Electoral crisis in Mexico

The results of the July 2 presidential elections in Mexico are still considered too close to call, but both candidates—former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the populist-left Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) and former energy minister Felipe Calderon… Read moreElectoral crisis in Mexico

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Issue #. 123. July 2006

Electronic Journal & Daily Weblog SUFISM AND THE STRUGGLE WITHIN ISLAM Paradoxical Legacies of the Militant Mystics by Khaleb Khazari-El “BIONOIA” Part 4 Dengue in Cuba, West Nile in New York: When Mosquitoes Come Home to Roost by Mark Sanborne… Read moreIssue #. 123. July 2006

SUFISM AND THE STRUGGLE WITHIN ISLAM

Paradoxical Legacies of the Militant Mystics

by Khaleb Khazari-El

One of the many ways in which the planetary struggle has gone through the proverbial looking glass since the 9-11 attacks is the seeming reversal in the juxtaposition of Western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism. In the Cold War, the United States was allied with fundamentalist regimes like Saudi Arabia and fundamentalist movements like Afghanistan’s Mujahedeen against the threats of communism and radical nationalism. The US, in fact, continues to back fundamentalists—in Saudi Arabia, in Afghanistan, in occupied Iraq. But it is perceived, at least, to be protecting secular modernity from fundamentalist assault. This perception is shared by both the “neo-conservative” policy wonks and the fundamentalists themselves—at least those on the wrong end of Washington’s firepower.

If we look to the roots of Islamic fundamentalism, however, we find that it came into existence alongside another tradition which was a wellspring of resistance in the colonial era but is now largely forgotten to history. These twin traditions were two branches of the same tree: one throve, the other ultimately withered. Fundamentalism prevailed over the threats of nationalism and communism in the long 20th-century contest as to which ideology would bear the anti-imperialist mantle in the Islamic world. The other tradition did not survive to wage this struggle—but now that the contest has been clearly decided, may be worth a close re-examination. This forgotten tradition is militant sufism.

The story of militant sufism is replete with paradox. Sufism initially represented a proto-universalism, and was opposed by orthodoxy. But revolutionary sufism was, in its day, allied with fundamentalism, itself orthodoxy’s backlash against modernity. Yet, the fundamentalists today attack the surviving sufis, seeing their struggle as a unified jihad against both imperialism and heresy.

There are, however, signs that point to the potential for the emergence of a universalist yet localist and autonomist anti-imperialism embodied by neo-sufis and related esoteric or dissident Islamic traditions. As the sufis of the medieval era formed a bridge between Islam and the indigenous spiritual traditions of those areas conquered by Caliphate, today’s neo-sufis could serve as a bridge between a non-fundamentalist Islamic anti-imperialism, and more open-minded and libertarian elements of the secular anti-imperialist left in the Islamic world, which is now in danger of being completely marginalized or crushed—especially in places like Iraq, where it is needed most.

Under the pressure of 19th-century European colonialism, sufism broke with the apolitical quietism which had generally characterized the tradition. Today, surviving sufis have similarly rethought the alliance or convergence with fundamentalism which often characterized the era of militancy. It remains to be seen if the surviving secular left elements can overcome the dogmatic rejection of all spiritual traditions as either quietist opiate or fundamentalist reaction—a perception which contributes to their own marginalization, as long-suppressed spiritual thirsts dramatically re-assert themselves.

In his 1988 book The Struggle Within Islam: The Conflict Between Religion and Politics, Indian scholar and statesman Rafiq Zakaria traces the tension to the very beginning, noting that the Prophet Mohammed was both a religious and political leader. This conflict is now at the center of the world stage: a violent struggle within world Islam as to what its stance should be before the assaults of gobalization, secularism and capitalism.

A new radical sufism could offer an alternative to the actually-existing jihad of Wahhabi totalitarianism. But to understand the contemporary juxtaposition of sufism and the jihad, it is necessary to take a brief look at how the struggle between sufism and the more doctrinaire and orthodox manifestations of Islam played out…in the 13th century. We cannot understand where we are without understanding how we got here. Certainly, the 13th-century struggle against the Crusaders weighs very heavily on the mind of contemporary radical Islam; we are unwise to assume that this history doesn’t concern us.

After the Fall of the Caliphate: How Sufism Saved Islam

Zakaria calls the medieval sufis “bridge builders,” who, persecuted as heretics, paradoxically saved Islam following the decline of the Caliphate. As the scene opens, the Abbasid dynasty has fallen. Baghdad, the Caliphate’s seat, has been sacked by the Mongols under Hulagu Khan, as had principal centers of learning and commerce like Aleppo. The long war with the Crusaders was followed by a shorter but far more destructive war with the Mongols and Turkic peoples displaced from the Central Asian steppes by the Mongol irruption. The Seljuk Turks, initially a military slave caste that fought for the Aabbasid Caliphate, had long since become the real power behind the throne, and now they had inherited a disintegrating realm. After 500 years and more of a unified Islamic empire which had reached heights of centralized power, culture, learning and wealth, the Caliphate (although continuing to exist in name) has collapsed into fragmented mini-states divided by sectarian strife.

The two main factions were the Sunnis and Shi’ites, but even within these broad tendencies various sects vied—Hanafis, Hanbalis, Ismailis, Kharijites. Each claimed their teachings to be the only true Islam, and seas of blood were spilled over the narrowest of doctrinal distinctions—a symptom of the general social breakdown. Local communities were run by the ulema, the body of scholars (mullahs). As long as they had local control and sharia law was enforced, the mullahs would play along with whatever faction was in power and provide young men to fight. Doctrinal rigidity, therefore, actually abetted the general disintegration.

And yet within a century, three new Islamic empires had emerged onto the world scene, and become new centers of commerce, learning and political power. The Arab world was no longer the imperial center, but the empires of the Ottoman Turks, Safavid Persia and the Moghuls of India would survive into modern times.

How did this come to pass? Zakaria credits the sufis, despite the fact that their doctrines were deemed apostasy by the ulema and nearly all of the ruling factions, and they were at times bitterly persecuted.

Sufism, Islam’s mystical tradition, stood in contrast to the ossified ulema. While the ulema split hairs (and the ruling factions split skulls) over doctrinal correctitude, the sufis offered a relaxed attitude towards form and ritual, emphasizing instead spiritual experience. The mullahs of the ulema declared that the “doors of ijtihad (free-thinking or interpretation) were closed,” and that taqlid (imitation or precedent) should rule in daily life; the sufis bypassed the debate, holding that good behavior should arise through direct experience of jabarut, or divine power. While the mullahs proscribed music and dance, the principal sufi ritual was the zikr (or dhikr)—literally “recital,” but often incorporating use of vigorous rhythmic chanting (hal) and movement to achieve a trance-like state. While the mullahs prohibited alcohol, the sufi poets often used wine as a metaphor for this state of mystical intoxication Despite the best efforts of the mullahs, the sufis attracted wide followings.

In a world of war, their often remote sanctuaries were refuges of peace. Their asceticism and simple piety were also attractive following a long period of decadence. The word “sufi” comes from the name of their tradition in Arabic, tasawuf, which in turn comes from the word su’f, or wool—a reference to their coarse woolen garments. Their basic social unit was the halka, or “circle,” a small group of brethren around a particular teacher.

In the declining years of the Caliphate, the great jurist Ghazali (1058-1111), a Persian of Central Asian birth who had become Baghdad’s most respected scholar, had sought a rapprochement between the sufis and the ulema. In his work The Savior From Error, he wrote, in a clear and courageous criticism of the ulema, that “those who are so learned about rare forms of divorce can tell you nothing about the simple things of spiritual life, such as the meaning of sincerity towards God or truth in Him.” In the implicit truce which was accepted as a result of his work, the mullhas took responsibility for maintaining form and ritual, and punishing transgressors, while the sufis concerned themselves with spiritual uplift.

The sufis were aloof from the palace intrigues and factional jockeying which were endemic in the long decay of the Abbasids. (In one grimly hilarious episode in the ninth century, the Mutazilite schism, which upheld free-thinking and disdained orthodoxy, won over the Caliph Mamun; those who dissented from the doctrine of free-thinking were purged, imprisoned and tortured!) By disdaining riches and power, rather than vying for them, the sufis won a unique moral authority.

While many sufis claim their tradition goes back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed, the first sufi is generally held to be Hasan al-Basri (d. 728), who actually waged public campaigns against corruption in high places in Baghdad. A famous saying attributed to him is: “He that knoweth God loveth him, and he that knoweth the world abstaineth from it.”

The second great sufi, disciple of the first and also of Basra, was a woman—Rabia al-Adawiyyah (d. 801), whose teachings emphasized the power of love. The idea of a woman as spiritual leader was itself an affront to the ulema, and to make matters worse, she was a former slave. Dhul Nunal-Misri (d. 861) was arraigned before Caliph Mutawakkil for espousing the doctrine of irfan—direct knowledge of the divine, usually translated as “gnosis.” Hussain b. Mansur, better known as al-Hallaj, a wool-carder, was accused of heresy and beheaded for his veneration of Jesus and his declaration “I am the truth.” His followers thereafter disavowed—and often defied—all worldly authority. The noted sufi theoretician Yahaya Suhrawardi was executed on the orders of the great Saladin for of his refusal to adhere to orthodoxy. In the face of such repression, some sufis, such as Nuri (d. 907), preached renunciation from the world.

Ghazali himself was forced to flee Baghdad following a political upset and wandered as far west as Egypt. His ideas reached Muslim Spain (ruled by the rival Ummayad Caliphate), where they influenced the jurist and physician Ibn Rushd (known to the West as Averroes) and especially the great sufi scholar and mystic Ibn al-Arabi (1165-1201), who enunciated the doctrine of wilayah (also rendered vilayat, literally “friendship”), identification of human and creator. This non-dualism was mirrored in an even more daring and prescient universalism. Al-Arabi wrote: “Beware of confining yourself to a particular belief and denying all else, for much good would elude you—indeed, the knowledge of reality would elude you. Be in yourself a matter for all forms of belief, for God is too vast and tremendous to be restricted to one belief rather than another.”

When he passed through Baghdad on his pilgrimage to Mecca, these controversial teachings won Arabi an attempt on his life. But his sojourn in Baghdad also afforded Arabi the opportunity to meet Jalaluddin Rumi, the Persian poet and perhaps the best-known of the medieval sufis today. Rumi’s masterwork of mystical poetry, the Masnavi, was held by many to be the “Pahlavi (Persian) Koran”

As sufism’s popularity grew, the schools around various teachers congealed into more formal tarikas, or orders. Ghazali’s disciple Abd al-Qadir Jilani (1077-1166), also known as Ghuath al-Azam or the “Sultan of Saints,” preached in Baghdad and founded the Qadiri Order. As the mullahs meted out death and justified war over perceived heresy, one of Jilani’s aphorisms was “Never accuse anyone of religious infidelity.” His tomb in Baghdad draws thousands of pilgrims annually. So does the tomb of his own disciple Umar al-Suhrawardi (d. 1234), who went on to found the Suhrawardi Order. Another Iraq mausoleum is that of Ahmad al-Rifa’i (d. 1183), founder of the Rifa’i Order (the Howling Dervishes). Abd al-Qadir’s own disciple Shuayab Abu Madyan became the patron saint of Algeria. The Naqshbandi Order claims a lineage back to Abu Bakr, the first caliph after the Prophet Mohammed, but its popularity among the Turkic peoples suggests a Central Asian origin, and it was likely brought to Baghdad from Bukhara by the sufi Abdul Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (d. 1179). Abu Hanifa (699-767), the founder of one of the four great schools of Sunni thought (Hanafi, Hanbali, Maliki and Shafii), is held by many to also be founder of the Banna Order (the Builders), which the 20th-century scholar Idries Shah links to the origins of the Masons. Hanifi certainly propounded an activist doctrine: “Practice your knowledge, for knowledge without practice is a body without life.”

Writes Rafiq Zakaria: “It is paradoxical that though these sufis refused to bow down to authority, their teachings made the task of governments, especially in states with mixed ethnic and religious populations, much easier. Had it not been for the environment of peace, goodwill and mutual understanding that they generated, Islam would not have become so readily acceptable to non-Muslims nor would Muslim rulers have been able to run their administrations as peacefully as they did.”

This paradox became even more the case after the collapse of the Abbasids, when the very survival of Islam seemed in doubt. But the conquered converted the conquerors, and the Mongols, who had been the scourge of Islam, became patrons of Islam under the Il-Khan dynasty in Persia and Iraq and, later, under the Moghuls in India. The sufis served as the bridge that preserved the learning of the Abbasid period for the new empires that arose in Anatolia, Persia and India, bringing “a second youth to Islam”

As the new centers of Islam arose beyond the Arab heartland, it was the missionary work of sufis rather than the Muslim rulers, which spread the faith. The latter were usually content to collect the jaziya, the special tax imposed on non-believers—which actually became an economic incentive not to convert the conquered. Moreover, the sufis respected indigenous traditions and customs, and even incorporated them into their practice of Islam.

The Persian sufi Abu Yazid (also rendered Bayazid) Bistani (804-874), grandson of a Zoroastrian, traveled from Delhi to Damascus, conversing with scholars of many traditions. The Indian scholar RM Zaehneer has linked Bayazid’s concepts of whadat al-wujud (unity of being) and wahdat al-shuhud (unity of consciousness) with the Vedanta tradition of the Hindu sage Sankara. Bayazid’s concept of fana (“annihilation”—of the ego, in modern terms) has parallels in the Hindu moksha or samadhi, and the Buddhist nirvana.

Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti (1142-1236), founder of the Chishti Order, was a Persian from Khorasan, but settled among the Hindus of Rajasthan. His followers adopted the saffron color of the robes of the Hindu sages for their own coarse robes, and generally interchanged ideas and rituals with and even adopted the habits of the Hindu sadhus (mendicants). Like the sages of the Upanishads, he preached under a tree. He consciously spurned Delhi, seat of the Moghul court, for provincial Rajasthan. His disciple, Khwaja Nizamuddin Aulia, did preach in Delhi, but also shared the spirit of quietistic anarchism. He is purported to have told his devotees: “My room as two doors. If the sultan comes through one door, I leave by the other.”

Nearly a thousand years after Bayazid, the poet and saint Mazhar Jan-i-Janan of Delhi (1699-1781), who was responsible for all the sufi orders—Naqshbandi, Qadiri and Chishti—in India, wrote in a letter to disciple: “You should know that the Merciful Being, in the beginning of creation, sent a book named Ved; this is apparent from the ancient scripture of the Indians. This book is in four parts [Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda] [and is] meant to regulate the duties of the people in this world and the next through the instrumentality of the divine Brahma, who is omnipotent. Now it must be borne in mind that the Koran states: ‘And there is not a people to whom a warner has not been sent’ [35:24]; and further, ‘To every land we have sent a warner’ [25:51] Hence there were prophets in India as in other countries and their accounts are to be found in their books. How could God, the Beneficent, the Merciful, have left out of his grace such an extensive portion of the globe?”

Eventually, the rulers began to see the utility of the sufis in both keeping peace and spreading Islam. While the Qadiris and Chishtis generally remained far removed from the seats of power, the Suhrawardis and Naqshbandis became important advisors to the Moghul and Ottoman courts. The Naqshbandis, or Silent Dervishes (so known for their rejection of the vocal zikr), achieved a kind of officialdom as the favored order of the Ottoman state. Another popular Turkish order are the Mevlevi, the classical “Whirling Dervishes,” thusly known for their ecstatic dance ritual. The Mevlevi are the order most closely associated with Rumi, who is buried in Konya, Turkey.

While sufism was primarily a Sunni phenomenon, there were significant Shi’ite orders as well. The founder of the Shi’ite Safavid dynasty, Shah Ismail, embraced the sufis, although there was a backlash against them in Persia after his death in 1524. The Alevi Order took hold in Anatolia, merging Shia with ancient Turkic traditions from Central Asia. In contrast to the “official” Naqshbandis, the Alevis were more of a popular and rural phenomenon, seeing themselves the “true Turks,” who kept alive indigenous Turkish culture and folklore against the “Arabized” Sunni Ottomans.

Throughout the medieval period there had been twin manifestations of sufism’s disdain for authority: the quietist strain, which sought retreat to remote sanctuaries, and the activist tendency, which consciously challenged authority. In the 19th century, the assaults of modernism and imperialism would force the matter—giving birth to a not only activist but actually militant and revolutionary sufism.

Sufis in the Vanguard of Anti-Imperialist Struggle

After another 500 years of glory, Islam is once again on the decline as this new chapter opens. The Ottoman empire has come to rule over most of the Arab world and still claims to be the new Caliphate, but the court at Constantinople is riven with intrigue between traditionalists and modernizers, and the realm is being eaten away. Algeria falls to the French in 1830 and the far greater prize of Egypt to the British in 1882 (retaining merely nominal Ottoman suzerainty). In Persia, the fall of the Safavids in 1729 leads to a succession of lesser dynasties which allow the country to become a pawn in the imperial “Great Game,” with the south under increasing British control and the north under growing Russian sway. In India, British colonialism has completely supplanted the Moghul empire by 1868. In all cases, wealth and power are flowing out of local and Muslim hands to the new imperial centers of London, Paris, Moscow and other European capitals.

We have noted the irony that militant sufism came into being at the same time as Islamic fundamentalism, which was orthodoxy’s backlash against modernism and imperialism. Initially, as might be expected, the fundamentalist upsurge meant a new wave of attacks on the sufis. When the followers of Sheikh Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92) took power in the Najd, the remote desert interior of the Arabian peninsula—an area claimed but never controlled by the Ottomans—sufism was brutally suppressed, orders banned, shrines and the graves of saints demolished and desecrated. The harshly intolerant Wahhabist doctrine influenced the Deobandi school in India, and the Salafists in the Fertile Crescent and North Africa. This was the groundwork for the contemporary Islamist movement.

Yet by the mid-19th century, there was a confluence of sufism and fundamentalism. The germinal pan-Islamic thinker and activist Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1837-97)—who agitated against British rule in Egypt and India, and against Western cultural and commercial inroads in Ottoman Turkey—was influenced by both. In India, he called for Muslim-Hindu unity against the British. He bitterly opposed Britain’s favored Muslim leader in India, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, who was harshly intolerant of Hindus, accusing him of being a pawn in a divide-and-rule strategy. Although revered by today’s fundamentalists, Afghani in many ways presaged secular nationalism.

But intolerance towards Christianity—the religion of the oppressor—was inevitable, and took a toll on sufi universalism generally, laying the groundwork for the sufi-fundamentalist convergence. Rafiq Zakaria: “It is ironic that the sufis, who were originally so liberal and tolerant towards followers of other faiths, should have been in the forefront of a militant jihad against them. Yet, this was understandable because they feared that the non-Muslims were bent on destroying Islam by taking advantage of the ineptitude and weakness of corrupt Muslim rulers.”

In country after country, fuqara (dervish) armies rose to drive out the colonialists. Degrees of Wahhabi influence varied from none at all to an uneasy alliance of convenience with the fundamentalists to a conscious effort to reconcile and unite the two seemingly opposite tendencies.

The first and most successful of the sufi revolutionaries was Amir Abd al-Qadir (also rendered al-Kader) al-Jazairi (1808-1883), of the Qadiri Order, who from his base in Oran began resisting the French almost immediately upon their 1830 arriveal in Algeria. The French originally saw in him a proxy force to fight the Ottoman Turks and signed treaties granting him wide autonomy over much of the country. His followers proclaimed him Nasir al-Din, champion of the faith, dey of Algeria. France retained real control only over a few coastal enclaves. When Paris realized it had actually lost control of the land it had wrested from the Turks, the treaties were broken and new military campaigns launched. Alas, as the sufi tarikas became military orders, violent factionalism also emerged, and al-Qadir was soon waging a civil war with the rival Tijani, Tayyibi and Darqawa orders. These divisions were skillfully exploited by the French, who especially groomed the Tayyibi of Morocco as a proxy force against al-Qadir. As Tayyibi forces invaded al-Qadir’s realm from the west, French fleets arrived on the coast and colonial troops pressed inland. Fighting on two fronts, al-Qadir was forced to surrender to the French in 1847. It was France’s first counterinsurgency war on foreign soil.

In Sudan, then under Anglo-Egyptian control, Muhammed Ahmad was declared by his followers the Mahdi, or “divinely guided one.” In the 1885 Battle of Khartoum, his dervish army defeated British forces under Gen. Charles Gordon. The Mahdi died unexpectedly in the immediate aftermath of his triumph, but his successor Khalifah ‘Abd Allah (actually proclaimed caliph, as his name implies) ruled an independent sufi state from Omdurman, just across the Nile from Khartoum, and in 1888 even attempted an invasion of Egypt. The rebel state persisted until 1898, when Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener led a force of 8,200 British troops and 17,600 Sudanese and Egyptians up the Nile to take the city. For all this, they were still vastly outnumbered by the dervishes, but British automatic artillery won the day, mowing down the waves of sufi horsemen. British rule was restored to the Sudan.

In Somalia, where the British had also extended control, Mohammed Abdullah Hasan of the Salihiyah Order, one of the more puritanical, emulated the Mahdi’s example and launched an insurgency in 1899. Dubbed the “Mad Mullah” by the British, he succeeded in wresting a large area of northern Somalia from their control. The uprising was not put down until Hasan’s death in 1920, when a Royal Air Force squadron recently returned from action in World War I was deployed to bomb the dervish capital at Taleex.

In Libya, the last Ottoman holding in North Africa, Mohammed Ali al-Sanusi (1787-1859), the “Grand Sanusi,” established the Sanusi Order in the 1840s, which also evolved into a military order as protector of the caravan routes, and soon became the real power in the interior, with the Turks controlling only the coast in more than name.

The ferment spread throughout the Maghreb and even into sub-Saharan Africa. In Morocco, where the sultanate fell under growing French sway, the sufi Ahmad Ibn Idris (1760-1837), founder of the Idrisiya Order, attempted to reconcile sufism and Wahhabism.

The Moroccan sufi Ahmad al-Tifani (1737-1815) founded Tifani Order, which spread its message of armed struggle against non-Muslim rulers throughout North and West Africa. The Tifani militant Hajji Umar Tali (1794-1864) founded an Islamic state in Senegal, dispatching the French who had reduced the local rulers to mere proxies. This state survived until the French wrested it from his successors in 1893. Further down the coast, the black sufi Samori Ture founded an Islamic state that extended through much of what is now Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire. It lasted from 1882 until his capture by the French in 1898.

In 1885, the sufi warrior Mohammed Mustafa Ould Sheikh Mohammed Fadel—known as Ma el-Ainin (“Water of the Eyes”)—took up arms to drive the newly-arrived Spanish from Rio de Oro. He fought both the Spanish and French with aid from the Moroccan sultanate. But, angered by perceived Moroccan subservience to the French and insufficient support for his movement, he finally made his own bid for power. In 1910, his supporters rose in Tiznit and declared him sultan; he then marched against Fez, where he was defeated and killed by French forces.

In India, Shah Wali Allah (1702-62) also represented a sufi-Wahhabi convergence. One of his followers, Sayyid Ahmed, launched an insurgency against the British-protected Sikh state in Punjab. In Bengal, Hajji Sharjat Allah (1781-1840), launched an uprising against the newly-arrived British, which was put down with much bloodshed.

The ferment also extended to the Caucasus and Central Asia. The North Caucasus realms of Chechnya and Dagestan had been under official Ottoman rule but effectively independent until the armies of the Czar began their drive for conquest in the 18th century. The Naqshbandi warrior Shaykh Mansur Ushurma declared a jihad and inflicted a crushing defeat on the Russians at the Sunzha River in 1785. He was briefly able to unite much of Chechnya and Dagestan under his rule. Shaykh Mansur’s followers continued their insurgency against the Czarist forces even after his death in prison in 1793. Full-scale armed revolt resumed in 1824, this time under the Naqshbandi Shaykh Imam Shamil, who rebuilt an Islamic state in Chechnya and Dagestan before his capture in 1859.

Peace didn’t last long, but it was Russia’s own intolerance of sufism which broke it. In 1861, a Daghestani shepherd named Kunta Haji Kishiev became the first in the region to embrace the Qadiri order, which, unlike the Naqshbandis, allowed vocal zikr, ecstatic music and dancing. Initially, Kunta Haji counseled peace with the Russians. But as his popularity surged, many veteran fighters from Shamil’s disbanded army fell into his orbit—so alarming the Russians that he was arrested and exiled in 1864. That same year at Shali in Chechnya, Russian troops fired on over 4,000 Qadiri dervishes, killing scores and igniting a fresh wave of violence. Together with the rejuvenated Naqshbandis, the Qadiris rose up against the Romanovs repeatedly, hasrassing Czarist forces in the Caucasus through the Bolshevik Revolution.

In the revolutionary years, a Qadiri-Naqshbandi movement led by Shaykh Uzun Haji battled both the White and the Red armies to create a “North Caucasian Emirate.” The intransigent Uzun Haji—whose tomb remains a pilgrimage site for Chechen Muslims—purportedly said: “I am weaving a rope, to hang engineers, students and in general all those who write from left to right.” His movement was crushed in 1925, but the Soviets, branding the sufis “bandits,” “criminals” and “counter-revolutionaries,” continued to arrest, execute and deport the “zikrists.” In World War II, Stalin accused the sufis of still-unproven collaboration with the Nazis, and in 1944 forcibly relocated six entire Caucasian nationalities, including the Chechen and Ingush, to camps in Central Asia. More than a million Caucasus Muslims were deported.

In Russian-controlled Tartarstan, Bahal Din Vaishi (1804-1893) launched an unarmed and peaceful movement of non-cooperation with the Czarist forces. He was nonetheless arrested, declared insane and interned in an asylum. His followers were deported to Siberia, and many were tortured.

In far Xinkiang, Chinese-ruled Central Asian homeland of the Turkic and Muslim Uighur people, these dynamics were also felt. Naqshbandi sufis led repeated Uighur uprisings from the 1820s onwards against China’s reigning Manchus, who were under the increasing sway of Western and especially British imperialism. Finally, the sufi warrior Yaqub Beg succeeded in driving out the Manchus and establishing an independent Uighur state, dubbed East Turkestan, which lasted for ten years from 1867. A second short-lived Eastern Turkestan Islamic Republic was declared in Kashgar in 1933, and a decade later, a third such republic was proclaimed near Yili, surviving as an autonomous zone loyal to Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuomintang until the Communists took over in 1949. There were precedents elsewhere in China, where Ma Ming-hsin (d. 1781) had launched an Islamic revival movement in the 18th century. In Yunan, the warrior Tu Wenshin, inspired by his teachings, had driven out the Manchus and established a Muslim state, declaring himself “Sultan Sulayman.”

