Interview with Hamid Taqvaee
Third Camp TV
Maryam Namazie: You wrote the Manifesto of the Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism, which many people are now supporting. Why did you feel the need to write it?
Hamid Taqvaee: If you have a look at the political situation of our era, it seems that there are mainly two forces that actually determine everything in the political arena in the Middle East, the west and even the world. These two forces are the USA and its allies on the one hand and Islamic terrorism on the other. But the fact is that it is not only these two. What we are saying is that neither of these two forces actually represents people. Even people living in Islamist societies, and I can say especially those people, are not represented by political Islam, or by Islamic governments such as the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Third Camp addresses that force which represents the majority of people of the world – a majority which has no interest in the war between these two poles of Islamic and US-led terrorism. They reap no benefits from their war.
In the conflict between the two in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, it is people who are actually sacrificed. People have no reason to take part in this. But the question is what do they do? Must they stay home, witness the carnage that is unfolding before their eyes and do nothing? Of course not. The Third Camp enables people to make a stand against both poles of terrorism in our era. Since people are losing everything in this confrontation, we must establish and organise a third movement. The third camp is a movement not an organization; it is a movement against political Islam and US militarism.
Maryam Namazie: It’s not yet well known but one gets the sense that it is crucial…
Hamid Taqvaee: Yes, it is not well known and that is why one of our main aims is to introduce the movement to as many people as we can. I believe public opinion on the whole is with us. If they come to know about what we are saying, if they were able to find out our goals and purpose, I think they would join us. In Iran, and countries like it, I can say with confidence that more than 90 percent of the people are with us and that we are representing them. They are with us against Islamic terrorism; they are against US militarism. I think we can say that about today’s Iraq and other Middle Eastern societies that have been at the frontlines of the conflict. In Europe, too, people know what is going on after September 11, Madrid, London, Bali. Even in western countries, where people are faced with massive media propaganda, I believe that most people if they knew about us, if they heard what we say and represent, they would join us. They would join the third camp movement. As I said, I think the third camp represents a majority of people in any given country. They just need to know that such a force and movement exists, and that it is active. They would join as soon as we were able to reach them.
Maryam Namazie: I think that is one of the things that we are witnessing. When you talk to activists who are reaching out to people, they say that a lot of them feel a sense of relief that there is this human alternative and they don’t have to choose between bad and worse.
Hamid Taqvaee: Exactly.
Maryam Namazie: There has been an immense amount of support for the Third Camp, but also some criticism. It would be good if you could address some of them here. Some are saying that it is wrong to gather opposition to both US militarism and political Islam since one can’t deal with both at the same time and also because they say, both are not equally important. Groups like the Stop the War Coalition believe that the main issue is Empire or US imperialism.
Hamid Taqvaee: This is not new. As far as I remember, since the start of my political life, I have heard this sort of position from anti-imperialist activists. They ask “What is the main problem?” but never ask for whom and in what context. They imply that there is one main problem for every single person in our era. And they always say that the main problem is imperialism. During the Cold War, there were two different groups. One of them would say that the main enemy or the main problem was the Soviet empire; the other would say it was the US and western empire and they had ongoing discussions with each other. Now that the US is the only superpower, everything has become even more simplified for them. Now we have only one empire to address!
But let’s think of this from the point of view of women in the world, for example. In Islamist societies, or for women who are considered Muslim, what is the main problem? The empire or political Islam? For women in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Algeria, and even Muslim women in Scandinavia, Europe, and the US, what is their main problem? Their problem is that political Islam forces them to wear the hijab, prevents girls from playing with boys, and even allows 9 year old to ‘marry’, which is nothing more than legalising child sexual abuse. Political Islam is a massive movement and from their point of view, from the point of view of millions and millions of women, the main problem is not the empire or US imperialism.
Maryam Namazie: But in countries like Iraq, for example, it is US imperialism that has wreaked havoc….
Hamid Taqvaee: OK, but what about Iran? For 27 years, not only women, but a majority of the population have had no rights. In any sense of the word, the Islamic Republic of Iran is an every-day terrorism ruling Iran. In Iraq, too, Islamic sects are fighting each other and slaughtering children. Sunnis killing Shiites and vice versa. In Iraq, both the US and its allied forces as well as Islamic groups are killing left, right and centre in the name of democracy or resistance! It doesn’t matter what they call it! They are killing people everyday.
