Alt Left: Right and Left in Islamic and Catholic Societies

If you’re not careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and cheering the people doing the oppressing.

Malcolm X

This is precisely the function of the media in a capitalist society. The Chinese media is not like this because, duh, China is not a capitalist country! Nor is the Iranian media because Iran is not a capitalist country. In fact, Iran is almost something like “Islamic Communism.” I’m not wild about Ayatollah Khomeini, but he did have a strong social justice streak.

The Revolution was populist, pro-independence, and anti-imperialist. Iran is almost based on a Muslim version of Liberation Theology or “the preferential option of the poor.” The social safety net is huge in Iran. Also, much of the economy is run by the state. It’s actually run by religious charities, often with ties to the military and the IRGC. I believe these religious charities do not operate at a profit. Small businesses are not bothered at all, as in all Muslim countries. I was reading Ayatollah Khameini’s tweets for a while on Twitter, and I could have been reading Che Guevara. Basically the same message.

Islam is just not friendly to neoliberal economics or radical individualism. It is a very collectivist religion in a very collectivist society.

Neoliberalism hasn’t caught on much of anywhere in the Muslim world other than Indonesia and the Southern Philippines, and they had to murder 1 million Communists in cold blood to get there in Indonesia and the Moros have always rejected Catholic rule in both a political and economic sense. it is notable that the Maoist NPA are also huge in Mindanao, home of the Moros.

Pakistan, too, has inherited the selfish economics and even feudalism in land tenure straight from Indian Hinduism. They even have caste, which would be considered an aberration in any decent Muslim society.

All of the Arab countries are basically socialist at least in name, and that was never a hard sell there. It’s true that 100 years ago, the Arab lands were mostly feudal in nature, with big landowners and peasants in debt bondage. They rich had co-opted the religious authorities like they always do, and the mullahs preached that Islamic feudalism was right and proper because the Prophet had said, “It is normal that some are rich and some are poor.” But it was always a hard sell, and it had a very weak foundation.

After independence, socialism was instituted in most if not all Arab countries at least in name. In particular, huge land reforms were done in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Palestine. I assume something like that was done in Algeria too. It was a very easy sell, and everyone went along with it without a hitch. The mullahs quickly changed from support for feudalism to support for socialism.

Hamas rules Gaza and I was shocked at how huge the social safety net is. The many religious charities run the safety net, which is distributed under the rubric of Islam. This is done instead of the state doling it out.

Mohammad himself didn’t have much to say about economics, but he wasn’t a neoliberal capitalist or a feudalist.

In Christian societies, the rich have utter contempt and hatred for the poor, who they regard as little more than human garbage. If you want to see this philosophy in action, look at the classism in Latin America. As all Muslims are part of the umma, and hence, as all are brothers and sisters, it is simply unconscionable that wealthy Muslims would be able to openly hate poor Muslims. You simply cannot treat your fellow Muslims like that. It’s not officially haram but it might as well be.

European Style Fascism in the Middle East

It is instructive that the only place in the Arab world where neoliberal economics and in particular Libertarianism took hold was in Lebanon, and even there, it was only among Catholic Maronites. Most Arab Christians look east to Antioch (and before that, Constantinople) to the Eastern Orthodox church, which is really just the eastern wing of Catholicism.

The Maronites, though, deride Antioch and instead look to Rome. They see themselves as European people instead of Arabs. Many deny that they are Arabs and instead refer to themselves as “Phoenicians.” It is interesting that the only real classical fascism in the Arab World  took hold in the Lebanese Maronites, where the Gameyels imported it from Europe in the 1930’s.

The Jews of Israel also developed a very European form of fascism starting with Jabotinsky and his book The Iron Wall in 1921. This man was an open fascist. He is considered to be the spiritual father of the Likud Party. During the 1940’s, the armed Jewish rebels split into leftwingers who were almost Communists and rightwingers who were more or less fascists.

The Kahanists today look a lot like a European fascist party. And in fact, the entire Israeli rightwing around Likud, etc. looks pretty fascist in a European sense. So Israeli Jews are really Jewish fascists or fascist Jews. It has never been an easy ride for liberal and secular US Jews to support the Orthodox religious fanatics and rightwingers if not out and out fascists in the Likud, etc. in Israel. This was always completely unstable, and after that latest war, it’s finally starting to fall apart. But the seeds of destruction were already there.