In short, virtually no part of the Islamic world was untouched by the surgence of militant mysticism. But the movement ultimately represented a final rebellion on the part of an old order that was inexorably passing away. The next and ultimately more successful anti-colonialist surgence, especially gaining ground in the post-World War II era, would embrace rather than reject modernity—seeking to harness rationalism and nationalism against the hegemony of the very European societies which had given them birth. Perhaps the key moment of transition was the formal abolition of the Caliphate in 1924 by the Turkish nationalist leader Kemal Ataturk, who came to power after the Ottoman empire collapsed at the end of World War I.

But when nationalism’s successes were sullied by military defeats and political reversals, it would be fundamentalism that would reap the backlash—this time with the Wahhabis in clear ascendance, purged of any taint of sufi apostasy. The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was for the Arab nationalists a grave humiliation; for the fundamentalists it was an abomination before God, and the failure of the ruling nationalists to destroy it a sign of their godlessness. Perhaps more intrinsic to the rise of the fundamentalists was the increasing accommodation of the nationalists to the structures of neo-colonialism—the IMF, World Bank and, later, the World Trade Organization—providing a level of social misery and rage for the fundamentalists to harness.

Nationalism vs. Fundamentalism: Post-Sufi Anti-Imperialism

The militant sufi upsurge was waning by the dawn of the 20th century, but it laid an important groundwork for the national liberation struggles of the post-World War II era, and there is often a direct lineage linking the two.

A key turning point was the 1925 Syrian revolt against French mandate rule, which historian Michel Provence sees as the formative moment in the forging of an Arab nationalist consciousness. The revolt began as a Druze uprising in the mountainous hinterland, but was soon joined by the Sunni Arabs of Damascus. As Druze and Bedouin guerillas marched on Damascus from the countryside, a coordinated urban insurrection was organized. The French responded with aerial bombardment of the city. In a key moment in the rise of secular nationalism, the pro-independence forces mobilized brigades to protect the city’s Christian and Jewish enclaves from reprisals. Interestingly, the leader of this effort was Said al-Jazairi, grandson of Amir Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi, the Algerian sufi resistance leader who had been exiled to Ottoman Damascus after surrendering to the French. Wrote the British consul in Damascus: “These Moslem interventions assured the Christian quarters against pillage. In other words it was Islam and not the ‘Protectrice des Chrétiens en Orient’ which protected the Christians in those critical days.”

The revolt was suppressed by the year’s end, and Syria would not gain full independence until 1946. But re-emergent sufi universalism arguably played an important and generally unacknowledged role in the transition to a secular anti-imperialism.

The failed Syrian revolt was a taste of things to come. In 1954, when the revolution against French rule in Algeria was launched, al-Qadir was acknowledged as an important forebear. But the National Liberation Front was socialist and secular; its nominal embrace of Islam was more as a symbol of unifying nationalism, devoid of real religious fervor. Independence was won after a long struggle in 1962. Similarly, the “Mad Mullah” Hasan was looked to as a symbol of national pride when Somalia achieved independence in 1960, without any embrace of his ideology.

The sufis played a more direct role in Libya, which was taken by the Italians in World War I. The Sanusi Order continued to have real control of the desert interior, and in 1917 loaned assistance to the Tuareg revolt against the French in what was then French West Africa to the south. When armed struggle against Italian rule broke out in Libya following Mussolini’s ascension to power in 1922, Sanusi dervishes led the insurgency. After independence in 1952, following a period of joint Anglo-French rule, the head of the Order, Sayyid Amir Mohammed Idris (grandson of the Grand Sanusi) became King Idris I. Col. Mommar Qaddafi’s coup of 1969 brought a distinctive Islamic-tinged Arab nationalism to power, and his followers were also adherents of an anti-monarchist wing of the Order.

In Spanish Sahara, the former Rio del Oro, the heirs of Ma el-Ainin fought on into the 1930s, when they were finally subdued by combined French and Spanish forces. Resistance re-emerged as the struggle for Algerian independence was intensifying in 1958. That year, the French intervened to back up Spanish forces with air power in crushing a rebellion by Sahrawi desert tribes. But veterans of that struggle passed the torch to the Polisario Front, which launched its guerilla struggle against the Spanish in 1973. (Now known as Western Sahara, the territory was occupied by Morocco when Spain pulled out in 1975, and is considered Africa’s last colony.)

At least from 1926, when Abd al-Aziz b. al-Saud united most of the Arabian peninsula under his rule as Saudi Arabia and imposed Wahhabism as the state religion, through the mid-1960s, the struggle in the Islamic world appeared to be between Western-backed conservative monarchs (who made oil available on relatively easy terms) and modernizing, secular nationalists—who tilted to the Soviet Union, sought to nationalize oil resources and tended to be OPEC “price hawks,” seeking to use petro-dollars for programs of social uplift. But the perceived failure of the nationalists would redefine the terms of the struggle.

The case of Iran is instructive. When the popularly elected Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq nationalized the British-owned oilfields in 1952, British intelligence and the CIA organized a coup that ousted him and restored the Shah to near-absolute power. The conservative and authoritarian US-backed monarchy persisted until Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution of 1979—which installed an even more conservative and authoritarian but bitterly anti-US fundamentalist state, in which the mullahs had veto power over all legislation. This was the first contemporary Islamist state—but something of a special case due the official supremacy of Shia in Iran.

It was Egypt that really set the template for the new struggle. In 1952, a nationalist military coup ousted the monarchy that had been installed thirty years earlier. A republic was established and in 1954 Gen. Gamal Abdel Nasser emerged as its uncontested leader. In 1956, he seized Suez Canal from the joint British/French company that controlled it, precipitating war with Israel. That same year he granted independence to Sudan, which had remained under lingering joint Anglo-Egyptian rule. Nasser turned to USSR for aid following a break with the West, and became a leader of the world non-aligned movement. In 1958, he united (albeit briefly) with Syria to form a United Arab Republic. That same year a Nasser-inspired revolution unseated the British-installed monarchy in Iraq. Many others would emulate (and envy) Nasser, including Libya’s Qaddafi.

However, within Egypt, contradictions were becoming evident in his system. Nasser’s rule was periodically confirmed by election, but he consolidated an authoritarian political machine. Islamist opposition emerged, influenced by Wahhabi/Salafist fundamentalism; Sayyid Qutb, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was executed in an alleged plot on Nasser’s life in 1966. Nasser charged—perhaps with reason—that the Muslim Brotherhhod was being covertly aided by the CIA to undermine his regime. But Qutb would become the iconic martyr and, posthumously, the founder of the new Islamist movement.

Renewed war with Israel resulted in loss of Sinai Peninsula in 1967, a bitter humiliation for Nasser and the ideology he represented. Upon Nasser’s death three years later, his heir-apparent Anwar Sadat succeeded to power. A new war on Israel in 1973 failed to win back Sinai, although US-brokered talks following the war lead to an Israeli withdrawal. The 1978 Camp David Agreement resulted in formal peace with Israel. Sadat shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Israel’s Menachem Begin, but Egypt was expelled from Arab League, which moved its headquarters from Cairo. Sadat was assassinated in 1981—symbolically, while overseeing a military parade celebrating the 1973 war (which Egypt officially if illogically claimed as a “victory”). Islamist militants who had succeeded in infiltrating the parade opened fire and hurled grenades as they passed the reviewing stand. In addition to killing the president, they injured 20, including four US diplomats.

Sadat was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak, who tilted strongly towards the West. The Islamist opposition gained strength in reaction. Egypt was restored to the now more moderate Arab League in 1989. That same year, a coup d’etat brought the Islamist movement to power in Sudan. Egypt participated in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq in 1991. A “dirty war” against an increasingly violent Islamist movement followed. The harsh crackdown saw the use of indefinite detention, military tribunals, torture; hundreds were imprisoned, and over 50 executed. The Islamist movement was largely crushed in Egypt—even as it re-emerged strongly in Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

In the ’90s, as the Algerian regime turned post-socialist and came to be dominated by a “mafia” of corrupt generals, the new populist mantle was likewise assumed by the Islamic fundamentalists. Their electoral victory in 1992 only prompted the regime to annul the elections and declare military rule—which in turn prompted the Islamists to take up arms, precipitating nearly ten years of civil war in which 200,000 Algerians lost their lives. The struggle in Algeria today is largely one between corrupt post-socialist pseudo-nationalists on one hand and fanatical, reactionary Salafists on the other.

Within Palestine itself, the supplanting of Fatah, the old Palestine Liberation Organization leadership, by the fundamentalist Hamas symbolized the same transition.

History has appeared to be repeating itself in Chechnya over the course of the long and brutal wars which have ensued there since Russia crushed the new separatist state in 1995. Even the feared and honored name Shamil has been resurrected in the rebel warlord Shamil Bassayev, who continues to lead the resistance movement. But unlike his 19th-century namesake, this Shamil embraces hardline Wahhabi fundamentalism, not sufism.

The Uighur separatist movement in Xinkiang has also revived since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, with the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) one of the latest additions to the US State Department “foreign terrorist organizations” list. Again influenced by Wahhabism, the ETIM has maintained a low-level insurgency in the region, separatist unrest and Chinese repression fueling each other in a vicious cycle.

India and Pakistan witnessed the potential for a universalist Islamic anti-colonialism in the struggle against British rule, when Abdul Ghaffar Khan (1889-1988), dubbed “Badshah Khan” (the king of chiefs) and the “Frontier Gandhi”, organized non-violent resistance among the Pashtuns of the rugged tribal lands along the Afghan border. A friend and ally of Mohandas Gandhi, he joined him in championing Muslim-Hindu unity and opposing India-Pakistan partition after independence was won in 1947. But of course it was separatism that won the day—and so, ultimately, did fundamentalism.

The puritanical Deobandi school gave rise to the Jamiat-i-Islami (Society of Islam) founded by Maulana Maududi (1903-1979) of Hyderabad—who, although said to be a direct descendent of that exemplar of sufi universalism Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, emphasized a harsh and intolerant puritanism. His ideas came to dominate the Islamic resistance in India-controlled Kashmir, sponsored by the Pakistani state—and then, ironically, the increasingly militant opposition within Pakistan itself, including the contemporary resistance to Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorship.

Maududi’s ideas also held sway over the Jamiat-i-Islami militia in Afghanistan, the powerful ethnic Tajik wing of the Mujahedeen insurgency that resisted the Soviet occupation of the country in the 1980s, with massive aid from the CIA. It was during this long campaign that Osama bin Laden, the contemporary face of the jihad, arrived on the scene, organizing a clearing-house for Mujahedeen volunteers from throughout the Islamic world in Peshawar, the Pakistani city from where the insurgency was coordinated.

It should be noted that among the profusion of sectarian and ethnic militia that made up the Mujahedeen, there were two that were led by sufis—the National Islamic Front, led by Pir Sayed Gailani of the Qadiri Order; and the Afghanistan National Liberation Front, led by Sibghatollah Mojadeddi of the Naqshbandi Order. Gailani was a loyalist of the exiled king, Zahir Shah—which by the standards of 1980s Afghanistan made him a moderate, practically a liberal. Mojadeddi was briefly appointed interim president by Rabbani when the Russian-backed regime fell and the Mujahedeen took Kabul, the capital, in 1992—but he was shortly removed for confronting Rabbani over human rights abuses. Rabbani, of course, subsequently arranged to have himself declared president by the victorious warlords in an Islamic Jihad Council. Both Gailani’s and Mojadeddi’s factions were, predictably, isolated by the Mujahedeen’s American, Saudi and Pakistani underwriters, and therefore remained marginal. The dominant factions—principally the Tajik Jamiat-i-Islami and the Pashtun Hezbi-Islami—embraced unrestrained brutality and rigid fundamentalism.

The Mujahedeen factions quickly collapsed into civil war, with the Jamiat-i-Islami clinging precariously to power in Kabul. In 1994, the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban, which recruited among the teeming Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan, invaded the country, pledging to restore order. Adhering to the strictest interpretation of Wahhabism yet witnessed, the Taliban took Kabul after a two-year war. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia recognized the Taliban regime, alone among the world’s nations. Where the medieval sufis had sought links between Islam and Buddhism, the Taliban denounced as idolatry and ordered destroyed the giant stone Buddhas of Bamiyan—world cultural treasures dating to the Greco-Buddhist Kushan empire (130-420 CE). All music, dance and (of course) sufism were harshly suppressed.

But it was only the 9-11 attacks that prompted the US to intervene. Washington once again turned to the Jamiat-i-Islami and its leader Burhanuddin Rabbani as proxies—this time against the Taliban. Rabbani, still officially recognized as Afghanistan’s president by the UN, now emerged as leader of a loose federation of warlords, the Northern Alliance, which, backed up by US air-strikes and special forces, drove the Taliban from power.

On Dec. 1, 2001, the New York Times ran a photo of Naqshbandi dervishes dancing ecstatically at a Kabul shrine for the first time in years. But the Jamiat-i-Islami and its Northern Alliance partners only seemed liberal by comparison; the situation for women, Shi’ites, secularists and sufis alike would improve but marginally in “liberated” Afghanistan. The showdown between the Taliban and Northern Alliance revealed how degraded the struggle in the Islamic world had become: the conflict was now fundamentalist versus fundamentalist.