People, civilians, who have no interest and no participation in the resistance, get slaughtered. We don’t have resistance as such in Iraq. We have different Islamic and nationalist factions and the occupying forces of the US and Britain fighting each other. That is the situation in Iraq.
Maryam Namazie: Darren Cogavin has written a piece in the Blanket criticising Anthony McIntyre’s article in the same publication in defence of the Third Camp. He says that one of the most basic tenets of consistent democracy is solidarity with mass-based rebellions against occupation, national oppression and colonial rule when they actually occur.
Hamid Taqvaee: Again with the mass-based something! Mass-based what? Hitler relied on the masses. Initially in Iran, Khomeini had the masses with him. So what? Masses can go wrong and most of the time – when there is no left or progressive force present – they do. It happens all the time, everywhere. Masses go and vote for Bush in America and regret it after a few months. It happens everywhere. So don’t talk about ‘the masses,’ ‘what the masses say’ and ‘what the masses don’t say’. That is one point. The other point, even in this context, is that there are no masses behind Islamic forces in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. That is a big lie. Like the mass media, it categorises all people living in the Middle East as automatically supporting political Islam because of where they were born. This is a big lie. It’s as if to say you are with Tony Blair because you were born in Britain since he is your prime minister! This is the same nonsense they spew about the Iranian people. There are no ‘masses’ behind political Islam, even in Iraq, in my opinion. The masses in Iraq want peace; they want a normal life; they want to get rid of all of the forces – Islamist and western – that are making life intolerable. They want to get rid of all of them so they can get on with their day-to-day life, go to school, have hospitals, have electricity, running water… That’s their main problem not resistance against the empire or the democracy that the empire wants to give them. They are defending life. So we have to have a force representing life in Iraq and in fact the masses are with that force. If there is not such a force there, we have to go and create it and organise it – a force defending life against both those poles and fighting against both of them. Going back to old terminology and Cold War logic won’t get us anywhere. Speaking of what the masses want doesn’t help. You don’t determine politics by what people say but by what they really need. What they really want. Even if they don’t know it. Even if nobody represents them. You have to find out what it actually is – it’s not subjective but objective. And you have to go out and be the voice of the people. And represent what they want and need and organise them around that and create a political force against the so-called “resistance” and forces for “democracy”. None of the two poles represent people in Iran, in Iraq, or elsewhere in the world. They merely represent different camps of the ruling classes.
Maryam Namazie: Let’s leave the masses out of it for now; the same writer says that the biggest obstacle to US domination in Iraq and the Middle East is the armed resistance without which US imperialism might well be preparing for a full scale invasion of Iran. So basically he says the manifesto contradicts itself because it is actually this very political Islamic resistance that has stopped the US from entering Iran.
Hamid Taqvaee: With this logic, one could say, ‘if there was no US forces in Iraq, Islamic forces would make the country much worse than what we have in Iran today. Women in Iraq would be in a much worse situation if they had a regime like Iran’s.’ The problem with this writer is that he doesn’t see both poles in the conflict. Automatically, he thinks that whoever resists the US is good. Is pro-people. That’s wrong. This sort of logic has never worked throughout history and it doesn’t work here either. It is not the case that because the US is against the people, therefore, whoever resists the US is with the people. The same logic would be the reverse in Iran. The Islamic Republic is against the people based on what it has done for the past 27 years ruling Iran, and the US is against the Islamic Republic of Iran so the US is with the people of Iran. That’s wrong! That sort of logic won’t get us anywhere. It depends what point of view you are looking at it from. If you look at it from the point of view of only opposing the Islamic Republic in Iran then you will conclude that the US is pro the people. And if you think of it in terms of only opposing the forces that are occupying Iraq, you will come to the conclusion that Moqtada al-Sadr or Islamists in Iraq are with the people. Either way, this is incorrect.
The point is that you don’t have to choose between these two poles. We have to go and create a third camp against both. That’s the whole point.
