Confused by western imperialism’s love-hate relationship with ‘fundamentalist Islam’? Can’t understand why Clinton, Hague and co are sending weapons to religious sectarians in Syria and dropping bombs on them in Mali? Or why Britain and the US used to really really like warlords in Afghanistan and now they really really hate them? Or why Saudi is friend and Iran is enemy?
Well… it’s all quite complex, but there is a clear thread of logic that ties it all together. The imperialist powers are more than happy to use political Islam in an appropriate context in order to destabilise countries or movements (nationalist, anti-imperialist, socialist, or all of the above) that threaten their interests. This is exactly what is happening in Libya and Syria. But it would be a major oversimplification to think that there’s a long-term unity of interests between western imperialism and political Islam. In the long term, the two have very different interests, and “there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests.”
This is illustrated pretty clearly in the recent history of Afghanistan. The mujahedeen were enthusiastically trained, armed and funded by Britain and the US (and, stupidly, China) in what was essentially a strategic and ideological war against the Soviet Union. However, once those same forces started to question US dominance over Afghan economic affairs, they very quickly became international public enemy number one. And let’s face it, it never takes that much effort to invoke the latent islamophobia which has been part of western European culture since the time of the Crusades.
Does this help us understand what’s going on in Mali and Algeria? I think so. The west is reasonably happy with the existing government in Mali, and French/British/US resource colonialism isn’t helped by an AQIM takeover (although it does provide convenient cover for establishing a long-term European military foothold in the region).
Algeria on the other hand is pretty unpopular with the west, as it continues to hold onto its anti-colonial outlook, albeit with a sizable dose of compromise. However, creating instability in Algeria is pretty dangerous given that Europe is getting increasingly dependent on Algerian gas and oil, and given that Algeria would be much tougher to defeat in war (proxy or direct) than Libya was - it has a large, modern, well-equipped army with long experience of counter-insurgency. Hence I think there is quite a lot of ambiguity and inconsistency in western policy towards Algeria right now. Still, it’s likely that the west will ramp up the pressure, and anti-imperialist forces should be ready to step up and defend the last remaining resistant state in North Africa.