This whole horrid history now seems to be repeating itself in Somalia, which has been without an official government since the dictatorship of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed in 1991. In June 2006, after 15 years of nightmarish warlord violence, an ultra-fundamentalist cleric-led militia, the Islamic Courts Union, seized power in the capital, Mogadishu. The warlords, in turn, have banded together in an Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism—a name obviously chosen in bid for support from the West. The bid seems to be working, as newspaper accounts indicate the warlord alliance has been receiving aid from the CIA. Upon taking the capital, the Islamic Courts Union elected a new leader—Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is officially listed as an al-Qaeda suspect by the US State Department.

US troops in neighboring Djibouti have been poised for action in Somalia since the 9-11 aftermath, when the State Department added a Somalia-based group, al-Itihad al-Islamiya, to its official list of terrorist organizations. The US appears to be again playing sides in an intra-fundamentalist civil war. Few have noted that the atmosphere also seems to have given rise to ascetic Islamic movements that reject coercion and militarism. A 2002 overview of Somali factions in Janes Defense Weekly noted that one “leading Islamic group in the country is the Pakistan-based Tabliq. This group recruits missionaries willing to espouse strict adherence to the Islam of the Koran. In Somalia, these wandering preachers have not engaged in any militant activities, and are widely perceived as something akin to pacifists.”

The most ghastly irony is, not surprisingly, in Iraq. Saddam Hussein, whatever his real and horrific abuses (and acts of genocide against the Kurds and Shi’ites), represented to many a last hold-out of intransigent but secular Arab nationalism until his ouster in the US invasion of March 2003. Today, his Ba’ath Party may play some small role in the armed resistance against the US occupation in Iraq, but it has overwhelmingly been supplanted by the fundamentalist jihadis. The US is backing a regime led by Shi’ite fundamentalists against an insurgency of Sunni fundamentalists. Having invaded Iraq in the name of a “war on (Islamic) terrorism”, it has (if unwittingly) turned Iraq precisely into a haven for Islamist terrorism.

The Contemporary Struggle

Scholars generally view sufism as a quaint and irrelevant anachronism in the contemporary world. J. Spencer Trimingham wrote in his classic work, The Sufi Orders in Islam (Oxford 1973): “The older sections in a changing society feel a nostalgic longing for elements of the past. The poetry and humanism of a Rumi influence many new men too. But these must be placed within the whole setting of the secularization of society. These are ‘survivals’ from an old way of life; they are no longer the ruling forces in men’s lives.”

But Trimingham could not have anticipated the voluble fundamentalist reaction against secularism which the Islamic world has witnessed since he wrote those words. Sufism, like related deep-rooted doctrines of Islamic universalism, is under violent attack by ascendant fundamentalism today. Meanwhile, a vulgar Islamophobia holds ever-greater sway in the West, especially represented in the US by the so-called “neocons” who have charted the Bush administration’s hyper-imperialist adventures. While spectacular jihadist attacks in New York, London and Madrid make global headlines, the far more frequent manifestations of what is essentially a violent struggle within Islam are buried in the back pages.

On March 19, 2005, up to 50 worshippers were left dead and twice as many wounded in a bomb blast at a shrine to the 19th-century sufi saint Pir Rakhel Shah at Gandhawa in Pakistan’s conflicted province of Baluchistan. The bomb went off as pilgrims at the shirne had lined up for a meal and were being served food. Although the shrine is at a Shi’ite mosque, it is revered by Sunnis as well. The explosion left a two-foot-deep crater at the shrine. Thousands of pilgrims who had arrived to commemorate the death of the saint fled the area, overwhelming local bus service. “Everyone comes here, even Hindus. There is no distinction here between a Shi’ite and a Sunni,” said the shrine’s caretaker, Syed Sadiq Shah. “God’s curse be on those who did this. They have killed innocent people.”

On May 27, 2005, at least 25 were left dead and some 200 wounded in a suicide bombing at the Bari Imam sufi shrine at Nurpur village outside Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Thousands of devotees were attending the last day of a five-day festival at the time of the explosion. Worshippers had been waiting for a prominent Shi’ite cleric to address the gathering when the bomb went off. “Today was the annual festival of Bari Imam. Devotees had come from all over Pakistan. Shi’ites and Sunnis were praying together. As soon as prayers started, there was a blast. Many devotees were martyred and many more injured,” said Qamar Haider, a Shi’ite imam.

The popular shrine to Bari Imam, who helped bring Islam to region in the 17th century, is visited by both Shi’ites and Sunnis and has traditionally been seen as a symbol of harmony between the two communities. But both sects claim the shrine, which has been controlled by Sunnis for the past two decades, and it had recently been subject to growing tensions. The Sunni custodian of the shrine and two other people were shot dead near the compound in February 2005.

The urs, or festival, marked the death anniversary of Bari Imam, who was born Shah Abdul Latif Kazmi in 1617 in Jhelum, and traveled widely to learn with scholars of various schools, visiting Kashmir, Badakhshan, Bukhara, Mashhad, Baghdad, Damascus and Mecca. His spiritual master Hayat-al-Mir (Zinda Pir) gave him the title of Bari Imam. He went on to convert thousands of Hindus to Islam, and the Moghul Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir is said to have come there to pay respects at at Nurpur. Bari Imam died in 1705 and was buried at Nurpur Shahan, where his urs is held every year with great fervor.

The sufi shrines are likely targeted precisely because they are venerated by Sunnis and Shi’ites alike in a Pakistan, which has witnessed a bloody dialectic of terror between Sunni and Shi’ite fundamentalists. In October 2004, 36 were killed in a car-bomb attack on a Sunni congregation in Multan, Punjab province. A bombing of a Shi’ite mosque in Sialkot, Punjab, earlier that month killed 19 people. In March 2004, 46 were killed and 160 injured in Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, in an attack on Shi’ite pilgrims. Gunmen sprayed bullets and lobbed grenades at crowds of pilgrims gathered in the city for celebrations of Ashura, marking the death of Imam Hussein, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. In April 2002, a bomb exploded near midnight at a Shi’ite mosque at Bukker, Punjab, killing 12 worshipers, all of them women and children. The explosion went off in the women’s section of the mosque, where thousands of Shi’ites had gathered from around the country for the Ashura festival. In February 2002, 11 were killed when gunmen fired on worshipers at a Shi’ite mosque in the northern city of Rawalpindi.

The sectarian violence continues. In February 2006, a suicide bomber struck in Hangu, near the Afghanistan border, at a festival marking the opening of the Ashura holy period, triggering a riot that left the town in flames and leaving a total of at least 37 dead. In neighboring Afghanistan that same week, hundreds of Shi’ites and Sunnis clashed in the western city of Herat, hurling grenades and burning mosques. At least five people were killed and 51 wounded.

Nor is the sectarian strife confined to Pakistan. The Ashura celebrations in Iraq occasioned massacres in 2005, when a string of suicide attacks left 74 worshippers dead, and in 2004, when over 140 pilgrims were killed in attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen with mortars and grenades at the Karbala shrine to Imam Hussein. By 2006, terror attacks on Shi’ite civilians at public markets and shirnes had become a nearly daily affair, inevitably sparking retaliatory attacks on Sunni civilians—including by elements of the official security forces, which heavily overlap with the Shi’ite fundamentalist Badr militia. The violence reached a climax in the February 22, 2006 explosion that destroyed the gold-domed sanctuary at Samarra that holds the tombs of two of Shia’s 12 imams, the 10th, Ali al-Hadi, and the 11th, Hadi al-Askari. Since then, of course, the sectarian carnage has only escalated.

There have been some glimmers of hope. In a gesture of goodwill, Sunnis in Samarra organized brigades and went to work to help rebuild the Golden Mosque in the wake of the attack. There have also been joint Sunni-Shi’ite protests calling for unity against the US occupation. But such gestures require ever-greater courage in the escalating atmosphere of sectarian hatred.

Sufis, of course, are also coming under attack in Iraq. On June 2, 2005, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of sufis north of Baghdad, killing 10 and injuring at least 12. The attack took place at a house in the village of Saud, near the northern town of Balad as the dervishes gathered for zikr. Ahmed Hamid, a sufi witness, told the AP: “I was among 50 people inside the tekiya [sufi gathering place] practicing our rites when the building was hit by a big explosion. Then, there was chaos everywhere and human flesh scattered all over the place.”

In Iran, which appears to be next in US imperialism’s crosshairs, sufism is also under attack. On Feb. 13, 2006, security forces in the Iranian holy city of Qom used fired tear gas to break up a gathering of sufi followers who had converged in front of their house of worship to prevent its destruction by the authorities. Up to 1,000 were arrested. Officials said the sufis had illegally turned a residential building into their tekiya, and had refused to evacuate it. They also charged that some of the dervishes were armed with knives and stones. But representatives of the dervishes denied the accusations, asserting they were targeted due to the increasing popularity of sufism. The regime did not fail to imply the sufis were agents of imperialism. Qom’s governor Abbas Mohtaj told the newspapers: “The arrogant powers are exploiting every opportunity to create insecurity in our country and [the sufis’] links to foreign countries are evident.” The previous September, Ayatollah Hossein Nouri-Hamedani openly called for a clampdown on the sufis of Qom, calling them a “danger to Islam.”

In the North Caucasus, sufis are caught between both sides in the ongoing war—although there are recent signs of change. On May 24, 2006, the New York Times carried a story on the revival of the Kunta-Haji sufis in Chechnya—with the unlikely encouragement of the Russian authorities. The writer attended a zikr at a newly-opened mosque named for Akhmad Kadyrov, the Russian-backed Chechen president who was assassinated in 2004. The reporter could not refrain from a condescending description of dervishes’ chanting as “grunts,” but correctly noted in the headline that the sufi revival has “unclear implications.” In an implicit acknowledgement that their harsh repression of Islam in the North Caucasus is backfiring, the Russian authorities are embracing the indigenous peaceful sufi tradition as an alternative to the violently intransigent Wahhabism imported from the Arab world. But this could also backfire—as the sufis themselves likewise seek independence from Russia, even if they aren’t willing to blow up civilians to achieve it. Meanwhile, the fact that they are now tolerated by the Russians will leave them open to the inevitable charge of collaboration.

Other Islamic tendencies with ethics of peace and universalism are meeting with repression in the growing atmosphere of intolerance. In January 2004, the government of Bangladesh banned all publications of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, an unorthodox Islamic sect—one day before the deadline of an ultimatum by fundamentalists to declare the sect “non-Muslim.” The demands came from the Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), a partner in the government’s ruling coalition, and its affiliated Hifazate Khatme Nabuwat Andolon (HKNA), fundamentalist organizations that consider the Ahmadiyya movement heretical. Abdul Awal of Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Bangladesh, said: “We are shocked. The government has bowed down to religious terrorists.” IOJ/HKNA calls for Ahmadiyya mosques to be shut down, and is accused of contributing to an atmosphere of terror. On Oct. 8, 1999, a time bomb exploded at the Ahmadiyya mosque in Nirala during Friday juma prayers, leaving seven worshippers dead and 27 injured. Sale, publication, distribution and posession of Ahmadiyya literature was banned under the new decree. “The ban was imposed in view of objectionable materials in such [Ahmadiyya] publications which hurt or might hurt the sentiments of the majority Muslim population of Bangladesh,” said a Home Ministry press release—although the government stopped short of actually declaring the Ahmadiyyas “non-Muslims.”

The Ahmadiyyas are regarded as heretics by orthodox Islam because they believe their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a prophet—contradicting the orthodox dogma that Mohammed was last prophet. Additionally, their teachings see links to other faiths, rather than rejecting them as mere infidelity. Ahmadiyyas hold that the Lost Tribes of Israel are the contemporary Afghans (Pashtuns), and that Jesus survived the crucifixion, resumed his ministry after escaping to the East and is buried in Srinagar, Kashmir. Like the medieval Chishtis, they also view the Hindu Vedas as divine scriptures, seeing a concordance between many Vedic and Koranic verses. Their spiritual leader Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad, fourth successor to their prophet, died in 2003 in London, where he had been exiled since in 1984 because of government persecution in his native Pakistan.

Iran’s Bahai religious minority report that the government has intensified a campaign of arrests, raids and propaganda aimed at eradicating their faith in the country of its birth. On May 19, 2006 in Shiraz, 54 Bahais who were involved in a community service project were arrested, many of them in their teens and early 20s. They were mostly released without charge days later. It was the largest mass arrest of Bahais since the 1980’s, when thousands were imprisoned and more than 200 were executed by Ayatollah Khomeini’s regime.

Bahais also face persecution elsewhere in the Islamic world. In May 2006, judicial authorities in Egypt overturned a ruling to allow official recognition of the Bahai faith. Dubious charges of Bahai background were recently used against Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas by his political opponents.

With an ethic of universalism which holds that all faiths and prophets are derived from the same divine source and that humanity is evolving towards world unity, the pacifistic Bahais are successors to the Baba movement declared in 1844 by Sayyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi (1819-1850), also known as the Bab (the gate). Declaring himself a prophet, the Bab was executed on orders of the Shah, and many of his followers, known as Babis, were massacred. The Baba movement evolved into Bahai when Husayn-Ali (1817-92), the Bab’s successor, declared himself Baha-Ullah, or “The Glory of God,” in 1852. Baha-Ullah also faced long years of prison and exile, but his followers brought the faith to Europe and America, and it now claims five million followers worldwide.

