Devil’s Game: How the United States helped unleash fundamentalist Islam
Robert Dreyfuss
Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, November 2005
Hardcover, 400 pp., $27.50

President Bush has just repeated his foggy-brained assertion that somehow al-Qaida and “communism” are the same. Robert Dreyfuss, who writes for Mother Jones and The Nation, has now produced a book which shows that, in fact, Western governments had a significant hand in creating and supporting Islamist extremism, precisely to repress communism and other secular left-wing movements.

The author takes us back to the end of the 19th century, when trends ancestral to modern Muslim fundamentalism first arose. From early times, British and then U.S. imperialism saw Islamist extremism as a helpful force for suppressing secular nationalism and Marxism. (Dreyfuss is careful to make a distinction between Islam as a religion, even in its more conservative forms, and sometimes violent political and fundamentalist “Islamism,” which he sees as an aberration).

British (and subsequently U.S.) imperialism had no problem in allying itself with the house of Saud in Arabia with its fanatical Wahhabist bulwark. In the Saudi-Wahhabist takeover of Arabia, tens of thousands of non-Wahhabi Muslims were massacred. This may have bothered a few British imperial paladins, but not many, for they had spotted the oil.

The British allied with other retrograde forces in the Middle East, such as the Nazi-praising Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was put into his position by the British and with whom they collaborated in spite of his having supported Hitler fascism during the war. And they had no problems with the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood of Hassan Al-Banna in Egypt and beyond, for the Brotherhood served as a force to attack and suppress communism and Nasserite nationalism.

Israel used the same tactics of helping to foment backward Islamist movements to undercut the PLO and the communists in Palestine. The organization that resulted from this Mossad and Shin Bet tutelage is, of course, Hamas. Hamas and Sharon are perfect foils for each other, with the last atrocity of one as the pretext for the next atrocity of the other.

Dreyfuss also shows how major Western banking interests, as well as wealthy landowning and merchant sectors in the Muslim countries, found in Islamist extremism a useful ideological and organizing tool to promote their own interests.

In Iran, British and U.S. imperialism helped finance Shiite fundamentalism, which played a role in the overthrow of the secular liberal Prime Minister Mossadegh and the restoration of the Shah in 1953. And even when the Khomeini regime showed its backward and repressive nature, the U.S. security establishment maintained relationships with it just out of public view, in part through the illegal Iran-Contra setup.

Among services which the U.S. rendered to the Khomeini regime was the hand-over of lists of leading members of the communist-led Tudeh party of Iran, who were then massacred. These things went on while the U.S. and Iranian governments vociferously accused each other of Satanic tendencies. Maybe they were both right.

In 1979, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, conceived of the idea of fomenting an Islamist insurgency in Afghanistan with the goal of drawing the USSR into an unwinnable conflict.

This was a highly “successful” piece of dirty work, involving Pakistani intelligence, Saudi and U.S. money, and a collection of some of the most brutal thugs gathered under the banner of religion since the Christian Crusades. That this led to phenomena like the Taliban and al-Qaida did not originally bother imperialist leaders, as somebody else’s ox was being gored. Brzezinski was bragging about the success of this bloodthirsty strategy practically until the moment when the airliners hit the twin towers.

This is a long and shocking story, told well in this book. Indeed, wherever the capitalist system finds itself threatened, its rulers have not shrunk from conjuring into existence, and utilizing to the hilt, forces of extreme reactionary violence, whether fascists in Europe, death squads in Latin America or violent Islamists in Asia and the Middle East.

That Osama bin Laden and some others have turned against their original imperialist masters should not confuse us as to the game that is really being played. The mere existence of groups like al-Qaida is of inestimable ideological value to Bush and Blair.

Today imperialism finds itself in something of a dilemma: Its credibility requires that it promote democracy and “free elections” — rhetorically. However, having helped to crush the secular left in places like Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other places, it faces the prospect of more deeply entrenched, right-wing Islamist governments there.

What to do? My guess is that contacts are probably already in place to “find a working relationship, in spite of our differences,” with whomever comes out on top.