Our own bin Ladens

While Al Qa'eda and Hamas have featured prominently in the western media, not much is written about western fundamentalists. Liz Hoskings seeks to redress the balance

In the context of George W Bush's 'war on terror' and the Palestinian conflict, there has been much talk on the left of islamic fundamentalism and criticism of its reactionary role in the Middle East. While such criticism is healthy, I feel it is necessary to look also at religion in the west - and our own fundamentalists of every shade, who are no less reactionary than bin Laden. Many people on the left tend to focus their anger on capitalist corporations and governments. They tend to steer clear of religion for fear of offending people who cling on to such beliefs. The Socialist Workers Party is an example with its tailing of islamic fundamentalism. It should be the job of socialists to tell people the truth, even if it may be painful at times for them. Organised religion - in the west, christianity - although its observance may be at an all-time low, is still a powerful tool used by the ruling classes. In fact, organised religion in itself has become a capitalist business. A serious matter also is the fact that we now have so many fringe sects that have had a damaging effect on individuals. Religion often interferes in politics in opposition to forces that challenge its dogma, but rarely does it question the status quo. Religion and politics most often go hand in hand. The Church of England, for instance, is the biggest landowner in Britain today, regardless of the fact that its head is the queen. Before the Russian Revolution, the Russian orthodox church constantly preached loyalty and obedience to the tsar, and never did it question his brutal regime and the oppression that went with it. As the Russian church crowned the tsar, so does the Church of England crown British monarchs. And, of course, Anglican bishops have seats in the archaic House of Lords. After the 1917 revolution, the Vatican was tireless in its anti-Soviet rhetoric. Communism, as such, was evil because it was 'against god and his church'. Even before the October revolution, the church openly campaigned against the Kerensky government and advocated the restoration of the tsar. Eugenio Pucelli - or Pius XII, as he was officially known - was a vicious anti-semite and anti-communist. He signed a contract with Mussolini and Hitler shortly before World War II. Part of the deal was that Mussolini could secrete gold for the Nazis in the Vatican bank. Along with this went the agreement that Hitler could carry out his genocide of the jews and the church of Rome would not speak out. Pucelli himself wrote some nasty slander against the jewish race in general. Russian jews, according to Pucelli and his followers, were the devil incarnate. Much was written about jews in Germany and their 'immorality'. Pucelli believed that Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were "sent by god to destroy the beast that was Russia". Pucelli was a charismatic leader, and was hailed as a peacekeeper by every western government after the war. Due to the secrecy in the Vatican, even the liberal Manchester Guardian praised him as such. Apologists for Pucelli claim that he did speak up against the holocaust after it had happened, but that is no consolation for the six million jews (along with other minorities and leftists) who perished in Hitler's death camps. There has recently been much tension within the Roman church due to the faction within it calling for the canonisation of Pucelli. The current pope, Karol Wotjla, gave the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet a blessing for 'living a good family life', and mentioned nothing of the atrocities committed against opponents of Pinochet's brutal regime. Despite his romantic talk about love for the poor and sympathy for exploited workers, it is clear where his heart lies - with the right. One only has to hear his talk about abortion and birth control to realise this. He was also a strong supporter of the Polish counterrevolutionary union, Solidarnosc, which accepted money from both the CIA and the Vatican. There has been debate within the left about the trade union authenticity of Solidarnosc, partly due to the dubious sources it accepted money from and also because its programme was explicitly in favour of capitalist restoration. It began as an organic movement of the working class, but was quickly hijacked by reactionary forces, the Vatican being one of them. Since the collapse of Stalinism the working class in Poland have lost all faith in Walesa, the leader of Solidarnosc, as he has since proved his rightwing credentials. The Vatican has often interfered in Italian politics. It started a campaign to ban abortion, but the campaign failed after a public outcry. Due to its sexual prudery, it also attempted to ban topless sunbathing on Italian beaches. Along with this goes its dealings with the sinister rightwing Opus Dei lodge and the mafia, who, it has been speculated, were involved in the assassination of John Paul I, a liberal pontiff who asked to see the books of the Vatican bank. Religious observance in Italy is currently at an all-time low. The Republic of Ireland has the highest level of church-going in the whole of Europe. Abortion is illegal in Ireland, and there have been many pro-abortion protests. The Irish state does not deny its clerical nature. The catholic church in England also supports the misogynist Spuc organisation that seeks to make abortion illegal in England. It has also been one of the most rampant opponents of sex education in schools and the provision of contraception to under-16s. On one occasion it led an anti-contraceptive demo outside a Boots chemist. The protest was thwarted by a counter-demo led by the SWP. In the US, protestantism is the majority religion, with catholicism a close second. Fundamentalist protestantism is rife in the US, with its TV channels and bible-bashing missionaries, who are no doubt a tool of US imperialism. The southern Baptists send out more missionaries than any other American church. They are based in the 'bible belt' of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. Needless to say, they are pro-free market and are nationalistic not only about the United States, but also the states of the former confederacy of the south. They make a fortune from preying on vulnerable people, and many gullible Americans often fall for their propaganda. Their