Another schism viewed as heretical by jihadis are the Ismaili Shi’ites. A scion of the sect’s hereditary leadership, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, was a leader in what is called the “international community,” and held to a higher ethical standard than many of such privilege. A descendent of the Prophet Mohammed and a wealthy private philanthropist, he held several UN humanitarian posts, and died in May 2003 at the age of 70 in Boston. He was both the youngest and longest-serving UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and spearheaded UN responses to the wars in Bangladesh, Vietnam and Uganda at the UNHCR. He also headed humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan from 1988 to 1990, and following Operation Desert Storm. Holding French, Swiss and Iranian passports, and considered himself a “citizen of the world,” and his famous motto was to keep a “cool head and warm heart without getting cold feet.” Sadruddin was son of Sultan Mohammed Shah, or Aga Khan III—spiritual leader of the world’s Ismaili Muslims—and later became the uncle of Karim Aga Khan IV, the current Ismaili leader.

But even as Prince Sadruddin tread the corridors of power, Ismailis in remote parts of Central Asia and Afghanistan faced persecution and far worse. In Afghanistan’s remote and mountainous central Bamiyan province, the Hazara ethnicity—said to be the descendents of a remnant of Genghis Khan’s Mongol army—constitute one of the world’s largest Ismaili populations, and were, of course, targeted for extermination by the Taliban. Some 20,000 Hazaras are believed to have been massacred as heretics under the Taliban, and over 100 mass graves were exhumed in Bamiyan after the Taliban’s fall. But Hazaras still face a precarious situation. Hazara warlords resisted Northern Alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani when he was president in the mid-1990s. Hazara militias later joined the fractious Northern Alliance against the Taliban, but also battled the Northern Alliance’s Tajik and Uzbek militias—who now control northern Afghanistan. It should also be said that whatever the liberal proclivities of Prince Sadruddin, the Hazara militia Hizb-i-Wahdat generally shared the Mujahedeen’s brutal and reactionary consensus.

The Ismailis of Pakistan are in a particularly ironic position. They inhabit Hunza, Gilgit and Baltistan—Himalayan enclaves, now collectively known as the “Northern Areas,” that India charges were arbitrarily separated from Kashmir by Pakistan so as to exclude them from negotiations over the divided territory. Pakistan, in turn, maintains it did so to give these enclaves local autonomy in response to the desires of the populace, who are ethnically and religiously distinct. Bizarrely, Hindu nationalist publications and websites (and, we may assume, political groups) are supporting Ismailis in the Northern Areas who, not content with autonomy, seek actual independence from Pakistan. The Ismaili separatists call the Northern Areas “Balawaristan,” and hope to establish it as an independent nation. The Ismaili separatist struggle hasn’t reached the point of open war, but it is headed in that direction. January 2005 saw deadly riots in Gilgit following an armed a

Continue ReadingSUFISM AND THE STRUGGLE WITHIN ISLAM 

IIRSA: THE FTAA’S HANDMAIDEN

South American “Infrastructure Integration” for Free Trade

by Raul Zibechi

The project for Integration of South American Regional Infrastructure (IIRSA, by its initials in Spanish), is swiftly but silently moving forward.

IIRSA is the most ambitious and encompassing plan to integrate the region for international trade. If completed in full, the project would connect zones containing natural resources (natural gas, water, oil, biodiversity) with metropolitan areas, and both of these with the world’s largest markets.

From August 31-September 1, during the 2000 South American Presidential Summit in Brasilia initiated by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB) presented its “Plan of Action for the Integration of South American Infrastructure.” In essence, it formed the foundation for what would become IIRSA, an ambitious plan to facilitate regional and global trade by carrying out physical projects and effecting changes in legislation, statute, and national regulations.

IIRSA is a multi-sectoral project that aims to develop and integrate transportation, energy, and telecommunications infrastructure over the next 10 years. The goal is to reorganize the continent’s landscape based on the development of a physical infrastructure of land, aerial, and river transport; oil and gas pipelines; waterways; maritime and river ports; and power lines and fiber optic cables, to name a few. These projects are organized in 12 integration and development axes—corridors where investments can be concentrated to increase trade and create chains of production connected to global markets.

To carry out this megaproject a number of physical, statutory, and social “barriers” must first be overcome. This requires harmonizing national legislation in the 12 affected countries, and occupying the key territories that tend to have low populations but are major reserves of raw materials and biodiversity.

An Ambitious Project

The December 2000 IADB study “A New Push for Regional Infrastructure Development in South America” suggests that the main obstacles to accomplishing physical integration, and therefore, to improving the flow of merchandise, are the “formidable natural barriers like the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Orinoco river basin.” Carlos Lessa, former president of the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES, by its initials in Portuguese) agrees, pointing out, “The Andes mountain range is certainly beautiful, but it’s a terrible engineering problem.” This kind of logic that regards nature as a “barrier” in some places and a “resource” in others pervades all aspects of the plan.

During the September 2003 Sub-regional Seminar, IIRSA’s Technical Coordination Committee defined three goals:

1. Support the integration of markets to improve intra-regional trade.

2. Promote new chains of production to become competitive in major global markets.

3. Reduce the “South American cost” by creating a solid logistical platform that is well-inserted into the global economy.

According to studies, another objective of this integration project is to conquer South America’s natural resources and put them at the disposal of North American and European markets.

These objectives can be easily observed on maps of the development and integration axes, each of which encompasses several countries. The nine axes already defined (two are still under development) are:

1. Andean Axis (Venezuela-Colombia-Ecuador-Peru-Bolivia)

2. Amazon Axis (Colombia-Ecuador-Peru-Brazil)

3. Central Inter-oceanic Axis (Peru-Chile-Bolivia-Paraguay-Brazil)

4. Capricorn Inter-oceanic Axis (Antofagasta/Chile-Jujuy/Argentina-Asuncion/Paraguay-Porto Alegre/Brazil)

5. Guyana Shield Axis (Venezuela-Brazil-Suriname-Guyana)

6. Mercosur-Chile Axis(Brazil-Uruguay-Argentina-Chile)

7. Southern Axis (Talcahuano-Concepcion/Chile-Neuquén-Bahía Blanca/Argentina)

8. Southern Amazon Axis ( Peru-Brazil-Bolivia)

9. Atlantic and Pacific Maritime Axis (all countries)

The two axes still under development are the Parana-Paraguay waterway and a megaproject to unite the Orinoco, Amazon, and Rio de la Plata river basins through a connection of 17 rivers to permit river transportation from the Caribbean to Rio de la Plata.

Each axis involves a variety of infrastructure projects. For example, the Amazon Axis, which unites the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic and crosses three large ecosystems (coastal, Andean mountain, and rainforest), must tie the Amazon River and its tributaries to the ports of Tumaco (Colombia), Esmeraldas (Ecuador), and Paita (Peru). This will require major improvements to existing roads and construction of others. Since the axis aims to create a dense network of river transportation systems, several rivers will be dredged and straightened, while in other places river ports will have to be completely overhauled. These infrastructure projects and the spike in transportation flows they generate will result in massive environmental impacts on the Amazon ecosystem.

In areas covered by the axis, there is major hydroelectric power potential as well as large oil reserves already under development, in addition to soybean crops, wood extraction, fishing, and fish farms. The axis will connect with three others (Andean, Central Inter-oceanic, and Guyana Shield) and reduce transportation costs for Pacific countries to Europe, and Brazil to Japan, thus encouraging more trade. The construction of two gas pipelines is being considered for areas deep in the Brazilian Amazon, one extending from Coari to Manaos and the other from Urucu to Port Velho, at a total cost of $750 million. This would allow natural gas to be exported from key points in the Amazon and Southern Amazon Axes. The first contains the important port of Manaos, and the second Port Velho, Brazil, which would be united with the Peruvian ports on the Pacific. This would also allow transportation of the area’s grain production—where soy, corn, and wheat production are the fastest growing—in addition to Camisea’s natural gas from Peru.

The majority of the axes are interconnected. Of the nine, four cover the Amazon and five unite the Pacific with the Atlantic. Under this plan, the continent’s natural resources will be made available to international markets.

The IIRSA project has defined five processes of sectoral integration to address institutional and statutory obstacles. They are:

1. regional energy markets

2. functional systems of aerial, maritime, and multimodal transport

3. promotion of information and telecommunication technologies

4. the facilitation of border crossings

5. finance modalities.

Total investment is expected to be on the order of $37 billion. The project will be financed by the IADB, the Andean Promotional Corporation (CAF, by the Spanish), and the Financial Fund for the Development of the Rio de la Plata Basin (FONPLATA), in addition to the important contributions of the Brazilian Development Bank.

InterAmerican Development Bank (IADB)

Regional financial institution created in 1959 to encourage the economic and social development of Latin America and the Caribbean. It has 46 members: 26 from Latin America and the Caribbean; the United States; Canada; and 18 additional member countries from out of the region. Its highest authority is the Assembly of Governors, made up of the secretaries of treasury from each country.

The right to vote is determined by the number of shares: Latin America and the Caribbean have 50%, the United States 30%, Japan 5%, Canada 4%, and the rest 11%. Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico taken together have the same number of shares as the United States.

From 1961-2002, the IADB approved loans totaling $18.82 billion: 51% for energy projects, 46% for ground transportation, and 3% for telecommunications, maritime, river, and aerial transport. Brazil received 33% of the resources.

Andean Promotional Corporation (CAF)

Multilateral financial institution created in 1970. By 1981, it had approved $618 million in operations, but from 1995-1999, it underwent a huge expansion, approving $12.33 billion in operations

It is the largest financial agent for infrastructure projects in Latin America. Made up of 16 member countries, it is the number one financier for countries belonging to the Andean Community of Nations. It is a major financier of the Atrato-Truando or Atrato-Cacarica-San Miguel canal, which will allow the connection between IIRSA and Puebla-Panama Plan.

Financial Fund for the Development of the Rio de la Plata Basin (FONPLATA)

Created in 1971 to finance integration projects for the river basin. Brazil and Argentina each hold 33.3%; Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay 11.1%. It finances multi-million dollar projects for transportation, agriculture and livestock, industry, exports, and health.

Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES)

Brazilian public bank created in 1952. Under the Lula da Silva government, it has been directed to finance large infrastructure projects in South America. It has extensive resources—greater than any other financial institution in the region—and it is implementing important energy and hydroelectric projects in Venezuela and Ecuador, among others. It has projects that exceed a billion dollars with Venezuela and Argentina.

In reality, these projects are already underway, though not in direct connection with IIRSA. According to CAF’s 2002 Annual Report, some 300 physical integration projects have been identified in South America, 140 of which were ready to begin at any moment. Sixty IIRSA-related projects were already underway: 40 for transportation, 10 for energy, and 10 for telecommunications.

Territories and Markets

Overcoming the physical, legal, and social barriers to implementing IIRSA will require profound changes in geography, legislation, and social relations. The South American continent is sometimes considered a collection of five separate “islands” that should be united:

1. the Caribbean Plate

2. the Andean Mountains

3. the Atlantic Plate

4. Central Amazon Enclave

5. Southern Amazon Enclave

The integration and development axes unify these “islands” by breaking down what is called in technocratic language natural “barriers.”

From a geographical perspective, this unification would demand major undertakings in infrastructure to “correct” the obstacles imposed by nature, speed up the flow of transportation and trade, and greatly reduce costs. The Peru-Brazil-Bolivia Axis, for example, seeks to create an access path from Brazil’s agricultural industry, in the Southern Amazon Enclave, to Pacific ports without having to first travel north through the Amazon river basin. To accomplish this, efficient highways crossing the Andes must be built, in addition to the infrastructure projects necessary for river transport. The path paved by nature will be modified, through huge investments, so that South American merchandise can more rapidly reach the global market.

As Andres Barreda points out, “Starting in the 1980s, the flow of commercial traffic from the Pacific began to displace flow on the Atlantic side. In the 1990s, port traffic on the Pacific was outpacing the Atlantic’s; and in the year 2000, the United States’ Pacific port traffic saw double the volume of its Atlantic ports. There is a problem when the global economy shifts from the Atlantic to the Pacific.” This shift caused the Panama Canal to lose its significance and in its place corridors connecting the two oceans are beginning to appear. According to Barreda, South America has a “strategic bottleneck” in Bolivia, where five of the 12 corridors cross.

South America is one of the few regions on earth that contains all four strategic natural resources: hydrocarbons, minerals, biodiversity, and water. The profound changes to the landscape do not follow a model for integrating the continent as a whole, but rather, for inserting it into the global market . IIRSA, it could be said, centers on an “outward-facing” or exogenous type of integration, rather than an “inward-facing” one. In addition, the axes or corridors must have certain characteristics. Barreda: “To make real-time connections, the Internet is fundamental. To make just-in-time connections, intermodality is fundamental.” As such, the corridors must combine a modern-day telecommunications system with the necessary infrastructure for intermodal transportation.

Intermodality is based on the “container revolution.” The system must be exactly the same for ground, aerial, and river transportation, and merchandise must be able to transfer from one system to another seamlessly. This requires a system of highways and semi trucks, airports and plane fleets, and river barges capable of transporting freight containers, which are now replacing the old system of storage or deposit that the merchandise sector had traditionally utilized. This transformation is linked to the emergence of “global factories” that operate under the just-in-time premise. A sort of “global automaton” has been created by large businesses that employ remote-control operation techniques and cover the planet in the form of a network. But this global automaton, “industrially and productively integrated, now operates with new center-periphery hierarchical relations of an industrial character,” as evidenced by the maquiladora boom. IIRSA is the South American link to integrate the continent into this process, in a subordinate manner.

To overcome the various legal and statutory barriers, IIRSA has adopted the neoliberal strategy of deregulation and weakening the state. Adapting national legislation to the needs of global trade requires homogenization of the rules. This would inevitably lead to each country or region losing its distinguishing characteristics, and states would lose their autonomy to multinationals and the governments of developed countries.

