Decolonizing a Fake Caliphate


Indigeneity is a Neoconservative Ideology

“Yemen became two Yemens, Lebanon became four and there will be more!”


“For us to have more votes at the United Nations!”

  • Muhammad al-Maghout, from the Syrian play: “Cheers to You, Nation” (1978). 

The current war in the Middle East has brought back again discourses on “indigeneity.” The Butlerian Left has been trying to use “indigeneity” as a means to allow the international professional managerial class to appropriate the political struggles of the Third World (despite itself benefiting from the very failures of these struggles). In that sense, Judith Butler and their crowd consider themselves to be as much “indigenous” as the peoples of the Middle East, if not more, because they are opposed to heteronormativity, which can only be “Western,” “capitalist” and “Colonial.”

On the other side, we have the indigeneity theories of left-wing Zionists who claim a sort of “Judean indigeneity.” Since last October, we have heard many discourses about the non-whiteness of Jews, how the first wave of “Aliyah” was purely Middle Eastern, and how Jews, like many others in the Middle East, have the right to “decolonize” and rid themselves from being “Dhimmis” second class citizens in an Islamic Dominion. Even Benjamin Netanyahu himself declared that Israel was decolonizing itself from Hamas when he said that his war was the Second Israeli War for Independence.

Netanyahu’s allies and friends in the United States also believe that there has been an “Islamic colonization.” They also believe that the West has the duty to support diverse and incoherent political classes and groups vying for emancipation from this Arab-Islamic imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere. Chloe Valdary, a Zionist African American writer at Tablet Magazine said; “If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”

In this article, I will seek to explore this line of neoconservative thinking, The goal of exposing this decolonial hypothesis comes not as a bourgeois critique of anti-Islamism per se, but as a socialist critique of the futility and the limitedness of the decolonization discourse itself in all contexts, including the Palestinian one, and its utility in capitalism’s efforts to reproduce endless identitarian Popular Fronts which serve to displace the process of its own overcoming.

Colonization or Expansion?

The claim that there has been a ruthless Arab-Islamic colonization of the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe has often been disputed by claims of the exact opposite; Muslim Arabs or Muslims are the “liberators” of these regions. Egyptian geographer and anthropologist Jamal Hamdan claimed that the Arab Islamic superstate, nascent in the 7th Century was not a colonial but a “liberatory empire” that: “liberated all these regions from the plight of the decaying Roman and Persian colonizations, their ethnic persecution, and their economic extortion. Later on, this new state never again witnessed any racism or a barrier predicated on color, but it became a unified body open to intermixing and free interethnic marriage, it never again witnessed regionalism or any civilizational barrier because it was one heterogeneous space common to all.[1]

Hence, these identity politics do not reject all old formations of empire as despotic per se, but they glorify old empire or condemn it as colonization based on the identity of the ruling imperial elite and the identity of those who are ruled; “our ancestral empire was the golden age and yours was an oppressing colonial entity against our people.”  These “Volk-based” dogmas mystify the fact that the history of humanity is the history of colonialism. Lenin reiterated that when he said that “Colonial policy and imperialism existed before the latest stage of capitalism, and even before capitalism. Rome, founded on slavery, pursued a colonial policy and practiced imperialism.”

On the other hand, the moral and identitarian bourgeois condemnation of the old empire as colonialism makes old imperialism comparable to or even worse than new imperialism, an attitude rejected by Lenin; who said that it ignores or puts “into the background, the fundamental difference between socio-economic formations… Even the capitalist colonial policy of previous stages of capitalism is essentially different from the colonial policy of finance capital.”  Thus, the identitarian discontent with the premodern expansion of Arabs and Muslims, and their ancient imperial forms of land taxation, Jizyah (racketeering of non-muslims), slavery, and imperial expansion, displaces discontent from modern capitalist harsh forms of exploitation, plunder, and calculated impoverishment in culturally rich but militarily defenseless overseas societies, in what Karl Kautskey calls the “old style exploitation colony.” Even worse, this is where such bourgeois condemnation displaces the real point of animosity between the Western working class and the imperial overlord in the metropolitan center, it is what Kaustky calls the “new style exploitation colony,” which is utilized by the capitalist imperial state to perpetuate the contradiction of capitalism forever. 

