Monday, 26 January 2015

Economics and the rise of extremism

The Greeks take on neo-liberalism
The day after a political earthquake in Greece might not seem the most obvious day to discuss the rise of Islamic extremism, but the two are far more closely linked than might appear obvious at first.

Let’s start, though, with the latter.

It’s a popular (and left-of-centre populist) analysis to suggest that Western foreign policy – in particular, the imperialist adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the continuing refusal of many Western nations to even politely criticise the behaviour of the state of Israel toward the Palestinian people – are the reasons for the rise of Islamic extremism.

But while they can be seen as contributory factors – they’ve certainly fanned the flames of the problem – it’s simplistic to suggest that they are the sole or even main causes.

To start with, it’s worth noting that Al-Qaeda was formed sometime between 1988-89 and had been active well before the 9/11 attacks on the US.

And it’s a generally-accepted fact that the Taliban grew out of the proxy Cold War struggle in Afghanistan between the Soviet Union and the West.

The Palestinian situation was well established by 9/11, but whether of not one believes that the invasion of Iraq in particular was an own goal in terms of handing Osama bin Laden a massive recruitment boost, it’s clear that the invasion did not begin the process.

There are a number of analyses that place the beginning of the rise of what we call Islamic fundamentalism at the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

Film footage from Nasser’s funeral in Cairo shows no mass of niqabs or even hajibs, so it’s fair to say that the use of these have grown in the years since – one visible sign of the growth of increased religious observance and of increased religious conservatism.

Fast forward to Iran in 1979, and we see religious bods taking power and benefiting from the help they received from the secular opposition – which they subsequently crushed.

Now take things forward considerably. The ‘Arab Spring’ was not triggered by issues of religion.

It began in issues of economics: ‘I don’t have a job’, ‘I have sod all pay’.

The Egyptian government reacted by raising the minimum wage.


Or perhaps not. Because Egypt had signed up to trade treaties that allowed corporates to sue the country if it did something that the said corporates didn’t like.

In this case, it was Veolia doing the legal stuff.

Now this is important: the clause in a trade treaty that Egypt had signed is incredibly similar to that being currently negotiated by the EU and the US. To be accurate, because of campaigning, that clause Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) has been ‘suspended’ in the treaty negotiation.

Do not even begin to pretend that it is ‘over’.

This is an illustration of how national governments are giving in and handing power to corporates.

How would anyone who believes in democracy want to support such things?

But let’s go back.

There is an increasing prevalence of people joining jihad from non-Muslim backgrounds and not just from Europe, but from the EU too – and from the likes of the US.

I am going to suggest that the core, key, underlying issue is not Islam ... but that the real issue is the economic philosophy that being foisted upon the majority by the minority.

‘Trickle down’ doesn’t work – it never has.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Paris or Cairo, London or Athens: the big – the really big question – is about how all of us create a world that is fairer for all of us.

Disillusion presents a wonderful opportunity for theocrats and would-be theocrats to offer something different – not least when the mainstream political discourse has apparently let them down. And the same is true of the far right.

But this is not simply a West v East situation, as Greece shows us.

Although there are other factors, the most important is an economic one.

The Greeks have chosen to use the ballot box to challenge why they should pay the price of neo-liberalism. At least some of the actions of Islamic extremists are almost certainly triggered by the same polices.

While there are particular issues historically with Greece (the scale of tax avoidance for one), the country also suffered at the hands of the politicians who were so desperate to join the euro, and the bankers – Goldman Sachs – who diddled the country's books to enable it to be able to meet the criteria for entry.

Isn't it a wonder that nobody has done or is doing jail time for this?

But then again, austerity is being foisted on countless countries, with millions suffering, while the bankers who caused the global financial crisis of 2008 remain at liberty, well off and without having to have made any form of restitution.

As big bonuses and continuing fines for wrongdoing show, banks continue to go about their business the way they did beforehand.

We understand the roots of fascism and how and what fascists take advantage of. The theocrats and the Islamic extremists are little different.

And while trying to avoid this economic context to discussing the rise of Islamic extremism is simply crass, it's easy enough to see why many in the political establishment would be reluctant to do so.

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