(written on April, 2013.This artilce got published in EPW , January,4, 2014 issue. )
Many left critics have underlined the mistakes of sections of the left in their understanding of political Islam both in India and abroad. These mistakes are considered as the legacy of the Lenin’s idea of accommodating political Islam in the anti-imperialist programme in the early 1920s. While judging the Lenin’s strategy, it seems that they have taken an a-historical position, and viewed the role of Islamic movement only from the ideological premise without considering the transformative character of any archaic ideology prevailing within the masses and being advocated by their proponents under circumstantial pressure built within diverse time-space continums and under the pressure of the class-interest and aspiration of the people whom the movement intends to grasp. The ideology of the political Islam is based on the assumption made implicitly or explicitly that Muslim societies form a extra-territorial and trans-historical unit which may be described by features transcending space, time and circumstances, features that are at once derived from, and foreclosed by, Muslim scriptures and the early historical experience of Muslims and its incapacity to think of political arrangement in terms of civic pluralism, and to rest forever content with an arrangement of public affairs ruled by a medieval legal system. This ideological thinking is befitting with the imperialist desire to use Islam for a world order that serves the interest of the imperialists. But it is no denying the fact that the Muslim community from national as well as global perspectives is an oppressed community under an imperialistic and hegemonic world order and as such the forces with the reactionary ideological moorings who are spearheading the resistance movement always have two polar opposite tendencies - one to transform itself to side with the progressive classes and other anti-imperialist forces, and the other to resolve the conflict of ideology and politics to take direct refuge in the imperialist camp. The policy framework of the left should take these two opposing tendencies into cognisance.
Islamic universalism in India was a by-product of European imperialist policies and predated Jamaluddin al-Afghani’s efforts to rally Muslims behind the Ottoman bid for the caliphate. Afghani’s posthumous reputation as the intellectual progenitor of Islamic universalist politics in India was not unearned. He had preached Hindu-Muslim unity and waxed eloquent on the virtues of territorial nationalism. There were always historical links between the ideologues of radical Islam based on the interpretation of Jihad and anti-colonial nationalism in south Asia and the Middle East. While sharing distaste for Western imperialism, they avoid a rigid separation between worldly and religious point of view. The Jihad as anti-colonial nationalism transforms itself into Jihad as terrorism in the face of the weakening of the people’s resistance against the imperialist and national-hegemonic subversion. During the period of rising tide of the mass-activity of anti-colonial nationalism, Jihadi Islam also engaged in a vibrant dialogue with Ijtihad (independent reasoning). That’s why Iqbal applauded the Turks for vesting responsibility for collective Ijtihad in an elected assembly. The republican form of government was not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but had also become a necessity in view of the new forces that were set free in the world of Islam. There is no denying that all variants of Jihadi Islam can be used by the state for its narrow interest and even one variant of Islam with transcendental religious doctrine can also be pitted against another as the military regime of General Ayub Khan (1958-68) tried to pit the Tablighi Jaamat against the Jamati-i-Islami in west Pakistan and used Jamat-i-Islami in East Pakistan. In the anti-colonial struggle in India, the Khilafat movement along with the Gandhi’s Jana-Satyagraha had unleashed large-scale militant peasant movement against the British colonialists and this united Hindu-Muslim struggle might have led the movement to a different dimension of freedom struggle for united India, had Gandhiji not terminated his programme of Satyagraha at a crucial juncture. Gandhi’s desire to fuse his campaign for non-cooperation with the Khilafat Movement launched by Indian Muslims in 1919 to prevent the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire and ‘preserve intact the spiritual and temporal authority of the Ottoman Sultan as the ‘Caliph of Islam’ – was an organisational success in Gorakhpur. In the winter of 1921-22 the Khilafat and Congress Volunteer Organisations were merged into a composite National Volunteer Corps. After the incident of Chauri Chaura and in the backdrop of rising peasant militancy emerged from Hindu--Muslim unity, Gandhiji suspended the satyagraha (mass civil disobedience) movement and thus paved the way for disunity and left the people branded with violence to endure all manner of sufferings for years to come.