The “Caliphate” and the Middle Eastern Millennial Left

Despite the apparent anti-Marxism of the social movement opposing “Arab-Islamic colonialism”, it has been recently adopted widely by the vanguards of society in the Middle East, including the Millennial Left. This mainly took place in two contexts. First, in the context of the post-9/11 world, where neoconservatives, par excellence, promised to “decolonize” the Old World from its Islamic and Eurasian past with grand visions of “state-building” in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the New Middle East. Second, in the context of the 2011 revolutions in the Middle East, the election of Islamists to the government in several Arab countries, the subsequent mass hysteria by the Arab Left, and finally the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which was the first “Caliphate” to be established after the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, in 2014, exactly one hundred years after the First World War that deposed the Ottomans.

The Middle Eastern Liberal and Leftist mass hysteria is too familiar for the historian of the recent epoch. From calls to apply the 21st-century liberal bourgeois written laws and unwritten moralities to the 7th-century, to calls for curriculum changes in the education system, to claims that every Muslim and Arab individual in Middle Eastern societies is culturally and psychologically responsible for the rise of ISIS, to calls for the liberation of the Arab mind that mimics a similar call issued in after the Arab defeat in the 1967 War, to calls for the liberation of ethnic and sexual minorities, and women from the “returning caliphate.” A good example of this is Egyptian Feminist Mona Al-Tahawi’s “Letter to the Manager,” celebrated as courageous in Tablet Magazine by a parallel universe woke version of Sohrab Ahmari. In her article published in Foreign Policy Magazine, Al-Tahawi called for the liberation of Arab women from “the minds” and “the bedrooms” of Arab men.

The anti-Caliphate popular front, led by much of the middle classes of the Arab Spring, made the Middle Eastern Millennial Left oblivious to the deeply neoconservative and reactionary nature of the course that their social revolution has taken. Suddenly, the left has found itself in bed with several right-wing factions.  

First, the post-ISIS condemnation of the history of Arab-Islamic caliphates as colonization surprisingly came from Sunni Islamists themselves. Emam Nashat Al-Zaraa, a mid-tier religious cleric and government official in Egypt, said that the historical conquests were political, not Islamic, and attaching them to Islam undermines it as a religion. Al-Zaraa considered Islamic expansion as an aggression and a reprehensible occupation, which is “deeply rooted” in all Islamic schools of thought, as a violent heritage that allows the occupation of other states, which was the case of ISIS terrorism. Moroccan-Amazighi scholar Ahmad Al-Zahid, also provides an anti-Arab Islamic condemnation of the Caliphate, in his book “Arab Invasion of North Africa.” For Al-Zahid, the expansion of the Caliphate is blasphemy because it is not about “authentic Jihad” and the carrying of the message of Islam. Instead, it was about the bottomless ambitions of the uncivilized Arab Bedouins, their military establishment that undermined the religious institution, and their pillage of spoils of war and natural resources of the “lands of al Maghreb.”[2]

Second, the Middle Eastern Millennial Left forged an allyship with another right-wing power; the local capitalist state whose national security apparatus was empowered after the post-2011 crisis of Islamism. Under the pretext of “decolonization” from the neo-caliphate, the utterly “statist” Middle Eastern Millennial Left has given its blessing to this structural change. If “decolonization” from the Ottoman Caliphate after 1917 helped us have the modern Arab capitalist and military state, then the Arab state would help us repeat the “decolonization” process from the “Neo-Ottoman” Islamists. Ironically, this hyper-legitimization of the capitalist local state sanctioned it with the dismantlement of civil society -for its own good- and the rollback of the 2011 moment.

Third, in its war against the imaginary Arab-Islamic “colonial” past, the Middle Eastern Millennial Left found itself in the same trench with anti-Arab and anti-Islamic ethnonationalism. There are many iterations of this ethnonationalism starting from the history of Arab-Islamic expansion itself which led to the rise of the 8th-century phenomenon of “Al-Shu’ubyyah” which was the oppositional populism or “peoplism/volkism” of different subject ethnic groups mainly the Persians.[3] In Europe, the ideology opposing Islamic imperialism started as a premodern catholic one by the “Reconquista” of the Iberian Peninsula in 1492 from the Arab and Moorish Caliphates and ended up as a modern ethno-nationalist ideology with the liberation of Greece in 1821 from the Turkish Ottoman Caliphate, which intensified what Samir Amin called a Eurocentric “Hellenomania” in Western Europe.[4]

In the Cold War, anti-Communist ethnonationalism would intersect with anti-Islamic ethnonationalism. In 1953, Cold Warrior Sir Olaf Caroe, a former colonial administrator in British India, emphasized the necessity of decolonizing Central Asian peoples from both Soviet colonialism and their Islamic history (Caroe almost justifies Turkistanic collaboration with the Nazis during the Second World War).[5] After the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of Yugoslavia would be likened to a decolonization from the Ottoman Caliphate by Serbian nationalists.[6] And in the age of neoliberal unipolarity, the anti-immigration Far-Right would rise in Europe to counter what they’ve seen as an “Islamic invasion.”