message is in a sense racist. They are paranoid anti-catholics and some truly believe the Roman pontiff to be the antichrist. Others believe that the antichrist will be a European politician of Roman descent. Hence, this is a local form of Pucelli's philosophy. It is Europe, and not Russia any more, that will be "the beast". One could come to the conclusion that this type of thought exposes the rivalry between US and European imperialism. Fanatical American nationalists may well use religion in order to preserve the interests of their own empire, while finding a common scapegoat, as is always the case. A lot of this twisted thought they base on their own interpretation of the Book of Revelations. Many believe that the apocalypse will hit Rome first, as it is Rome that is to blame for all the world's problems. They certainly would not get a good reception if they went and preached that kind of rhetoric to an average Italian. It is worth mentioning the role of the religious right in the US establishment. They are notorious for attempting to ban 'unsuitable' textbooks and calling for collective worship in schools, along with demanding state-funded schools teach their wacky doctrine of creation 'science'. They fanatically oppose sex education and abortion, and some extremists have even murdered doctors who have performed terminations. Yet the religious right plays a significant part in the Bush administration, and the placing of the notorious rightwinger John Ashcroft within the government has been a cause for concern for many Americans. In his attack on welfare Bush has encouraged religious organisations to provide poor relief in order to ease the 'burden' on the state, so that Bush will have greater funds for the 'war on terror', which is, in reality, a war on the working class, minorities and oppressed nations. The fundamentalist preacher, Billy Graham, gave US troops god's blessing before they embarked on their mission in Afghanistan. However, elements within the religious right seemed to form a bizarre alliance with bin Laden in regards to the September 11 attacks. They agree that the cause of the attack was the 'secularisation' of America and women's rights. The destruction of the twin towers and the lives of those within them was indeed the expression of the wrath of god, who wished to take his vengeance on a disobedient nation - or the 'infidel', as Al Qa'eda would put it. Although segregation has been banned by the US government, in the south there remain 'black churches' and 'white churches'. Also you have the 'christian' identity movement, which openly admires Hitler, claims that jews are 'the descendants of Satan' and wishes to ethnically cleanse America not only of jews, but also of blacks and other minorities. One 'minister' even remarked that Aids is a gift from god, as it has hit Africans and gays hardest. Smaller sects have not only wrecked the lives of individuals, but have also been party to terror against the working class and the left. A notorious example is the South Korean millionaire Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church, commonly known as 'Moonies'. As well as gaining a foothold within the US establishment, Moon also collaborated with fascists, started a rightwing media monopoly in parts of Latin America, and also collaborated with secret police and rightwing death squads in the region. This was to fulfil his pledge to the White House that Latin America would be the 'graveyard of communism'. As indeed it was for many leftists. The Mormons, another fringe sect, made an alliance with the Moonies in the name of anti-communism. Tradition, Family, Property is a small pressure group within the Roman catholic church. It prides itself on being "the largest anti-communist and anti-socialist group in the world". It is openly racist, as it opposes immigration due to the fact that immigrants "strip western nations of their identity", and, as one would guess, it not only opposes birth control and abortion, but also mixed sex education. This is not to say that there are not relatively progressive strands within christianity as a whole. Liberation theology in Latin America would be one such example, but ministers of this doctrine are afraid to go too far lest they incur the wrath of Rome. One liberation priest in Sri Lanka was excommunicated from the church a few years back for offering a new interpretation of the life of Jesus and expressing doubt concerning certain church dogmas. The catholic charity Cafod is worthy of admiration. They work in the third world and help peasants with material needs without imposing christianity upon them. They take a step forward by looking into the political reasons behind poverty and oppression, especially in Latin America, thus daring to take on the state itself. Such behaviour is far more reminiscent of Jesus of Nazareth and the early christians than is the Vatican. We should also remember that many religious believers, even priests, have expressed wishes to join socialist and communist parties and have at times done so. A communist party should not prevent religious believers from joining and neither should it ridicule the sentiments of these people. While Marxism is indeed incompatible as a philosophy with religious belief, atheism cannot be forced onto people. We can only win people from religious ideas by persuasion and not by coercion, as Lenin himself expressed. Personally I find militant and dogmatic atheists just as annoying as bible-bashers in many respects! To conclude, I would call on the left not to try to echo the islamophobia of the western bourgeoisie, and remember that the main enemy is at home. While we should oppose islamic fundamentalism and express solidarity with progressive movements in the Middle East that challenge it, we should not for one moment forget our own bin Ladens. We should treat islam in the same way we would treat christianity, without ignoring its progressive and modernising elements (there are liberal strands within islam, as with christianity), while making no concessions to fundamentalism of any kind. We should not forget the ideological defeat that socialism and Marxism have suffered due to the collapse of the USSR and its satellites, and should not be surprised that sections of the working class look elsewhere. We will not win these people by simply attacking them, but by finding a way to engage with them, at the same time exposing fundamentalism - christian or islamic - as the force for reaction that it is.