Finally, the “social barriers” must also be overcome. Just one example of this among dozens is the 260-mile Coari-Manaos gas pipeline that passes through the Amazon River as well as one of the best-preserved areas of the rainforest. The two companies primarily interested in the project are Brazil’s Petrobras and the US-based El Paso (world leader in natural gas and one of the world’s largest in the energy sector). In 1998, Petrobras built the first part of the gas pipeline (174 miles), which united the Urucu reserves with the city of Coari. The project caused enormous social and environmental impacts. Writes Brazilian journalist Elisangela Soldatelli: “It reduced fishing levels, affecting river populations that depend on fish to survive; it affected areas where Brazil nut is extracted, crucial to the surrounding areas; the Coari population grew considerably, as the city houses the workers that arrive from different areas; and there has been a dramatic increase in prostitution, violent crime, and cases of malaria.” The Urucu-Port Velho gas pipeline will affect 13 indigenous communities and five municipalities where 90% or more of the population is indigenous.

The benefits gained by a small handful of multinationals will create irreversible social and environmental damages, and further weaken the autonomy of marginalized states, giving them even less recourse to deal with their problems.

Two Cases: Brazil and Bolivia

IIRSA affects each country in the region differently, but in general, we can define “winners” and “losers” in terms of the benefits and damages the implementation of IIRSA will generate. One of the problems with the project is that it will deepen the gaps between countries, regions, and the rich and poor social sectors of society, since different regions will be integrated into the global market on an unequal footing based on current “comparative advantages.” Brazil, one of the most industrialized countries in the world, and Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, illustrate this point well.

In Bolivia, the only thing poor is the indigenous majority. The country boasts important hydrocarbon reserves, the second largest on the continent behind Venezuela. It also occupies a key geographical position: five of the integration and development axes connecting the Pacific with the Atlantic must pass through its territory. It is also rich in biodiversity. Consequently, in its plan “Cambio Para Todos” (Change for All), the international banks call for Bolivia “to become a thoroughfare for the subcontinent and central distributor of gas and other sources of energy,” according to a report from the Bolivian Forum for Environment and Development (Fobomade). As a country providing passage, corridors for exporting goods and services will form part of important binational projects for hydro- and thermoelectric energy generation and distribution.

According to plans defined by IIRSA, Bolivia must construct a new “Fundamental Network of Highways” that will leave entire zones isolated but connect hydrocarbon reserves to global markets. The Central Inter-oceanic Axis that seeks to unite the Brazilian port Santos with the Chilean ports Arica and Iquique, crosses through the middle of Bolivia and is critical to countries like Brazil and Chile, which are especially interested in establishing bi-oceanic trade. The Peru-Brazil-Bolivia Axis would unite the Brazilian state Rondonia with the Pacific and gain access to its large-scale soy production, thereby “taking advantage of one of the regions where crossing the Andes presents the least difficulty,” writes Fobomade. Bolivia is about to become the object of huge investments for the construction of the five corridors that will fracture its national territory.

Brazil finds itself in the opposite situation. Exogenous integration will permit it to “advance its goal of dominating Latin America, a result of its 1980s strategy to reach a position of regional leadership by gaining influence over its closest neighbors: Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, first, then Bolivia and Chile, and finally, the rest of the Andean community and all of South America, the ultimate goal being to strengthen its economy in the face of the FTAA.”

Brazil will be in a position similar to that of the world’s industrialized nations the moment it begins to benefit from IIRSA. In reality, Brazil’s relationship with the rest of South America—Argentina being the exception—is similar to that which most center countries have with peripheral countries. In the first place, Brazil has a major interest in channeling its industrial and agribusiness production through the Pacific. Second, several of the businesses set to develop infrastructure are Brazilian, like Petrobras or Norberto Odebrecht Construction, which has investments all over the region. Third, the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) is one of the principal financiers of IIRSA.

The Madeira River Complex, which is a nucleus of the Peru-Brazil-Bolivia Axis, is perhaps the best example. Carlos Lessa, ex-president of the BNDES, maintains that under this project “Brazil can promote its vision of conquering the West, a jungle zone with neighboring Peru and Bolivia. Its megaproject illustrates the dream of Latin American integration, an area that is ripe for development.” The Madeira River Complex project includes two hydroelectric dams in Brazil; floodgates for making the river navigable, which will require the elimination of a zone of waterfalls that “interrupt” navigation; a hydroelectric dam on the Beni River in Bolivia; and ports for the Madeira-Gupore-Beni-Madre de Dios waterway in Brazil, Bolivia, and Peru. The project will allow “significant supply of low-cost energy and consolidate the agribusiness Development Pole in the western region of Brazil and the Bolivian Amazon.” This would permit a reduction in the cost of transportation for grains, and other commodities.

The project will have an enormous impact on the environment and will benefit only Brazil. “Brazilian businesses will be the only buyers of the energy produced, allowing them to impose conditions on buying, contracts, and prices.” The project will involve a $6 billion investment, benefiting Brazilian-owned businesses Odebrecht, Furnas Centrais Electricas, and the Tedesco Maggi group (largest soy producer in Brazil). The latter has invested $100 million into making the Madeira River navigable, “where it has the largest fleet of barges and tugboats, with a river transportation capacity of 210,000 tons per month,” writes Patricia Molina of Fobomade.

Taken in perspective, projects like the Rio Madeira Complex make up part of Brazil’s geopolitical expansion west to occupy “empty” territories and control strategic resources like Bolivia’s hydrocarbons. Journalist Guilherme Carvalho writes: “Brazil’s leaders believe that increasing their competitiveness in the international market depends, in large part, on South American integration,” It is, however, a kind of subordinate integration on two levels: Brazil over the rest of South America, and global markets and business over the region as a whole.

IIRSA in the World

IIRSA is closely linked to the FTAA, to the point where they can be seen as two sides of the same coin. “The FTAA deals very concretely with judicial and administrative issues, while IIRSA deals with infrastructure,” according to a report from Uruguay Friends of the Earth. Both form part of a much larger project that includes the Puebla-Panama Plan. IIRSA is, however, unique in at least one way: it is a type of integration that has been conceived of by the South, engineered in large part by the continent’s elite, and will primarily benefit those sectors best inserted into the global market. The demand for infrastructure projects has grown out of the need for global markets to access a stable and increasing flow of raw materials and natural resource exports. Accessing these resources has to be done as “competitively” (which is to say, as cheaply) as possible. It’s clear that this type of development will only generate more poverty and greater inequalities, further concentrate wealth on a local and global scale, and create profound environmental impacts. Among other negative consequences, the external debt of South American countries will continue to rise. The current practice of overexploiting resources could create a situation where a few decades down the road, countries that today depend on oil and natural gas to generate income will exhaust their reserves without ever having truly benefited from them.

One of the most worrisome aspects of IIRSA is the way in which it is being implemented: silently. While the continent furiously debates the FTAA and other free trade agreements, IIRSA projects are taking place without the participation of civil society or social movements and without the release of information by governments. This method of implementation clearly seeks to avoid debate altogether. At the same time, projects are starting up in separate areas to be linked at a later date—a technique that prevents vigilance, weakens the control of affected communities, and facilitates the sidestepping of environmental regulations. Formally, IIRSA began in the year 2000, but a good part of its projects have their roots in the previous decade.

The most disturbing prospect of IIRSA’s large network of infrastructure projects is that they may well accomplish the same goals as the FTAA, only without that name, with no debate, and imposed from the top down by global markets and national elites. If this is the case, a few decades from now South America will have quietly completed a gigantic, continent-wide remodeling project that affects every one of its inhabitants. The elite know–as recent experience has shown them–that openly debating their plans will only condemn them to failure.

Translated for the IRC Americas Program by Nick Henry.

RESOURCES

Marcel Achkar and Ana Dominguez, “IIRSA: Otro paso hacia la des-soberania de los pueblos sudamericanos,” Programa Uruguay Sustentable-Redes Amigos de la Tierra, Montevideo, 2005.

Andrés Barreda, “Geopolitica, recursos estrategicos y multinacionales”, Dec. 20, 2005, Latin American Information Agency (ALAI)

Guilherme Carvalho, “La integracion sudamericana y Brasil,” Action Aid, Rio de Janeiro, 2006.

“El rol de Bolivia en la integración sudamericana,” Fobomade, 2005

Patricia Molina, “Bolivia-Brasil: Relaciones energeticas, integracion y medio ambiente,” Fobomade, 2005

Elisangela Soldatelli, “IIRSA. E esta a integraçao que nos queremos?”, Amigos da Terra, Porto Alegre, December 2003.

Raul Zibechi, “Brazil and the Difficult Path to Multilateralism,” March 8, 2006, IRC Americas Program
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/3144

The BICECA Project: Building Informed Civic Engagement for Conservation in the Andes-Amazon http://www.biceca.org/en/Index.aspx.

Banco Nacional de Desarrollo Económicoy Social (BNDES)
http://www.bndes.gov.br

Comunidad Andina de Naciones
http://www.comunidadandina.org

Corporación Andina de Fomento (CAF)
http://www.caf.com

Foro Boliviano sobre Medio Ambiente y Desarrollo (Fobomade)
http://www.fobomade.org.bo

FONPLATA
http://www.fonplata.org

IIRSA
http://www.iirsa.org

——

Raul Zibechi, a member of the editorial board of the weekly Brecha de Montevideo, is a professor and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de America Latina and adviser to several grassroots organizations. He is a monthly contributor to the IRC Americas Program

This story first appeared June 26 in Upside Down World
http://upsidedownworld.org/main/content/view/337/1/

It was originally published by the IRC Americas Program
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/3313

See also:

“South American Pipeline Wars”
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT #118 February 2006
/node/1531

“Peru’s Camisea Gas Project: One Year Later”
by Yeidy Rosa, WW4 REPORT #114, October 2005
/node/1140

“Indigenous Opposition to Puebla-Panama Plan Faces Reppression”
by Bill Weinberg, WW4 REPORT #91 August, 2003
/puebla-panama

——————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingIIRSA: THE FTAA’S HANDMAIDEN 

PEAK OIL PREVIEW:

North Korea & Cuba Face the Post-Petrol Future

by Dale Jiajun Wen

That peak oil is coming is no longer a question. It’s only a matter of when. The global food system we are familiar with depends crucially on cheap energy and long-distance transportation—food consumed in the United States travels an average of 1,400 miles. Does peak oil mean inevitable starvation? Two countries provide a preview. Their divergent stories, one of famine, one of sufficiency, stand as a warning and a model.

North Korea and Cuba experienced the peak-oil scenario prematurely and abruptly due to the collapse of the former Soviet bloc and the intensified trade embargo against Cuba. The quite different outcomes are partly due to luck: the Cuban climate allows people to survive on food rations that would be fatal in North Korea’s harsh winters. But the more fundamental reason is policy. North Korea tried to carry on business as usual as long as possible, while Cuba implemented a proactive policy to move toward sustainable agriculture and self-sufficiency.

The 1990s famine in North Korea is one of the least-understood disasters in recent years. It is generally attributed to the failure of Kim Il Jung’s regime. The argument is simple: if the government controls everything, it must be responsible for crop failure. But this ideological blame game hides a more fundamental problem: the failure of industrial chemical farming. With the coming of peak oil, many other countries may experience similar disasters.

North Korea developed its agriculture on the Green Revolution model, with its dependence on technology, imported machines, petroleum, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. There were signs of soil compaction and degradation, but the industrial farming model provided enough food for the population. Then came the sudden collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989. Supplies of oil, farming equipment, fertilizers, and pesticides dropped significantly, and this greatly contributed to the famine that followed. As a November 1998 report from the joint UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program observed:

The highly mechanized DPR [North] Korean agriculture faces a serious constraint as about four-fifths of motorized farm machinery and equipment is out of use due to obsolescence and lack of spare parts and fuel… In fact, because of non-availability of trucks, harvested paddy has been seen left on the fields in piles for long periods.

North Korea failed to change in response to the crisis. Devotion to the status quo precipitated the food shortages that continue to this day.

Cuba faced similar problems. In some respects, the challenge was even bigger in Cuba. Before 1989, North Korea was self-sufficient in grain production, while Cuba imported an estimated 57 percent of its food, because its agriculture, especially the state farm sector, was geared towards production of sugar for export.

After the Soviet collapse and the tightening of the US embargo, Cuba lost 85 percent of its trade, and its fossil fuel-based agricultural inputs were reduced by more than 50 percent. At the height of the resulting food crisis, the daily ration was one banana and two slices of bread per person in some places. Cuba responded with a national effort to restructure agriculture.

Cuban agriculture now consists of a diverse combination of organic farming, permaculture, urban gardens, animal power, and biological fertilizing and pest control. On a national level, Cuba now has probably the most ecological and socially sensitive agriculture in the world. In 1999, the Swedish Parliament awarded the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize,” to Cuba for these advances.

Even before the 1990 crisis, primarily in response to the negative effects of intensive chemical use as well as the 1970s energy cruch, Cuban scientists began to develop biopesticides and biofertilizers to substitute for chemical inputs. They designed a two-phase program based on early experiments with biological agents. The first stage developed small-scale, localized production technologies; the second stage was aimed at developing semi-industrial and industrial technologies. This groundwork allowed Cuba to roll out substitutes for agricultural chemicals rapidly in the wake of the 1990 crisis. Since 1991, 280 centers have been established to produce biological agents using techniques and supplies specific to each locality.

