Revolution #232, May 15, 2011

Report from: "U.S. Empire, Islamic Fundamentalism... Both Deadly. Is There Another Way?"

On Wednesday, April 27 at the New School in downtown New York City, World Can't Wait and The Platypus Affiliated Society hosted the event: "U.S. Empire, Islamic Fundamentalism... Both Deadly. Is There Another Way?" This urgent exchange took place against a backdrop of U.S. wars and military aggression in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya and elsewhere with very little resistance from the people living in the U.S.; the continued growth of Islamic fundamentalism; and the recent wave of uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa against oppressive regimes. These uprisings have challenged the permanence of existing conditions, inspiring great hope worldwide and posing the question of what it will take to achieve real liberation.

After a brief opening by Debra Sweet of World Can't Wait, each panelist gave a presentation and then joined in a robust exchange. The panelists were: Sinan Antoon, an Iraqi-born poet, essayist, and associate professor at the Gallatin School of New York University (NYU); Wafaa Bilal, an Iraqi artist and assistant arts professor at NYU's Tisch School; Laura Lee Schmidt, East Coast Assistant Regional Coordinator for The Platypus Affiliated Society; Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution newspaper and Advisory Board Member of World Can't Wait; and Greg Wilpert, author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government. Together they represented an important range of views among progressive and radical people, not only in this country but around the world.

Several speakers emphasized the U.S.'s role in funding and building up Islamic fundamentalism over the years and most agreed that between the U.S. empire and Islamic fundamentalism, it is the U.S. that has by far committed the greatest crimes against and poses the greatest threat to the people of the world. One view argued that to even put Islamic fundamentalism and U.S. empire together in the conversation was to equate them and to feed into the U.S. ruling class' attempts to make a bogeyman out of Islamic fundamentalism and rationalize its wars. Others insisted that Islamic fundamentalism must be taken on because it traps many who are seeking to oppose imperialism into something that fails to rupture with imperialist domination and compounds the problem through its violent patriarchy and enshrining of ignorance.

Other questions that got sharply posed and addressed included: the nature of imperialism; the political-moral responsibility of people in the United States; whether democracy is the highest goal or if something more and radically different is needed; the model being forged in Venezuela under Chavez; and various questions posed by the recent upsurges in the Middle East and North Africa, including whether leadership is desirable or needed to achieve liberation.

In this mix, Sunsara Taylor promoted the analysis of Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, about the historical causes and current significance of the contention between historically outmoded strata among colonized and oppressed humanity and historically outmoded ruling strata of the imperialist system—and how it is that reactionary Islamic fundamentalism and imperialism actually reinforce each other. She also spoke about Avakian's re-envisioning of a vibrant socialism and communism and why this is a truly emancipating and viable alternative to the present world.

By the end of the evening, the horrors of both U.S. imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism, how to understand their relationship, whether there is another way the world could be, and what people should be doing now had begun to be delineated and engaged among those who share a deep concern for humanity's future. At the same time, important divergences of understanding and pressing questions among progressive and radical people were made clearer, as were the stakes and importance of continuing such debate and discussion.

Such events are far too rare. People are righteously rising up in the Middle East and North Africa, and millions more need to be lifting their heads and fighting for a different future throughout the world—and it is very significant that people came together to began such an important dialogue.

Look for online video of the program to become available.

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