This statement on the “Ground Zero Mosque” now appears in Proletarian Revolution No. 83 (Fall 2010) under the headline Defend the “Ground Zero Mosque”! Stop Attacks on Muslims and Immigrants!
The vile campaign of anti-Muslim bigotry directed against the building of the Cordoba House / Park51 Islamic Center in downtown Manhattan represents an escalation of the long-running chauvinist onslaught against Muslims in this country. It must be beaten back.
After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the U.S. government profiled Muslims and people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent as possible “terror suspects,” subjecting them to widespread harassment and persecution. Immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries were called on to “voluntarily” register with the Federal government; almost 100,000 were photographed and interviewed and over 10,000 detained and deported – without one terrorism-related charge being filed.
Although the worst of this campaign took place in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the attacks never ended, and they now have been given renewed energy. Muslims are being held collectively responsible for 9/11, and that of course implies the threat of collective punishment. This threat is already being followed through on. Witness the protests and violence being visited upon mosques across the country, from Brooklyn and Staten Island to Tennessee and California. That this threat is a potentially deadly one was made clear by the recent stabbing and attempted murder of a Muslim taxi driver in Manhattan.
All defenders of democratic rights, and all opponents of national chauvinism and racism, must rally to the defense of Muslims. And as we will explain, the working class and poor people of this country – in whose ranks are to be found people of every religious belief (or non-belief) and of every national and racial identity – will pay a great price if this rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry goes unchecked.
At this time of economic crisis and heightened attacks on jobs and living standards, working-class and poor people cannot allow their anger at these circumstances to be directed away from the capitalists who exploit and rule over us – and aimed at vilifying and oppressing any of their class brothers and sisters instead. Now more than ever, workers need solidarity across religious, national and racial lines. That unity can best be forged in the course of a struggle against the capitalists, against the imperialist wars of conquest that are waged abroad, and against the demagogues who attempt to divide and oppress us at home.
To make their bigotry a little less obvious, some opponents of the downtown Islamic Center say that their main concern is for the feelings of the families of victims of the 9/11 attacks – who would allegedly be offended by the presence of a “mosque at Ground Zero.” The truth is that the Islamic Center could only be offensive to people who believe in the bigoted idea that Islam as a whole, and all those who follow it, are somehow responsible for 9/11.
Some opponents of the planned Center point to its Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, as reason for their concern, labeling him an anti-American terrorist sympathizer. On the contrary, Rauf has been a hired propaganda agent of Washington’s “war on terror” for years. He was first brought onto the State Department’s payroll by the Bush administration as a “goodwill ambassador” to the Muslim world, and has continued to work in that capacity under the Obama administration. His 2005 book, What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America, lays out his vision of a pro-American Islam that openly embraces imperialism. In the book Rauf even reproduces a religious ruling by prominent Muslim clerics permitting Muslim members of the U.S. military to participate in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. (Rauf has also declared himself to be “a supporter of the state of Israel.”)
The campaign against the Cordoba House/Park 51 project has mostly been driven by forces closely linked to the right-wing Tea Party movement, with its undercurrent of wild lies that President Barack Obama is neither an American nor a Christian. Countless right-wing ideologues argue that Obama is really a Kenyan-born non-U.S. citizen and a secret Muslim. In this spirit, the leaders of the anti-Muslim movement hope to mobilize nationalist and racist voters for the upcoming mid-term elections, to the benefit of Republican candidates.
But the fact that the immediate impetus for the current anti-Muslim campaign in the U.S. has come from pro-Republican forces does not mean that Obama and his Democratic administration are friends of Muslims. From Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond to Pakistan and Yemen, Obama has expanded the murderous wars of imperialist conquest that he inherited from Bush. He has continued to arm and fund Israel in its bloody oppression of the Palestinians. And he has hypocritically joined the Zionists in threatening Iran with war should it dare move toward developing nuclear weapons – weapons the U.S. and Israel both possess in abundance.
Contrary to Tea Party and Republican delusions that he is some kind of socialist, Obama has proven to be the supporter of capitalism that he has always said he is, and a loyal servant of the U.S. capitalist ruling class in particular. He backed the bailout of Wall Street that began under Bush while doing little to help the working class keep its head above the rising flood waters of unemployment. Similarly, Obama’s war on Muslims abroad, like Bush’s before him, is driven not by any Christian hostility to Islam but rather by U.S. capitalism’s need to dominate the oil-rich Middle East and quell mass struggles there and around the world.