Though some alternative technologies were initially developed solely to replace chemical inputs, they are now part of a more holistic agro-ecology. Scientists and farmers recognized the imbalances in high-input monoculture, and are transforming the whole system. In contrast to the one-size-fits-all solution of the Green Revolution, agro-ecology tailors farming to local conditions. It designs complex agro-ecosystems that use mutually beneficial crops and locally adapted seeds, takes advantage of topography and soil conditions, and maintains rather than depletes the soil.

Agro-ecology takes a systemic approach, blurring traditional distinctions between disciplines and using knowledge from environmental science, economics, agronomy, ethics, sociology, and anthropology. It emphasizes learning by doing, with training programs allocating 50 percent of their time to hands-on work. The wide use of participatory methods greatly helps to disseminate, generate, and extend agro-ecological knowledge. In short, the agricultural research and education process has become more organic as well.

Important institutional changes have eased the transition. Big state farms have been reorganized into much smaller farmer collectives to take advantage of the new labor-intensive, localized methods. The change from farm-laborer to skilled farmer is not an overnight process–many newly established collectives lag behind established co-ops in terms of sustainable management, but programs are in place to help them catch up.

Cuba’s research and education system played a pivotal role in the greening of the country. The focus on human development has practically eradicated illiteracy. Cuban workers have the highest percentage of post-secondary education in Latin America. This highly educated population prepared Cuba well for the transition to the more knowledge-intensive model of sustainable agriculture.

In the 1970s and 1980s, most agricultural education was based on Green Revolution technology. The 1990s crisis rendered many agro-professionals powerless without chemical inputs, machinery, and petroleum. In response, agricultural universities initiated courses in agro-ecological training. A national center was created to support new research and the educational needs of the agricultural community. Now, courses, meetings, workshops, field days, talks, and experiential exchanges are organized for farmers. As some traditional methods of organic farming have survived among small farmers or in co-ops, farmer-to-farmer communication is widely utilized to facilitate mutual learning.

The coming of peak oil will shake the very foundation of the global food system. The hardship Cuba and North Korea experienced in the 1990s may very well be the future we all face. It will impact both already-ailing rural sectors in many Third-World countries, and highly subsidized agriculture in the North. Cuban agriculture shows that there is an alternative—increasing output and growing better food while reducing chemical inputs is possible with proper restructuring of agriculture and food systems.

It is unlikely that we will have an abrupt peak-oil scenario where half the fossil-fuel agricultural inputs disappear overnight; more likely we will have gradually yet steadily rising oil prices, making conventional chemical inputs increasingly unaffordable.

This is the advantage we have over Cuba and North Korea—while virtually nobody predicted the sudden collapse of the Soviet bloc, we know peak oil is coming and have time to prepare. We have disadvantages as well: peak oil will be a global crisis, probably made worse by global warming, so there will not likely be any international aid to bail people out in the face of a major food crisis—either we deal with the problem now, or nature will deal with us.

Not only politicians, but also ordinary people need to consider the question: should we try to shore up the system and carry on business as usual for as long as possible, or should we take preemptive measures to avoid disaster? This choice may determine whether we end up with a more sustainable agriculture like Cuba, or with disastrous famine like North Korea.

RESOURCES:

Peter Rosset, “Alternative Agriculture Works: The Case of Cuba,” Monthly Review, July/August 1998

Nilda Perez & Luis L. Vazquez, “Ecological Pest Management,” in Sustainable Agriculture and Resistance: Transforming Food Production in Cuba, Fernando Funes, et al., eds. Food First Books, Oakland, 2002

Miguel A. Altieri, “The Principles and Strategies of Agroecology in Cuba,” in ibid

Luis Garcia, “Agroecological Education and Training,” in ibid.

——

Dale Wen is a visiting scholar with the International Forum on Globalization. A native of China, she specializes in China and globalization issues.

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2006 edition of Yes! Magazine
http://www.yesmagazine.org/article.asp?ID=1462

See also:

“Peak Oil and National Security: A Critique of Energy Alternatives”
by George Caffentzis WW4 REPORT #113, September 2005
/node/1027

——————-

Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, July 1, 2006
Reprinting permissible with attribution

Continue ReadingPEAK OIL PREVIEW: 

ABU MUSAB AL ZARQAWI: THE MAKING OF THE MYTH

BOOK REVIEW:

INSURGENT IRAQ: AL ZARQAWI AND THE NEW GENERATION
by Loretta Napoloeoni
Seven Stories Press, New York, 2005

by Chesley Hicks

Published before Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s death, Insurgent Iraq, by Italian scholar-author Loretta Napoleoni, is an information-heavy treatise that traces the path that the iconic Islamic militant took from his childhood slum of Zarqa, Jordan, through a dense and evolving web of Muslim militancy and Middle Eastern politics, to modern-day occupied Iraq. Following al Zarqawi’s singular transformation from petty criminal to larger-than-life terrorist leader, Napoleoni demonstrates the broad ways that myth, as spun in both the East and West to suit religious ideologies and political agendas, has overwritten history to create a new, convoluted global reality.

Napoleoni’s unraveling of the myth begins in Zarqa, where al-Zarqawi was born Ahmad Fadel al-Khalayash, in 1966, to a family of Bedouin heritage. He was raised with little education in a ghetto that the author describes as being caught in a discordant clash between traditional, tribal values and rapidly developing Arab-Western consumerism. This was during the years when Jordan accepted a huge influx of Palestinian refugees from the Israeli conflict, creating a friction that, Napoleoni says, arose from the “speed with which the Palestinian diaspora tore into the Bedouin way of life.”

Against details of the larger geo-political shifts happening at the time, Napoleoni traces Zarqawi’s course as a discontent teenager; he drops out of school, joins a gang, and is imprisoned for minor crimes.

Prisons in the Middle East, Napoleoni describes, turn an already restless underclass into a captive audience that is ripe for indoctrination. “In Zarqa, as across the Arab world,” she writes, “the networks of petty crime and of revolutionary Islam constantly criss-crossed, especially in prison; both existed on the margins of Arab society, constituting a web of illegality.”

In the 1970s, the mounting Islamic rebellion questioned the legitimacy of the region’s Arab regimes. Religious leaders challenged ruling authorities, loaning general criminality against the state a religious-political dimension. “The illegitimacy of the Arab state blurred the boundaries between crime and insurrection,” Napoleoni writes.

When al-Zarqawi first entered prison he was not politicized. But in prisons, malcontents found shared purpose with political dissidents. Throughout the book, Napoleoni offers many examples of Islamist leaders who used prison time to hone their focus, study, write tomes, and issue edicts. Over the course of his various incarcerations, prison radicalized al Zarqawi and set him in pursuit of jihad as he romantically envisioned it during the early days of the Mujahedeen-Soviet war.

During his lifetime journey from Jordan to Iraq, al-Zarqawi underwent several transformations, each reflecting the times. The author describes how most Muslims grow up amid violence, a condition perpetuated by the failure of local governments, entrenched corruption, and war. In the beginning, al-Zarqawi found a religious focus for his youthful alienation and angst, but as the geopolitical backdrop changed, his religious focus adopted more political tones. He changed his name several times: from his birth name to “The Stranger”, to Abu Muhammad al Gharib, and, finally, to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. During this conversion, Zarqawi longed to join the Afghan Mujahedeen, but never made it. But he became, along with the Islam he was immersed in, ever more politicized.

Eventually Zarqawi made it to Afghanistan, but, as Napoleoni writes, “Once again, al Gharib [the named he’d taken at the time] missed the opportunity to become a warrior.” He wanted to join the Mujahedeen, but by the time he reached Afghanistan, the Soviets were long gone and battle was Muslims fighting Muslims—the Taliban versus the Northern Alliance—which was very different from fighting the Soviets, an infidel invader. Nonetheless, he offered his services to the Taliban and established training camps.

By this point, according to Naopleoni, Zarqawi had became a charismatic but small-time leader. He found fertile ground among Afghanistan’s discontent population, who were often just looking for a purpose in a repressed, violent environment. This is a familiar refrain in the book: relationships of convoluted convenience, whereby belligerents find new, nearby enemies to fight, and ideologues find new allies within nearby lost populations to convert.

Eventually Zarqawi’s parochial vision of jihad encountered the global battle against the West, which was taking figurehead shape in Osama bin Laden.

Napoleoni says that al Zarqawi was, at first, not interested in pursuing al Qaeda’s global jihad. “The nature of the modern jihad appears ambiguous. Is it a counter-Crusade, an anticolonial fight, or a revolution?” she writes. “This dilemma of definition is at the heart of modern Islam and at the core of the ideological differences that characterized the relationship between Osama bin Laden and Abu Mo’sab al Zarqawi.” Zarqawi’s interests lay largely with confronting local Muslim leadership to protect Islam. But in his pursuit of this local and limited jihad, al-Zaqawi entered into an arena where the vagaries and vastly manipulated interpretation of jihad spread both deep and wide.

“From the outset, the dilemma of the Islamist insurgency is strategic. It boils down to the question of how to fight two enemies: one near and the other remote. The former is represented by the Muslim regimes, illegitimate because they originate from military coups or because they are takfir, corrupt, and repressive. The distant enemy is the West, which is represented in the Middle East by the state of Israel, the occupying power in Palestine and the holy sites. [T]oday the distant enemy includes Coalition forces in Iraq. Western countries are equally responsible for backing infidel Arab and Muslim regimes, such as Mubarak’s Egypt, the House of Saud, and democratic Iraq.”

Naopleoni writes that this dilemma plagued the jihadist movement until 2003, when the Coalition invasion merged both the domestic and international fronts in Iraq. Before that, the author portrays a wide rift existing between the privileged, upper-class, global attack machinations of bin Laden’s al Qaeda and Zarqawi’s more local-minded jihadist pursuit.

In the introduction to Insurgent Iraq, Napoleoni writes, “Islamist terrorism is a weak enemy. It can be defeated by the instruments of democracy. New technology makes it difficult to suppress its propaganda, but meaningful engagement with moderate Muslims and continued commitment to the rule of law will greatly degrade the appeal of the Islamist jihad among European [Muslim] youth. To depart from these methods is to threaten our greatest achievement: societies ruled by justice and freedom.” Taking her at her word, she believes in the creed and greater practice of Western democracy. She concludes her book on a similar, hopeful note. But, first, she outlines just how badly things can go wrong with the system.

Colin Powell’s speech on February 5, 2003 changed things for al-Zarqawi. “Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network,” Napoleni quotes Powell, “headed by Abu Mos’ab al Zarqawi, an associate collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Queda lieutenant.” Powell portrayed Zarqawi as the go-between linking Saddam and Osama, and also linked him to a supposed ricin terrorist plot in England. Napoleoni writes that all these claims have been pretty decisively disproven.

This is a central point in Insurgent Iraq. According to Napoleoni, prior to Powell’s proclamation, Zarqawi had been a minor force in Middle Eastern dissent. But in seeking a new demon to further justify its plan to attack Iraq, the Bush administration conjured a fulcrum for connecting Iraq to terrorism, and alighted upon Zarqawi. The media attention subsequently paid him gave al-Zarqawi more clout than he’d ever had.

And as al-Zarqawi really did find his way into Iraq, the Western-conjured grandeur around him provided a rallying point that galvanized legions searching for a leader. Even though he wasn’t yet an al-Qaeda chief, this attention, Napoleoni writes, “helped keep al Queda in the limelight.”

Zarqawi and bin Laden maybe did or maybe did not meet, but Zarqawi in any case harnessed the mantle of al-Qaeda’s leader in Iraq—despite the fact that his original agenda had so greatly differed from al-Qaeda’s.

In ghettos roiling with neglect and lawless discontent, any predisposition toward secularism broke down in post-shock-and-awe Iraq. Napoleoni offers a solid synthesis of just how, just as the democratic-leaning Shi’ite majority lost its faith in the Coalition, al-Zarqawi and his imported jihadists played a pivotal role in keeping Iraq’s Sunnis from uniting with the Shi’ites in a national front against the occupation.

This is where Zaqarwi, with the help of the American myth-making machine, achieved his real power. Maintaining localized fundamentalism as his core aim, Zarqawi’s fear was that “the jihadists would be cut out [of the Iraq insurgency] because they were foreigners and the insurgency would become secular.” So he fervently endeavored to prevent Sunni-Shi’ite unity. According to history so far, he succeeded.

Writes Napoleoni: “Thus the myth of al Zarqawi could mark the future of Iraq. Even if he is caught and killed. The insurgency will not stop. On the contrary, his capture or death would enlarge his myth and strengthen his legacy.”

Napoleoni is a scholar not an investigative, frontline journalist. Her assertions in Insurgent Iraq are based more on second-hand info, quotes, and sometimes conjecture. But given the outcomes as we now know them, these assertions are convincing.

Readers will occasionally get lost in the author’s assertions. Napoleoni sometimes attributes quotes to sources who have not been identified beyond name, and certain arguments—particularly where she tries to proffer evidence of the early Zarqawi’s non-terrorist nature—fall into a void. But with its lengthy appendix, including extensive sourcing, glossary, chronology, and brisk wording, Insurgent Iraq is an excellent and prescient resource.

“The more the United states demonize him, the more he is singled out as the supervillain of terror,” Napoleoni writes, “the more the media broadcast that he has been arrested or cornered by Coalition forces, is injured or even dead, the greater his supernatural myth grows. He is the Arab Zorro…”

She describes the current Iraq insurgency as a Hydra with new heads at the ready. Indeed, following the recent slaying of al Zarqawi, CNN reported that “US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice authorized up to a $5 million reward Friday for information leading to the capture of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, believed to be the replacement for the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq—Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.”