Maryam Namazie: He goes on to say that the third camp is social chauvinist and “has chosen to position themselves against the growing movement challenging US imperialism arms in hand at a time when revolutionary Marxism is most urgently needed.”
Hamid Taqvaee: Revolutionary Marxism defends itself and defends the people. If there is a force that we can refer to as “revolutionary Marxism”, why doesn’t this force go and create and organise its own movement? Why do we as Marxists have to support somebody else all the time? In the Cold War, why did we have to support the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the USA? And why now, do we have to support Islamists against the USA. And every time, we have a big enemy – the empire or whatever they call it – and we have to support those who are seen to be against it. Why shouldn’t others support us? Why are we not creating our own movement with our own political aims and goals and calling on everybody to come and support us!
There are Islamists against the USA. Fair enough. I accept that. We are against the USA as well. Why shouldn’t Islamists have a discussion among themselves about supporting Marxists? And actually when Marxism was more fashionable in the 60’s, we did have this sort of thing. There were so many religious groups that called themselves ‘Marxist’. Now it is the opposite. Now some Marxists call themselves ‘Muslim’ and that is the main problem of the anti-US movement. The upper hand in this movement is with the Islamists, unfortunately. And Marxists like the one you are quoting, always think Marxists have to go join a big front and support somebody else against the US. If today, it is Sheikh Nasrullah or Hizbullah, then we must all go and support them. At the time of Khomeini, they supported Khomeini. But then you think of it from the point of view of ordinary people. People in the streets. Public opinion all over the world. They don’t buy this sort of logic because it has nothing to do with their real lives. They don’t go by terminology and abstract concepts of ‘who is the main empire of this era?’ They don’t think that way. They simply think about what benefits them; what’s for them and what’s against them. And the people of Iran who have been living under the yoke of Islamic rule know what Islam is. It doesn’t matter whether you tell them that Islam is against the US. It it not their criteria. What is important, and really matters is not the Islamic Republic-US relationship, but the relationship of both of these poles with the people. That’s the way we Marxists should judge and criticise different political movements, parties, and governments. So again referring even to Marxists as a political group or party or movement and then demanding that we as Marxists go and support political Islam or Islamic forces is just ridiculous.
Maryam Namazie: The author goes on to say that the manifesto ‘recycles the odious garbage of Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, directing liberals outside the ranks of the ‘Irrelevant Left’ to enlist in the crusade for western secular and enlightenment values against savage, fanatical Islam.’
Hamid Taqvaee: Why must the achievements of humanity, secularism, defending human beings, humanity, civil society and so on belong to the west or to the east or… They belong to the human race. They are the results of thousands of years of human history. They are latest achievements in politics, sociology, and science. The same way that everybody uses the latest achievements of technology, for example, everybody uses a TV, cars, and planes. In the same way we have social and political achievements that belong to human beings. One of them is secularism; another is civil society; another universal values. They are defended in any country all over the world. So they don’t belong to any one culture at all. Saying they do has to do with relativism. People like the author think that culture is a relative thing. So to them we have Islamic culture, western culture, eastern culture, and when we are defending the achievements of human beings, the achievements of science, technology, sociology they just put us in one of those categories. They say: ‘you are defending western culture’. In reality, east or west is irrelevant. Human beings, humanity, the human race has the same values everywhere in the world. We believe that secularism, having a civil society is a good value and it is good for everybody. Everybody benefits from it; it doesn’t matter whether you were born in Iran or in France. Civil society is one of the latest achievements of human history. It doesn’t belong to any culture and we don’t divide cultures in this way. We believe and support the culture that defends humanity and human beings and oppose the culture which is against them. If you think about it, you will see that a culture which is against human beings belongs to a class which rules across the world. They have different versions: the Islamic culture defends the ruling class in Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran belongs to that eastern culture and the culture of Mr. Rumsfeld and Bush belongs to the ruling class in the USA and it is in the category of western culture.
The above is an edited transcript of Maryam Namazie’s interview with Hamid Taqvaee on Third Camp TV on August 29, 2006. It was transcribed by Arash Sorx. The programme can be viewed on www.thirdcamp.com.