By Dave Stratman

In summer, 1979, I was at a cocktail party in Washington, DC with Hodding Carter III, who was the State Department spokesperson at the time for the Jimmy Carter administration. It was a few months after the Iranian revolution of Feb. '79. I said to Carter, "It's pretty lucky for the US that the Iranian revolution is in the hands of religious fanatics, huh?" Carter just got a big grin on his face and said, "You might say that."


The point of my remark was this: A critical struggle over the direction of the Iranian revolution had just concluded. Would the revolution and post-Shah Iran be egalitarian, anti-capitalist, and democratic, or would it be religious fundamentalist and authoritarian? The Iranian revolution involved millions of working people—oil workers and other industrial workers and other working people, as well as radical students—and also the religious parties vying for power. By early summer, the Ayatollah Khomeini and his clerical party of fundamentalist Moslems had defeated the worker and student organizations and won control of the society.

The US had a tremendous stake in the outcome of the Iranian revolution. Iran has huge oil reserves and was the premier military power in the Middle East after Israel. The Shah of Iran was the biggest US client except Israel, and the US had spent billions arming him and keeping him in power. (The CIA put the Shah in power in 1953.) A liberating, democratic, working-class-led revolution in Iran could well have led to working class revolutions throughout the Mid-East and beyond; it could have broken the grip of US, European, and Israeli capital in this strategic region. Instead what triumphed was a counterrevolutionary takeover which, while it made violent noises against the U.S. as the "Great Satan" and even took over the U.S. Embassy and held over 400 hostages for over a year, still prevented an anti-capitalist transformation and imposed a theocratic, authoritarian government on Iran.

A few months later it came out in the New York Times that the CIA had been meeting with the Ayatollah Khomeini in his exile in Paris in the months preceding the revolution. Next it was revealed that representatives of the Reagan campaign met with Khomeini in October, 1980 while Americans were being held hostage in the Embassy to make sure that the Iranians kept them hostage until Jan 20, 1981–after Reagan had been safely elected. (If the hostages had been freed before the election, Carter would likely have won.) Later the Reagan Administration worked secretly through the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran to illegally arm the Contras (the U.S. government's favorite terrorists at the time) in Nicaragua in the "Iran/Contra Affair."


The U.S. government's relationship with the Ayatollah Khomeini was by no means the first time the U.S. cooperated with Islamic fundamentalism to control the unfortunate people of the Middle East. The U.S. backed the takeover of Saudi Arabia in 1948 by the fundamentalist royal family of Saud. It has maintained the House of Saud every since as its loyal watchdog sitting atop the largest known oil reserves in the world. The Saudi regime has imposed a religious fundamentalism on its people no less savage than the Taliban's (thus showing the utter hypocrisy of U.S. claims that it wants to "liberate" the women of Afghanistan from fundamentalist rule), complete with beheading adulterers and homosexuals and chopping off the hands of thieves. (Since 14 of the 19 alleged hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, it would make as much sense to bomb Saudi Arabia as Afghanistan.)

This brings us to Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. It is no secret that from 1979-1989 the US, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, funded, armed, and trained 100,000 fundamentalist Muslim mujahadeen (including Osama bin Laden) in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invaders. The CIA spent $3.5 billion on its Afghan war. The weapons which the Taliban now carry were supplied by the US. The "terrorist camps" that the US has been bombing were built by the CIA, the Taliban fighters trained by the CIA, the "madrassahs" (religious schools) used as recruiting centers funded by the CIA.


So the US elite, through the CIA and other agencies, has been encouraging, funding, arming and training Islamic fundamentalists for decades.

Why would our government do this? Because Islamic fundamentalism is a reactionary force, which makes it the perfect enemy. Every young worker or farmer in the Middle East recruited to fundamentalism is one worker or farmer lost to democratic revolution. Having masses of Muslims hate the US and threatening their own rulers for colluding with the US is not terribly desirable for our government, of course—in a "perfect world" that the US elite could control absolutely, the Shah of Iran would never have been toppled. But the US can't control things absolutely, and reactionary Islamic, anti-US uprisings beat the alternative of democratic revolution hands down where the capitalist class is concerned.

A number of commentators have described bin Laden's hostility to the U.S. as "blowback," wherein former dogs on the chain of U.S. imperialism—Noriega, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden—turn and bite the hand of the master. But "blowback" here is not an accurate description. These figures simply have become more useful to the U.S. as enemies than as allies.

The conflict between the U.S. and its former allies is not a contest of "Western Civilization against radical Islam," as The Clash of Civilizations author Samuel P. Huntington and other commentators have claimed. Fundamentalist Islam has been nurtured for over fifty years by the US as an ideological and military weapon against the revolutionary desires of the working classes of the Middle East and Central Asia. These people have more in common with the working people of the West than with their own Islamic elites, just as the wealthy rulers of their societies and ours are linked not only by innumerable business deals but by the same greed and lust for power that are at the heart of all elite culture.

From New Democracy Newsletter, November 2001 - February 2002.


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