In chapter seven, illustrating the hyperbole growing around the myth of al Zarqawi, Napoleoni writes, “As the myth took shape, the life of the man faded into its own legend. He was a chemical engineer, an expert on explosives, a legendary mujahed, a close associate of Osama bin Laden. He lost a leg in battle defending al Queda from US raids, he had been operating in Iraq under the protection of Saddam, and at the same time he had been seen in the Pankisi gorge… It is unreasonable to believe that al Zarqawi had the time or means to build such a global network, or to travel to so many places, whether with one leg or two.”

In its July 3-10, 2006 issue, Newsweek magazine reported: “If you hoped his June 7 death might be the end of the line for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, you really don’t want to see the newest recruitment videos for the Taliban. Although they never mention the Jordanian-born terrorist by name, the echoes of his Internet videos—and his sheer viciousness—are unmistakable and chilling. The star is Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a one-legged guerrilla commander in southern Afghanistan who now seems bent on matching or exceeding Zarqawi’s ugly reputation.”

The very same article goes on to say that “US commanders downplay the importance of individual enemy leaders. They say the way to win the war is to focus on the big picture, not on personalities.”

Has the government learned from its mistakes, even as the media carry on with the myth-making?

So begins another gruesome chapter…

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“Abu Ayyub al-Masri: kinder, gentler jihad?” June 17, 2006
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PERU: CAMPESINOS PROTEST FREE TRADE

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On June 8, Peruvian campesinos held a day of protest against the Andean Free Trade Agreement (known in the region as the Free Trade Treaty, or TLC) which Peru’s government signed with the US last December. (The regional pact includes Colombia and Ecuador, but the US has carried out negotiations with each country separately, and the talks with Ecuador have been suspended since March.) Hundreds of campesinos marched on the Panamerican South highway in Chincha, Ica region, blocking traffic for hours. The campesinos are demanding that Peru’s Congress make changes to the pact so it won’t hurt small-scale farmers, especially those producing cotton and corn. More than 3,000 campesinos marched to the central plaza of Tarapoto, in San Martin region, from areas including Altomayo and Huallaga Central. They threw rice during the protest to draw attention to the negative impact the TLC will have on Peruvian rice producers. (Cadena Peruana de Noticias, June 8) On June 7 or 8, before the protests began, the Constitution Commission of Peru’s Congress ruled out holding a referendum on the TLC. (Adital, June 8)

Campesino leader Jose Villanueva told the Cadena Peruana de Noticias radio network: “[President-elect] Alan Garcia in his initial speech said the signing of that treaty was irresponsible, yet now that he won the elections he is in favor and it seems he won’t say anything in the face of its ratification.” (Cadena Peruana de Noticias, June 8)

According to official results reported on June 10, with 99.77% of the ballots counted, Garcia of the Peruvian Aprista Party won the June 4 presidential runoff election with 52.6% of the vote, compared to 47.4% for nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala, who has come out more strongly against the TLC. Earlier reports showed Garcia with a lead of more than 10 percentage points over Humala. (La Jornada, Mexico, June 6 from AFP, DPA, Reuters; El Nuevo Herald, June 10 from AP) Based on the results from the April 9 general elections, Humala’s Union for Peru party will have the largest bloc in Congress, with 45 of the 120 seats, compared to 36 for Garcia’s Aprista party. (El Nuevo Herlad, Miami, June 8 from AP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 11

PROTESTERS BLOCK MACHU PICCHU

As part of an ongoing series of protests against the Andean Free Trade Agreement, Peruvian campesinos in the southeastern region around Cusco shut down tourist visits to the Machu Picchu ruins on June 21. The campesinos used tree trunks and boulders to block railroad tracks outside Cusco; others blocked streets inside the city. The company PeruRail, which operates the only rail service to the ruins and normally carries 1,200 tourists a day, suspended operations for the day.

Peru signed the TLC in December. On June 6 the government of outgoing president Alejandro Toledo sent the 1,000-page document to Congress for ratification. He is pushing for the accord to be finalized before July 28, when a new Congress will be seated and Toledo’s successor, former president Alan Garcia (1985-1990), will take office.

The General Confederation of Peruvian Workers (CGTP) called for the June 21 action. “The TLC [creates] the cruelest unfair competition between our Andean products and highly subsidized US products; it will plunge us into poverty, destroying our agriculture and our national manufacturing sector in its early stages.” (El Nuevo Herald, June 22 from AP)

The Struggle Against the TLC National Coordinating Committee, an umbrella organization for labor and campesino groups, has scheduled another protest for July 4. On June 22 former presidential candidate Ollanta Humala, a nationalist who lost to Garcia in a June 4 runoff election, announced his support for the anti-TLC protests. Nelson Palomino, the leader of the Confederation of Peruvian Cocaleros [coca growers], who spent three and a half years jailed in the Yanamilla prison in Ayacucho, announced his intention to march at the head of the protests and demanded a meeting with Garcia to discuss the TLC. Garcia, who was on a visit to Chile, said his party didn’t unconditionally support the accord. His government would push for an “improvement…of the conditions that Mr. Toledo negotiated,” he told the Chilean radio state RPP. (Cadena Global/EFE, June 22; Cadena Peruana de Noticias Radio, June 23)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 25

CAJAMARCA: STRIKE AT GOLD MINE

Some 1,000 workers at Yanacocha mine in the Cajamarca region of Peru went on strike April 15. The mine, owned by the US-based Newmont Mining Corp. and the Peruvian company Buenaventura, is Latin America’s largest gold mine. The union said the strike shut down operations at the mine on April 17; the company claimed only 100 workers walked out and the mine kept running on a contingency plan. On April 17, the company announced that the union had “unconditionally lifted” the strike and the workers would return to their jobs on April 18. The union said the strike was to demand benefits such as free healthcare, education and housing which the company had promised to the workers.

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, April 30

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ECUADOR: CAMPESINOS OCCUPY OIL WELLS

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

Some 200 Ecuadoran campesinos occupied the roads leading to the Coca-Payamino installation of the French oil company Perenco on the morning of June 19 to protest the company’s “indifference” to the environmental damage they said it had caused. The campesinos came from three communities–15 de Abril, Asociacion Campesina Payamino and Asociacion Campesina Punino–in Orellana province in northeastern Ecuador. The campesinos said company representatives repeatedly failed to come to meetings called to resolve the problems.

During the morning the approximately 20 Ecuadoran soldiers that had been guarding the facility for the last three weeks were reinforced by 20 soldiers arriving in helicopters and by six local police agents coming on foot, according to local residents. The governor of Orellana and a ranking military officer also arrived and ordered the removal of the campesinos at noon. “The police and military forces repressed the campesinos by hurling a large number of tear gas grenades and shooting rubber bullets, resulting in two people wounded, two arrested and the end of the occcupation of the oil installation,” the Human Rights Office of the Coca reported.

One of the people injured was Wilman (or Wilmer) Adolfo Jimenez Salazar, a member of the Orellana Human Rights Committee who was acting as a human rights observer when he was shot six times with rubber bullets at close range, in the leg, arm and abdomen. He was then arrested. He was taken to the Orellana Civilian Hospital for treatment, but Orellana judicial police agents later removed him. Human rights groups and the municipal government of Francisco de Orellana designated Jimenez a “disappeared person” and filed a habeas corpus petition for his release.

Orellana prefect Guadalupe Llori told the Associated Press she was attempting to mediate the situation. Although the campesinos were removed on June 19, “I think they’ve gone back to reoccupy” the area, she said on June 20. “They play cat and mouse. Today they’re removed, tomorrow they’re back.” Perenco has been operating in Ecuador since 2002, exploring and drilling in the Amazonian region, according to its website. (Yahoo Noticias Argentina, June 20; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, June 20 from AP; Diario Hoy, Ecuador, June 20 from AFP; Francisco de Orellana press release, June 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 27

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COLOMBIA: SOLDIERS CHARGED IN MASSACRE

from Weekly News Update on the Americas

On June 1, Colombian chief federal prosecutor Mario Iguaran announced that an army platoon had deliberately killed 10 agents from a US-trained anti-narcotics unit of the Judicial Police Department (DIJIN) on May 22 in the village of Potreritos, Jamundi municipality, in Valle del Cauca department. “This was not a mistake, it was a crime–a deliberate, criminal decision,” said Iguaran. “The army was doing the bidding of drug traffickers.”

The police agents had arrived at the site of a planned raid when a platoon of 28 soldiers ambushed them. A ballistics investigator found that the soldiers fired 150 bullets and seven grenades at police. A civilian informant who led police to the raid scene, promising they would find a large stash of cocaine, was also killed with a bullet to the head. Gen. Carlos Alberto Ospina, the top commander of Colombia’s armed forces, claimed the attack was an accident, and that soldiers had mistaken the agents for leftist rebels. But ballistic investigators said some of the victims were shot in the back and at a range of only a few yards. And when police reinforcements arrived at the scene with lights flashing, they were driven back by gunfire.

On June 1, the day Iguaran announced his findings, seven soldiers and their unit commander, Col. Bayron Carvajal–who was not at the scene but is believed to have planned and directed the ambush from Cali, the departmental capital–were arrested in connection with the killing. Seven more soldiers were ordered to turn themselves in on June 17. All will face charges of aggravated homicide.

According to an article by Miguel Suarez, Director of Radio Cafe Stereo, the massacre likely stems from a conflict between DIJIN director Oscar Naranjo Trujillo–described by AP as “one of Washington’s most trusted allies in the war on drugs”–and powerful drug trafficker and paramilitary leader Diego Fernando Murillo, known as “Don Berna.” Naranjo is the brother of drug trafficker Juan David Naranjo, arrested in Germany last May 3. (AP, June 17/; article by Miguel Suarez posted on Colombia Indymedia, June 18)

In Washington on June 9, the US House of Representatives voted 174-229 against an amendment introduced by Rep. James McGovern (D-MA), which would have cut US aid to Colombia’s military and police next year by 5%, $30 million. (AP, June 17)

MEDELLIN: COMMUNITY LEADER MURDERED

On June 13, former community activist Gerardo Gonzalez left his home in the Llanadas neighborhood of Medellin, Colombia, to make a phone call. After he stopped on the street to talk with a local vendor selling arepas (a Colombian staple food made from corn), four armed men arrived and sprayed Gonzalez and the vendor with bullets, killing them both.

Gonzalez and his wife (whose name was omitted from an action alert to protect her safety) were community leaders in the municipality of El Penol, Antioquia, in 2000 when paramilitary groups unleashed a campaign of repression there. A number of leaders were killed, including Carlos Andres Buitrago, Gonzalez’s stepson. The persecution forced the Gonzalez family and other community leaders and their families to flee El Penol. In 2004, the paramilitaries filed a formal accusation with the attorney general’s office, accusing Gonzalez and other community leaders of being leftist guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). More than 10 of the displaced leaders from El Penol were arrested on July 29, 2004, in connection with the charges. The court eventually threw the charges out for lack of evidence, but the community leaders were unable to return to El Penol and instead had to permanently relocate to Medellin. The persecution by paramilitaries continued in Medellin, and on April 23 of this year Jhon Henry Hincapie and Arley Garcia–both former El Penol residents named in the court case–were disappeared. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

On June 5, Gonzalez and his wife, along with other people who had been arrested on the false charges, filed a formal complaint with the Antioquia prosecutor’s office, charging that a group of paramilitaries led by Jorge Ivan Alzate (alias Claudio Redondo) had been harassing them with threatening calls and surveillance of their homes. At one point, three heavily armed individuals arrived at the Gonzalez home in a white Ford pickup truck with polarized windows. Alzate claims to work with government security forces such as the Judicial Investigations and Intelligence Service (SIJIN) of the National Police, and the Unified Action Group for the Liberty of Persons (GAULA), a combined police and army unit allegedly focused on rescuing kidnapping victims. (Colectivo de Derechos Humanos Semillas de Libertad-CODEHSEL, June 14)

According to official figures, a total of 30,944 right-wing paramilitaries have demobilized. But on June 16, Colombian Defender of the People Volmar Perez reported that armed right-wing paramilitary groups have regrouped “in the department of Valle del Cauca; in Catatumbo, on the border with Venezuela [in Norte de Santander department]; in Montes de Maria [in the northern departments of Bolivar and Sucre] and areas of [the northern departments of] Magdalena, Cesar and Sucre.” (Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias-ABN, Caracas, June 17) According to a confidential report revealed at the Defense Ministry’s May 30 National Intelligence Board summit, 22 new illegal armed groups have emerged, boasting 2,500 armed members currently and likely to expand. (Revista Cambio, June 16)

Paramilitary leaders are warning that more of their members will likely regroup because of a May 18 Constitutional Court ruling which overturned part of the “Peace and Justice Law” that allowed their demobilization. The high court overturned a clause that would have set an eight-year limit on prison terms for demobilized paramilitaries convicted of crimes such as drug smuggling, massacre and torture. The ruling is retroactive, requiring those who were sentenced prior to the law’s passage to serve their full original terms. (El Tiempo, Bogota, June 16; Reuters, June 14; statement from Movement of Victims of State Crimes, May 24)

SANTANDER: ANTI-PRIVATIZATION PROTESTS

On June 14 nearly 1,500 people marched to the municipal building in Barrancabermeja, in the northeastern department of Santander, to reject plans to privatize Aguas de Barrancabermeja, the municipal water and sewer company. (Vanguardia Liberal, Bucaramanga, June 14)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, June 18

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