As the U.S. economy slides further toward another Great Depression, more and more working people are realizing that the “American Dream” is dead; the promise that through hard work each generation could live better than the last is being replaced by a nightmare of rising unemployment, home foreclosures and poverty. Confronted by this reality, working-class people are both fearful and angry. But the leaders of the trade unions and community groups refuse to organize a massive struggle of protests and strikes against the capitalists’ efforts to make workers pay for the economic crisis. And those same leaders instead support the Democratic Party which enforces the interests of the capitalists over the workers. This leaves the working class largely unaware of its potential power to fight the capitalist attacks, if it was united in struggle. As long as workers are betrayed in these ways, xenophobic appeals to national pride and to campaigns against “foreigners” will be able to maximize their appeal, particularly among the ranks of white workers.
In addition to the terrorizing of Muslims, we have seen a wave of anti-immigrant hysteria, highlighted by the racial profiling law in Arizona, SB 1070, that targets Mexicans and American citizens of Latin-American descent. Confronted by the danger of angry masses rightly blaming them for the economic crisis, the capitalists welcome the scapegoating of other people, even if some of them do not favor the crudity of the current right-wing campaign, including SB 1070. The continued slide into economic crisis and the rising desperation and anger of the masses will push the pro-capitalist forces to find more scapegoats at whom masses can vent their frustrations.
Two years ago, the election of Barack Obama gave Black people and others reason to think that their status as oppressed pariahs in this country was coming to an end. On the contrary, Obama’s policy of favoring capitalist interests in this economic crisis means that he is presiding over a sharp decline in living standards of Black people, as well as Latinos and others. Those attacks encourage the growth of a racist movement that will inevitably come after Black people as well.
As disgusting as the right-wing leaders are, equally shameful are the liberal politicians who can’t bring themselves to forthrightly stand up against the racist and national chauvinist crusade. From the president, the governor of New York and the majority leader of the U.S. Senate down to various local Democrats, the liberals allow that religious freedom means that Muslims have the “right” to build their Center near “Ground Zero,” but that political sensitivities means they are committing an offense by doing so.
It is no wonder that the Democrats capitulate to the right. They have been in power in Washington for almost two years and have done next to nothing to rescue tens of millions of working-class people from unemployment and looming poverty – at the same time that they have favored and curried favor from Wall Street. And let us not forget that the bulk of the Democratic politicians joined the Republicans in ramming through the Patriot Act that legalized much of the persecution of Muslims in the past decade. Under Democratic leadership, key sections of the Act were renewed earlier this year.
All the capitalist politicians – both those pushing the anti-Muslim campaign and those remaining silent or equivocating over it – are answering the call of their one true god: capitalist profiteering. We Marxists have always pointed out that religious chauvinism, racism and the scapegoating of foreigners have been cornerstones of imperialist American ideology. The capitalists must keep the working class divided in order to deflect collective resistance against exploitation, and racism is the most effective tool for doing that.
The biggest obstacle standing in the way of a fightback against racism, chauvinism and capitalism’s economic attacks are the leaders of the trade unions and other working-class and mass organizations, who refuse to break their intimate ties to the Democrats. Democrats often pretend to be friends of workers as well as Blacks, Latinos and other oppressed people, but at its core the Democratic Party is dedicated above all else to preserving the capitalist system. The approach of the November 2010 midterm elections has exposed their true nature. Their shameful capitulation to the anti-Muslim poison shows that right at the moment when racism and chauvinism are at their worst and the need for defense is greatest, the Democrats will abandon the people under attack.
We note that in defending the Islamic Center against its attackers we are not defending Islam or any other religion as such. As Marxists, we believe that commonly held religious beliefs in the supernatural are a symptom of the alienating experience of life in this class-divided society. Religion can give a distorted expression of humanity’s striving for a harmonious life free from injustice, and it can offer some illusory comfort and consolation to the oppressed. But it is also a pacifying and confusing brake on the development of working-class consciousness of how the material and political world operates. The communist method is to work over time to undermine the ideological power of religions and the hierarchies that mislead the masses – by striving to eliminate the oppressive conditions under which religion thrives. Defending the rights of religious minorities against their oppressors is an elementary task for those who wish to create a new socialist world free of oppression.