But note that the Jews of Israel very much look to the West and see themselves as Europeans (which many are for all intents and purposes). They align themselves with the Judeo-Christian European society that many of them came from.

Half of Israeli Jews are Mizrachi Jews from the Arab World, and they have always had a Judeo-Islamic culture. However, when they moved to Israel, this was dismantled by perhaps not entirely. They rejected it due to the association of Arabs and Islam with the enemy, which is correct.

Economics and Catholicism

This radical classism and near-feudalism in Latin America was supported by the Catholic Church, which was always a very rightwing institution because they were always in bed with the rich. There were always Left splits in Catholicism like Dorothy Day and The Catholic Worker. The Catholic clergy in the US has tended to be quite leftwing.

There is a long history of “Catholic Communism” in the Philippines, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, the Basque Country, France, Italy, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, Cuba, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay. The IRA was a leftwing Catholic armed group. A lot of priests were caught hiding IRA cadre. So was the ETA in the Basque Country of Spain.

Catholic Leftism never caught on in Poland and Lithuania due to hatred of Russia and the USSR. Nevertheless, both are more or less socialist countries.

Even today there is an active “Catholic Communist” movement in Cuba that is very lively. In Honduras and Colombia, Catholic priests actually led guerrilla bands. Liberation Theoloy is something like “Jesus Christ with an AK-47.” The Leftist who recently took power in Paraguay was a former Catholic priest.

The ELN was founded by a priest, Camilo Torres, and many Catholic clergy even supported the Shining Path! Edith Lagos, a 20 year old woman, was the leader of a very early Shining Path column in Peru. She was killed in 1980 and the entire town of Ayacucho, 30,0000 people, came out for her funeral which was held at midnight. The lines of mourners stretched through the whole city. All of the priests in town blessed her body, and she was given a proper Catholic funeral.

I believe that the PT or Workers Party of Brazil has a large Liberation Theology component. The Catholic clergy had an excellent relationship with the FARC in Colombia. Of course, the Catholic clergy played a big role in Venezeula, and Hugo Chavez himself was a practicing Catholic. The FMLN Salvadoran rebels were explicitly Catholic, as were the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. One of the Sandinists’ top leaders, Tomas Borge, was a Catholic priest. Jean-Paul Aristide in Haiti was a Catholic priest. Catholic believers are now allowed to join the Communist Party in Cuba, and near the end of his life, Fidel Castro said he was a “cultural Catholic.”

After Vatican 2 and Liberation Theology began to spread out via the seminal documents written by Gustavo Gutierrez in Brazil, “A Theology of Liberation,” otherwise known as “exercising the preferential option for the poor,” it began to spread in Latin America. It started with local priests and especially Catholic lay workers in impoverished areas and then slowly spread. Even today, Catholic layworkers and especially seminaries are very leftwing, while the Vatican itself is not. A lot of seminaries are hotbeds of homosexuality, and the gay priests and lay workers are quite open about it. It is estimated that 15% of Catholic priests are gay.

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2 thoughts on “Alt Left: Right and Left in Islamic and Catholic Societies”

  1. Catholicism, Orthodox Christianity and much of Protestantism are organized very hierarchically, which is not derived from the New Testament, but from the Roman Empire. In Islam there is no such hierarchy. In that regard, Islam is more egalitarian. More egalitarian does not mean more liberal.

    Still, theologically, Christianity is not a capitalism-friendly religion. There is nothing in the NT which encourages wealth accumulation or expresses admiration for the rich. In earlier times, there were very rich monasteries, but also monastic orders which are committed to poverty, such as the Franciscans. These monasteries were rich for the same reason that Harvard and Yale are very rich. They became rich through donations and bequests.

    Europe, generally, has been very classist. Aristocrats didn’t have much respect for their peasants, and capitalists didn’t have much respect for their workers. Was it really very different in Islam? Islam is certainly not intrinsically socialist because it does not condemn private property or trading.

  2. I was taught Jesus was a communist in Catholic School. I believe that in proper Christianity, the poor will be blessed in Heaven and those in mansions will live in small chicken coops.

    Most self-proclaiming Christians are just Churchians, though. I’m a bottom feeder at a giant company that used to have family values and take care of its employees. They got too big and sold out.

    I’ve met only two women working there that are filled with the love of Christ, both from the same chicken farming family. I work with mostly women that identify as Christian. Might seem silly but I can see the halo glow in just two out of thousands. Jesus seems to reside in the rural Midwest among the Amish, farmers, and such.

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