longer the case, as capitalism has destroyed our lives, as millions of people are out of work, incapable of housing and feeding their families, as the anti-capitalist movement has become global, as capitalists are becoming richer and richer to the detriment of workers and ordinary citizens. Is it really necessary to conceptualise this question and to undertake long debates to prove this thesis? I think not. We know that capitalism is the source of inequality, of discrimination and of the current misery of our societies.
In substance, the mass movements of the Middle East and North Africa for freedom, equality and prosperity, like all the movements which struggle against the current situation, what we call today the movement of the 99%. That is why state terrorism driven by the US has not been able to send people back inside, why it has had to send Ben Ali into exile and get rid of Mubarak in order to keep the state apparatus as intact as possible. It is why in Libya, as it did not even have the ability to manipulate, it had to deploy itself military to ensure that after the fall of Gadaffi, the state did not fall into the hands of the people.
It is why the USA’s state terrorism has taken a tack which is more favourable to a Palestinian state and is putting pressure on Israel.
The West is making compromises with the Islamists to prevent the situation from transforming itself into a workers’ revolution and to avoid power falling into the hands of the people and left and communist currents. It is exactly what happened in Iran in 1979 when the western governments, in their fear of seeing the left take power, sent Khomeini, an unknown priest, to Paris to make him into a leader and to set this monster onto the Iranian people. If it not the same form of Islamism, it is a supposedly more moderate form, a Turkish-style Islamism, which is being reinforced in the region.
The peoples of the region are being pushed towards the same trap, as in Iran in 1979. We must be wary and stop this from happening. For this reason, we must be real secularists and be impassioned defenders of liberty, equality and justice.
We must have the political intelligence to not think that we have to take the side of one pole against the other. We must take a position against these two poles – state terrorism directed by the USA and Islamist terrorism. We must be clear in our struggle for liberty, equality and prosperity for all, and categorical in our defence of the equality and emancipation of women.
From this point of view,
We, peoples stifled by the Iranian regime and its peers,
We, the worker-communists who struggle to liberate humanity from inequality, discrimination, poverty and economic exploitation,
We who defend equality for women and their emancipation
We must face two political currents:
1) Those who are so obsessed by Islam and its authoritarian domination that they are prepared to ally themselves with the devil, that is, state terrorism led by the USA, in order to get rid of Islam; those who I call the right-wing secularists;
and 2) Those who call themselves on the left wing of politics and who are principally preoccupied with imperialism; their goal being to combat what they call imperialism, they are ready to close their eyes to inequality, violence, repression, misogyny, for as long as their main enemy, imperialism, still exists. There are so many examples of these groups, which condemn the struggles of peoples against authoritarian regimes because they think that these movements are supported by the USA or the West. Like, for example, those who took the side of the Islamic Republic in 2009, or the side of the Gadaffi regime against the NATO.
These two poles, even if they are opposed to each other, mutually support each other, and will work against the just struggle of the people, of workers, or the poor, of the disenfranchised, of those that we today call the 99%.
We must take up a position against both poles. Our only guides must be freedom, equality and the prosperity of the people. Total freedom and real equality of all citizens. Let us construct a movement which will defend liberty, equality and the prosperity of peoples in these difficult times.