The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Religious fundamentalism:
An enemy of the laboring classes

Dec 3, 2001

We do not need the example of the Taliban to show us the danger that religious fundamentalism represents for the population of the poor countries. Indeed, in a number of these countries, the life of the entire population is shaped day in and day out by the terrorist bigotry of religious thugs – even when they are not in power.

In Pakistan, fundamentalist groups have existed for a long time. But it is only over the past two decades that they have began to develop on a real scale, thanks to their generous funding by the U.S. government, military and secret services, the increasingly catastrophic economic situation which impoverishes the vast majority of the population and the generalized corruption of the political system.

Today, the religious parties occupy the forefront of the political scene in Pakistan. Not only do they have deep roots in the Pakistani military and ISI (the Pakistani secret service); they also provide the avenue through which the population vents its anger against the murder of their ethnic brothers in Afghanistan by the U.S. military, its outrage at the spectacle of the richest country in the world attacking one of the poorest. These parties are the only ones to openly oppose General Musharraf’s support for the U.S. intervention.

And yet these religious parties are the same parties which burn down voluntary schools for girls and women, instruct their members to molest women who are “immodestly” dressed and attack clinics which employ women doctors. They call for dismemberment of human beings along with capital punishment. These parties are not just backward-looking and hysterical, they are deadly enemies of the poor!

It is not just in Pakistan or Afghanistan that fundamentalism has developed over the past period. Today there are significant fundamentalist movements from all kinds of religions, in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Iran, of course, Algeria and Morocco, but also Nigeria and South Africa, to name only a few examples. These movements may have different social roots and developments. But they all have three things in common: they reflect in a certain sense the reactionary shift which has taken place in society over the past period; they feed on the despair of populations which are trapped between repressive regimes, imperialist oppression and abject poverty, without any perspective of a better future; and they have been propped up, at some point in their development, by imperialism or its local agents.

It was not by mistake that the CIA chose to finance fundamentalist guerillas against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1978, nor later help establish the Taliban in power, using Osama bin Laden as a conduit.

Fundamentalist religious groups are useful weapons for the imperialist powers – they deprive the poor of their ability to understand and put into question the social organization of society and its exploitative nature and, above all, of their ability to change it.

Of course, weapons sometimes do explode in the hands of people who handle them. This is what happened with Osama bin Laden. The victims of the World Trade Center may have died as a result of a conspiracy conceived by bin Laden’s network, but it was U.S. leaders who created the conditions for this network’s emergence, as part of power games they played, not only in Afghanistan, but throughout the Middle East.

It is vital for the oppressed classes that religious fundamentalism be exposed and opposed. But no one should believe that what the U.S. is doing today in hunting for bin Laden or bombing the Taliban militias will in any way accomplish that.

If the poor masses of the Third World are to escape from the trap of fundamentalism, they have to be offered another perspective which will come only from people who propose collective action by the working masses to end the domination of capital over the economy and of imperialism over the planet.