That these regions became so vulnerable can be explained by the fact that the relation between Crown Prince Amanullah of Afghanistan and Britain were not at all amicable, and Russia’s Central Asian possessions had already become a bone of contention in the Anglo-Russian relations in the pre-revolutionary period, notwithstanding the fact that Russia and Britain were allies in the War. Thus, immediately after revolution Abdul Jabbar Khairy and Abdul Sattar Khaity, two Pan-Islamists, had travelled to Russia in November 1918, under pseudonyms Professor Ahmed Harris and Professor Ahmed Hadi respectively. This was followed by the historic meeting between an Indian delegation comprising, among others, Raja Mahendra Pratap and Moulana Barakatullah, and Lenin on 7 March, 1918.
Despite the pan-Islamic faith of Barkatullah, he was a nationalist, and Lenin himself attached great importance to a united nationalist front for the colonies. Lenin’s imperialism followed by Colonial Theses, was adopted at the Second Congress of Comintern in 1920. Lenin’s formulation that Commintern was required to extend support to nationalist movement in the colonial countries was rejected by M. N. Roy, a position very similar to the position of Trotsky who believed in the proletarian revolution in the colony like India. In consonance with this theoretical position IRA (Indian revolutionary association) was formed with Lenin’s support and despite its strong inclination towards Pan-Islamism, Lenin had no difficulty in considering the IRA as a possible ally while formulating the strategy of anti-imperialist struggle. The rest of the history of anti-colonialist struggle did not in any way underline the Lenin’s strategic mistake in formulating a broad anti-imperialist united front.
So to relate the failure of Lenin’s strategy in one particular case with his stand on Islamic movement and to advocate a uniform strategic line denouncing the movement of the radical Islam instead of taking a stand through a concrete class-analysis of the concrete situation is guided by a deterministic approach.
Jihad against imperialism
A multilayered concept like Jihad is best understood with reference to historical evolution of the idea in response to the shifting requirements of the Muslim community. So, Jihad in the postcolonial era has been more effective instrument of political opposition to the secular modernity promoted by Muslim nation-states than of resistance to Western domination. The present phase of capitalist neo-liberalism has further eroded the content of resistance of the political Islam against the oppressor. Evidently, only the new socialist project can transcend the capitalist neo-liberalism which has the capacity to absorb not only all variants of Jihadi Pan-Islamist resistance against imperialist oppression, but also certain kinds of modernists’ movements. But this does not mean that the left should not distinguish between the Pan-Islamist forces promoted and patronised by the imperialists and the Pan-Islamist mass resistance against direct imperialist onslaught.
Going a step further, these left ideologues lament that the left has not strived much to impel the Indian state to take measure to stop the propagation of fascist ideology under the garb of religious freedom. They even envisages that the left should engage themselves in a pitched battle on the street with the Islamic forces to ensure the freedom of litterateurs like Taslima Nasrin and Salman Rushdie. This one-dimensional approach to define the democracy and the limits of tolerance in democracy do not take two different but interdependent contradictions prevailing in the here and now into cognisance. The people cannot live without their past, but they always face a civilisational pull of progress for not to live within it, and people identify themselves with the separate cause of the oppressor and the oppressed community in a developing country like India and also at the same time likes to engage themselves in the on-going struggle for eradication of this division of inequality for a common cause. While advocating the British cultural tendency to conceive of democracy instrumentally, one should remember that at one level, modern British history may be a history of progressive democratisation, but at another it is also a history of expanding state authority and coercion. Instead of imposing a strict rule of behavioural democracy, we should rely more on the internal dynamics of contending opinions operating within the garb of community rights and freedom and make a space for the internal debates to flourish through democratic empowerment. If the left does not recognise this internal dynamics and imposes the behavioural norms decided by the left groups and the state, then what will happen to the Lenin’s distinction between the role of the communists from oppressed community and from oppressor community?
Notes : (1) Partisan of Allah : Jihad in South Asia – Ayesha Jalal (2) Islam in Globalised World – Mushirul Hussein, (3) Commintern and the destiny of Communism in India – Sobhanlal Dutta Gupta (4) Event, Metaphor, Memory : Chauri Chaura 1922-1992, Shahid Amin.