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LEFT NO LONGER ANTI-US
by Amir Taheri
Arab News
March 31, 2007

While elements of the left in the US and Europe are calling on Western democracies to abandon Afghanistan and Iraq to Taleban and Al-Qaeda, and surrender to the Khomeinists in Iran, new alliances are emerging against the jihadists in the region.

What is interesting is that in much of the Middle East, most notably Afghanistan and Iraq, the left is part of these new alliances.

In Iraq, the two Communist parties, along with the Social Democrats and other center-left groups, supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and continue to play a significant role in shaping the new pluralist system.

In Lebanon, Walid Jumblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) is at the heart of the democratic movement against the Islamic republic's attempt to dominate the country through Hezbollah. The Lebanese democratic movement includes other parties of the left, notably the Socialist Salvation Movement (Inqadh) and the Movement of the Democratic Left (MDL).

In Iran, virtually the whole of the left rejects President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's anti-Americanism, and calls for normalization with the United States. The recently created independent trade union movement is emerging as a vocal challenger to Khomeinism.

However, perhaps the most interesting new anti-jihadist alliance is taking shape in Afghanistan.

After months of discussions the leaders of several parties that had fought each other for two decades have come together to set up a new alliance called Popular Front (Jibheh Melli).

One major figure in the group is Burhaneddin Rabbani, an Islamic scholar who served as Afghanistan's president after the Communist regime's collapse in 1992. As founder and leader of Jami'at Islami (Islamic Society), Rabbani was one of the first Afghan leaders who started the resistance movement against Soviet occupation.

And, yet, Rabbani has agreed to enter the Popular Front along with leaders of Afghanistan's dissolved Communist Party.

Both rival wings of the Communist Party will be present in the new front. One wing, known as Parcham (The Banner) had always been pro-Soviet while the other, known as Shoeleh-Javid (Eternal Flame), had Maoist sentiments.

The new front will also include center-left figures such as Nuralhaq Olumi and Muhammad Gulabzvi along with anti-Soviet Mujahedeen commanders such as Gen. Muhammad Qassim Fahim, a former defense minister.

Before the US-led intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2002 and 2003, much of the left in the Middle East shared the views of its American and European counterparts with regard to the United States.

"We looked to the left in the West and imitated it," says Awad Nasir, one of Iraq's best-known poets and a lifelong Communist. "We heard from the US and Western Europe that being left meant being anti-American. So we were anti-American. And then we saw Americans coming from the other side of the world to save us from Saddam Hussein, something that our leftist friends and the Soviet Union would never contemplate."

Mustafa Kazemi, spokesman for the new Afghan front expresses similar sentiments. "Our nation is still facing the menace of obscurantism and terror from Taleban and Al-Qaeda," he says. "Thus, we are surprised when elements of the left in the US and Europe campaign for withdrawal so that our new democracy is left defenseless against its enemies."

For his part, Jumblatt, the Lebanese leader, says he realized that his lifelong anti-Americanism had been misplaced when he saw "long lines of people, waiting to vote in Iraq, in the first free election in an Arab country."

Samir Qassir, the Lebanese center-left leader, often spoke of anti-Americanism as "the last refuge of the scoundrel" in the Middle East.

"Politics is always a question of choice," Qassir said in one of the articles before he was killed in a car bomb in Beirut on June 2, 2005. "Here in the Middle East we face a choice between democracy and alliance with the US on one hand and surrender to religious fanatics and terrorists on the other."

Iraq's parties of the left were shocked when the new Socialist government in Spain decided to withdraw from the US-led coalition in 2004.

"We had hoped that with a party of the left in power in Madrid we would get more support against the Islamofascists not a withdrawal," says Aziz Al-Haj, the veteran Iraqi Communist leader.

Tareq Al-Hashemi, vice president of Iraq, has also gambled his impeccable progressive record on the success of the pluralist experiment in his country.

"Our enemy is Al-Qaeda, not the United Sates," he says.

Skimming through Middle Eastern press these days could produce unexpected results. It is not rare to see a virulently anti-American article by an American or Western European leftist appearing on the same page of a newspaper alongside a pro-American article from an Arab, Iranian or Afghan progressive figure.

In Iran, for example, Hussein Shariatmadari, the ultra Islamist editor of the daily newspaper Kayhan and a theoretician of the extreme right, often admiringly cites such American leftist figures as Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Jane Fonda.

Having all but abandoned its traditional opposition to capitalism and the bourgeois democratic system, much of the Western left is forced to cling to anti-Americanism as its backbone.

To be sure, anti-Americanism is not the ailment of the Western left alone. Extreme right parties in both the United States and Europe are also vehemently anti-American. Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French neo fascist National Front, is as opposed to the new democratic Iraq as Spain's Socialist Premier Jose Luis Zapatero.

In the Middle East, however, a good part of the left, while not especially enamored of the United States, sees it as a powerful ally against reactionary Islamist and totalitarian pan-Arab movements.

"Anti-Americanism is a luxury we cannot afford in the Middle East," says Adnan Hussein, a leftist Iraq writer recently picked by the Financial Times as one of the 50 most influential columnists in the world. "Blinded by anti-Americanism, the left in the West ends up on the same side as religious fascists and despots."

Reza Khosravi, a veteran of Iran's Communist movement, cites history as justification for the left's rejection of "banal anti-Americanism."

"During World War II all movements of the left supported an alliance with the Western democracies led by the United States because the common enemy was Fascism," he says. "Today, we are in a similar position. Progressive forces in the Middle East are threatened by an Islamist version of Fascism. An alliance with Western democracies is not only desirable but necessary."

George W. Bush, the bete-noire of liberals and leftists in the West, might be surprised to learn that he has a better image among liberals, leftists, secularists, and even moderate Islamists in the Middle East. While Chomsky and Moore see the US as "an evil power", many leftists in the Middle East see it as a force for good that ended the tyranny of the Taleban in Afghanistan, dismantled the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and forced the Syrians out of Lebanon after 30 years of occupation.

"In our region, the US has become a force for the good," says Jumblatt who recently met President Bush at the White House for a surprise meeting.

 

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