As the Cold War was ending, the U.S. needed a new foreign enemy – both to keep its allies bound to the dominant imperialist power and to raise fears within the working class to prevent class-wide struggles from breaking out especially as the economy worsened. That enemy was designated as terrorism, well before the events of 2001. Left-wing guerrillas in Latin America have been so designated, and Ronald Reagan’s bombing of Libya in 1986 was allegedly aimed at “Islamic terrorism.”
However, the surge in Islamophobia at home is a problem for American foreign policy, since it has deepened hatred for the U.S. in countries where Islam is predominant. The U.S. desperately needs Muslim collaborators to staff and support the governments in the countries it occupies, Iraq and Afghanistan – but the anti-Muslim attacks here only make these types even less acceptable to their countrymen. This comes on top of the U.S.’s brutal treatment of Muslim populations abroad – including support for Israel’s suppression of the Palestinians.
The ugly truth is that the imperialist U.S. government is the world’s biggest terrorist. The entire American capitalist ruling class, including its Democrat and Republican politicians alike, bears responsibility for these massive crimes against humanity. U.S. imperialism is the greatest mortal enemy of the workers and oppressed peoples of the world, and today President Obama is its leader. The main purpose of electing him, from the ruling class point of view, was to clean up America’s image in the eyes of the world while continuing to pursue imperialist aims. Yet in the most fundamental ways Obama has maintained the murderous military policy adopted by President Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The LRP described the American ruling class reaction to 9/11 immediately after it happened:
American workers are justifiably and intensely angry over the murder of their innocent brothers and sisters. Clearly those immediately responsible for the attacks are the terrorists themselves. But George W. Bush and the rest of the scum who rule America are angry for a different reason. Somebody has humiliated them; their place as the world’s most powerful and seemingly invincible terrorist has been challenged! New York has received a taste of what the people of Baghdad, Belgrade and elsewhere have suffered on a far greater scale at the hands of the U.S. military. Soon, Bush & Co. intimate, the masses abroad will receive a bloody response which will dwarf past atrocities and reestablish who has the only “God-given right” to engage in mass murder on this planet. Terror does rule the world, and Bush wants to make it clear who is going to exercise it. (“Behind the Terror Attacks Stands Bloody U.S. Imperialism”, LRP/COFI statement, September 13, 2001)
It is understandable that many workers, youth, and activists who want to build struggles against racism, against imperialist war, and against all the horrors of capitalism are discouraged by the present political situation. Many believed the historic election of a Black president would change things for the better, but instead in many ways things have gotten worse. Workers’ living standards continue to deteriorate. One imperialist military occupation is falsely declared to be over, while another one is escalated to new levels of atrocity. And the racists seem to be gaining more political ground than their opponents.
No one can promise the political situation will change quickly, but we do have a message of hope to offer. Revolutionary Marxism strives to make a sober analysis of reality, but at the same time we have reason for an optimistic outlook about the prospects for struggle ahead. Tea Party types are currently making the most fuss on the American political scene. But there are many workers, especially among Blacks and Latinos, who are outraged by their bigoted campaigns. And among large sections of the working population there is deep disquiet about how the capitalist system works and even about the system itself. The U.S.’s ongoing wars in the Middle East are increasingly unpopular at home for many reasons. The potential for serious struggle exists.
Being part of the struggle is vital, but that alone is not enough. All struggles require leadership, and a struggle as massive as the fight against U.S. imperialism and the entire capitalist system will require especially effective leadership to be successful. We in the League for the Revolutionary Party are dedicated to building that leadership – as Trotsky put it, “the world party of socialist revolution.” As we state in our Political Resolution, as Marxists we believe “that the independence of the working class is a prime necessity for proletarian class consciousness; that the party of revolution is the party of the proletariat itself and is composed of its most advanced, conscious members; that the vanguard party must be international and interracial, internationalist and interracialist, and is the absolutely indispensable element in each country if the socialist revolution is to triumph.” We urge all workers around the world dedicated to the struggle against capitalism and its horrors to join us in building this leadership!