Thus, the anti-Caliphate Ideology is deeply anti-universal and it takes its blueprints from a broader “First-Worldist” ideology that divides the international working class through constant balkanization and constant ethno-nationalist promise for joining the “civilized nations.”[7] It is this identitarian ideology that makes Ukrainians say “We are Europeans”, makes the British say: “We are not Europeans” and makes Mexicans say “No somos Latinos, somos Norteameicanos.”

The Catalonian Ideology

In the basin of the Mediterranean, I choose to exemplify the inherent polarization and divisiveness of the aforementioned ethno-nationalist line of thinking, and its relation to the “Arab-Islamic past” as “the Catalonian Ideology.” I am not talking here about the contemporary elite ideology of Catalan independence from Spain, an issue so complex that half of such an elite identifies itself with Israel, and the other half identifies itself with Palestine. Instead, the Catalonian ideology can be traced back to the 19th century, mainly after the disaster of the Spanish-American war in 1898, when Catalan racialists rejected the enlightenment ideology of the modern Spanish Monarchy, subsequently rejecting the progressive, secular, and universal ideology of the Spanish Republic and Miguel de Unamuno’s progressive ideology of Pan-Iberianism. Instead, Catalan racialists, like journalist Pompeu Gener, saw irreparable, structural, cultural, and civilizational defects in Spanish society. For them, the expulsion of Islamic Moors and Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula did not represent true decolonization, an authentic overcoming of the Arab-Islamic past, can be only achieved by liberating the pure Aryan and European Catalan race from the dominion of other impure and inferior Castilian and Spaniard races which have intermixed with the Semitic, pre-Semitic, and African races that invaded the peninsula with the Islamic conquest.[8] 

Jordi Pujol, the father of Catalan modern politics and the president of Catalonia from 1980 to 2003; was also influenced by the Catalonian ideology. In 1976, after the end of the Franco dictatorship, he wrote a book on the problems of Andalusian (Spaniards from the province of Andalusia in the south of modern Spain) immigration and integration in Catalonia. Pujol then talks about the essentialist nature of the “Andalusian Man” who is “not a coherent man, he is an anarchic man. He is a destroyed man… he is an underdeveloped man. He is a man who has been hungry for hundreds of years and lives in a state of ignorance, and cultural, mental, and spiritual misery.” Pujol’s nationalist politics made him a reliable politician to helm Catalan-Israeli relations before and after Spain’s recognition of Israel in 1986. Two decades earlier Pojul would invoke indigeneity similarities between Catalans and Israelis in an article he anonymously wrote: “The Jews evoked their past, history, language, culture, and religion to create and shape a state, and that should be an example for us.”

Appeals to indigeneity have often been a force for the perpetuation of capitalist politics, because of their hostility to many cosmopolitanisms, including towards proletarian internationalism. In the Middle East, Zionism has been one counterpart among many to the Catalonian ideology. After the 1967 military disaster, much of the vanguards of Middle Eastern societies retreated to old real and imaginary stories of the Pharaonic, Phoenician, Carthaginian, Berber, and many other pre-Islamic and pre-Roman pasts and histories. After the defeat of the 2011 revolutions, The Middle Eastern Millennial Left, haunted by a caliphate that keeps coming back from the past, has approved this end-of-history retreat and has approved all sorts of identitarian balkanizations, including the concurrent balkanization of America, while throwing Lenin’s “right to self-determination” at everyone. This is because liberal bourgeois ideology tends to attack the past to compensate for its inability to construct the future.

[1] Jamal Hamdan. (1983) The Strategy of Colonization and Liberation. Page 26.

[2] Ahmad Al-Zahed. (No Date) The Arab invasion of North Africa: between the Glorification in the Historical Material and the Vileness of Reality. Page 33.

[3] Sami Hanna and George Gardner. (1969) Arab Socialism: A Documentary Survey. Pages 80-97.

[4] Samir Amin (1993) Eurocenterism. Page 170.

[5] Olaf Caroe. (1953) Soviet Colonialism in Central Asia. Foreign Affairs. Vol. 32, No. 1. Pages. 135-144.

[6] Adam Curtis. (2021). Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World. BBC Documentary. Episode 4. 

[7] Rossen Djagalov. (2021). Racism, the Highest Stage of Anti-Communism. Slavic Review. Volume 80  Issue 2. Pages 290 – 298

[8] Pompeyo Gener. (1903) Cosas de España: Herejías Nacionales, El Renacimiento de Cataluña. Page 178.