By Alex Callinicos
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2480

Our job is to defeat imperialism, not Isis

This article is over 8 years, 8 months old
Issue 2480

Positively the stupidest thing said about the Paris attacks came from the French president, Francois Hollande, when he denounced them as an “act of war”. Of course they were, but this war didn’t start on Friday of last week.

At the very latest it began with the Gulf War of 1990-91, the first in the present cycle of imperialist interventions in the Middle East.

This doesn’t make the shootings and bombings in Paris part of a legitimate anti-imperialist struggle.

Indiscriminate killing of civilians is wrong whether it is carried out by Isis and its sympathisers or by the US and its allies.

But it’s a mistake to see the conflict as a symmetrical one between two equal evils, as many on the left do.

Isis is a reactionary and counter-revolutionary movement. But it is a product of the destruction wreaked in Iraq by the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation and of the defeat of the Arab Spring.

The ultimate responsibility for its rise therefore lies with the Western imperialist powers and their local clients.

Labour shadow justice secretary Lord Falconer—as a cabinet minister of Tony Blair’s a supporter of the 2003 invasion—talked a lot about “defeating Isis” on last Sunday’s Andrew Marr show.

This phrase has been taken up even by the Stop the War Coalition, which mobilised so strongly against that invasion.

But “defeating Isis” is empty chatter given the present situation in Syria and Iraq, where it has its strongholds.

Patrick Cockburn wrote recently in the London Review of Books, “A couple of years ago in Baghdad an Iraqi politician told me that ‘the problem in Iraq is that all parties are both too strong and too weak: too strong to be defeated, but too weak to win.’

“The same applies today in Syria. Even if one combatant suffers a temporary defeat, its foreign supporters will prop it up: the ailing non-IS part of the Syrian opposition was rescued by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in 2014 and this year Assad is being saved by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”


The same is true even of the imperialist powers—the US and Russia—now dabbling in Syria. After their defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan respectively, neither wants to commit ground troops on a significant scale. So they just lob bombs and missiles into Syria. The futility of these measures was summed up the day of the Paris attacks.

David Cameron held a special press briefing outside

10 Downing Street to preen over Britain’s role in the claimed drone killing of Mohammed Emwazi.

Within hours we had concrete proof that such “acts of self defence” offer citizens in the West absolutely no protection.

Isis has built up a formidable fighting machine based on a mixture of organised plunder and ideological zeal. It channels in a distorted way the anger and hatred provoked by Western intervention.

Lydia Wilson writing in The Nation magazine interviewed captured Isis fighters in Kirkuk, in Iraq. She describes them as “children of the occupation”.

“They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, Isis is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe.”

Only a revival of the Arab revolutions can generate the social force strong enough to take Isis on—above all by offering a better way of resisting imperialist domination and overthrowing the local ruling classes.

Cameron made the connections crystal clear when he stood outside Downing Street a week or so before the Paris killings to greet president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the butcher of the Egyptian Revolution.

Vowing to respond to the Paris attacks with “pitiless war”—as Hollande did—simply means that the vicious cycle of intervention and atrocity will continue, with escalating deaths and suffering in both the Middle East and the imperialist centres.

Here in the West, we can’t “defeat Isis”. But we can help break the cycle by building mass movements that put an end to our rulers’ imperialist bullying.

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance