As the events in Paris continue to unfold, and with the attack in Yola, Nigeria, it is a reminder of the pull that Jihadism has to people across the globe, including those born and raised in European nations. Around1500 people from France have left to join the murderous Isis, a problem faced by many countries. Jihadism is a global phenomenon, not just in the Middle East, but with the doctrine infecting the African continent, sprouting the emergence of groups such as Boko Haram and Al Shabab who have committed unspeakable horror.
The popular way to understand Jihadism, is that people are being ‘radicalised’, however this is precisely the opposite of what is happening. Jihadism is not radical, it is extreme, twisting the messages of Islam, corrupting them into a hard line fundamental position. Jihadism is based on the same kind of extremism at the heart of Nazism, the KKK and all other fascist ideas. Amping up the basic ideas of a society into a murderous politics of hate. Radicalism is based on rejecting the roots of a society, of wanting to overthrow and overturn the system. An extreme version of Islam is incompatible with radicalism, which is always based on a politics of revolution, not revisionism and fear. Malcolm X, the Black revolutionary’s, message on religion was to keep it out of the politics, to ‘leave it between you and your God’. As a devout Muslim he saw no role for his religion in politics and would be horrified with the way that Islam is being distorted by the extremists.
Not only is Jihadism not radical but it is the decline of radical movements that has left a vacuum into which extremism has filled. It is perfectly legitimate to critique and want to destroy Western capitalism. The West is based on genocide, slavery and colonialism, and the continued oppression of people across the globe. In a world that overproduces food, a child dies every ten seconds because they do not have enough to eat. Western capitalism kills more people in an hour than terrorists kill in a year. The world has never seen a system as violent, murderous and corrupt as the one we so comfortably inhabit.
For those of us from the colonies who live in the West we are subject to severe forms of discrimination. It is no coincidence that France has seen so many of her citizens join Isis, or that the nation has been subject to recent terrorist attacks. In defending the so called secularism of the nation they have constructed one of the most oppressive regimes in Europe for Muslim communities. The marginalisation of Muslims in France brings into mind W.E.B Dubois’s idea of ‘double consciousness’ that African Americans face because of racism. When a society makes it difficult to be both ‘Muslim’ and ‘French’ (or British for that matter), such marginalisation is the beginning for people being seduced into extremism. Franz Fanon talked of the impact of marginalisation that the French colonial gaze had on him; he described feeling as though ‘he would burst into pieces’.
The other aspect of the French situation that is underplayed is the role of people of Algerian descent in the attacks. France has a long, awful and recent history of colonialism and violence in Algeria. This history includes the massacre of up to 200 Algerians at a protest rally in 1961, in Paris by the French police. The inability of the nation to deal with this history and legacy (it took France until 1998 to acknowledge only some of the deaths in the massacre), combined with the continued assault on Muslim and Algerian communities in France goes a long way to explaining why people who are born and grow up in the country are capable of committing such atrocities.
In reality, Britain and the rest of Europe are no better; they are built of the back of colonialism and sustained by neo-colonial exploitation. For those of us who understand the rotten nature of the system we live in, there used to exist truly radical outlets for our politics. If you were anti-West in the recent past there were groups like the Black Panthers, the Black Unity and Freedom Party, Third World alliances, or a range of Marxist groups to join. On the African continent, where Jihadism has spread like a plague, there were Pan-African movements for change and revolutions across the continent. At the turn of the twentieth century a global movement called Ethiopianism emerged, to support the resistance to Italian invasion into the African nation. People had to be stopped from leaving Europe and the US to fight in the Ethiopian resistance struggle. They were leaving to join a revolutionary battle against Western capitalism, and not to join a murderous organisation of religious extremists.
Radicalism, across the globe was brutally crushed by Western nation states. Black Panthers were literally murdered in their beds; regressive dictators were funded to overthrow Pan African leaders and; when revolutionary figures such a Patrice Lumumba from the Congo could not be stopped they were assassinated. The result has been a decline in radical politics and no space for those who want to end Western imperialism to go. In Professor Robert Beckford’s film ‘The Great African Scandal’, one of the most memorable scenes features a former rice famer in Ghana, who has lost everything due to the flooding of the economy with American rice. Desperate and poor, he shows Professor Beckford a picture of Osama Bin Laden on his phone, saying ‘he is the only one standing up to the West’. If we want to combat Jihadism, we need to resurrect a politics of revolution and resistance that can challenge both the West and the insidious hate of extremism.
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