Patty Debonitas interviews Hamid Taqvaee on Third Camp TV
Patty Debonitas: You wrote the manifesto and started the Third Camp movement. Tell us why you wrote the manifesto?
Hamid Taqvaee: The Manifesto of the Third Camp against US Militarism and Islamic Terrorism was written at a time when the conflict between the US and the Islamic Republic of Iran was at its peak. Everybody was talking about the possibility of an invasion of Iran; in the same way they invaded Iraq. It was the beginning of the nuclear crisis, which is still ongoing, with all the ensuing talks about “a military solution”, “economic sanctions as an alternative solution”, and so on, and also the role the Islamic Republic of Iran was playing in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. These were the determining factors involved in writing the Manifesto of The Third Camp. The Third Camp itself was born out of the idea that in those conflicts neither of the two poles, that is, neither the Bush administration, or the Western governments in general, nor the Iranian regime represent the interests of the people of the world. The people, be it in Iran or in the world at large, have their own interests, their own goals, if you like, and thus their own corresponding policies. Therefore, they should be represented by and mobilised as a “third force” in this conflict between the two reactionary camps. That was the whole idea behind building the Third Camp as well as writing its Manifesto.
Patty Debonitas: I think you wrote it in 2006? But what I wanted to know is we have always had antagonism between powerful states, like in the Cold War. And I don’t think that even in the Cold War period neither Russia nor the US really represented anybody other than their own government and the politicians attached to it and some other people who had vested interests in there. Why did the idea that there is nobody representing the people occur to you in 2006?
Hamid Taqvaee: It is very different from the situation we had during the Cold War. During the Cold War one pole was the Soviet Union which was the outcome of the October Revolution. At that time, people wanted freedom, people wanted equality; so a camp took shape around those ideas. (And then, of course, the situation changed in the Eastern camp, that is, in the Soviet camp.) What we had, therefore, was a conflict between the state capitalism, prevailing in the Soviet Union, and its allies, and a Western government type of capitalism, i.e., free market capitalism. This was the basis of that conflict. Of course, one pole, the Soviet Bloc, was always talking in the name of Marxism, socialism, and communism.
But here the situation is totally different. What we call political Islam, or the Islamist movement, was created, all over the world, originally and directly by the US. The US’ role in the creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan, for example, is common knowledge today. Or the way that the Western governments, in general, helped Khomeini and the Islamists seize power as a counter-revolutionary force in Iran in 1979. Both of these poles, the first and second camp, if you will, Western militarism and the Islamist movement, both have the same origin. At the time they called it “the green belt” to be created around so-called Communist Russia (or the Soviet Union). When the revolution in Iran started, the Soviet Union was still a threat for the West. So they thought of creating a “green”, meaning Islamic (as green is a sacred colour in Islam) governments in the countries neighbouring Russia. The West thought of it as a strong “wall”, as a wise defensive tactic, against the Eastern Bloc, or the Soviet camp. That was the reason you had the Taliban against the Russians in Afghanistan. That was also the main reason why Khomeini was helped in 1978-79 by the West to seize power in Iran as a counter-revolutionary force in the name of the revolution. So, those two poles were helping each other against the then Soviet Union. But as soon as the Cold War ended and the Soviet Bloc fell, the previously collaborating camps started to fight each other. Now the Islamist forces had won their own wars, as it were, and therefore began to take care of the problems with their own methods.
The Taliban built a totally brutal regime in Afghanistan whose character was, in the first place, terrorism against the people there. The same thing was, and still is, true about the regime in Iran. As soon as it seized power it turned out to be against women’s rights in Iran, against all liberties, against modernism, against workers, and so on. In short, it was against everything the revolutionary people had set out to achieve. Of course, in the beginning Khomeini came to power because he had raised a pseudo-revolutionary flag against the Shah as the “servant of the foreigners”. And soon after the Shah had fallen he realised, under the force of the revolution that showed no signs of losing momentum, he had to posture against the US to somehow identify his regime with the revolution of the people. The Shah was gone, so now they had to show that they were against the US, against “the great Satan”, as he would put it. Hence, the hostage-taking at the US embassy and the empty “down with America” slogan, which is still being raised after almost 30 years. It is, of course, possible to be genuinely against the US from a totally reactionary, Islamist point of view. In that case, being against the US just means being against modernism, being against the 21st century, being against civil rights, being against civil society. And that is exactly what the Islamic Republic meant and practiced, and still means and practices. All of those rights and achievements, they claimed, had come about as a result of Western influence. For example, if women in Iran did not wear hijab, it was because of Western influence, and the West according to them was evil and represented Satan. We are against that. Or they claimed “Civil Society is a Western concept and that we are a Muslim society believing in the Koran. So torture is okay, because, according to the Quran, you can torture, or kill, or basically do whatever you wish to anyone who is against God and happens to be your captive now.” Or they are against gays because Islam says you have to get rid of gays. You have every right to kill them, execute them, including by putting them in a sack and throwing them off high cliffs. That is what they actually do in Iran. Or they cut off the fingers and/or the feet of the thieves. And other similar savageries. So now, practically from the morrow of the victory of the revolution, we witnessed a very reactionary movement in Iran; the same as with the Taliban in Afghanistan, of course. We call this movement “political Islam”; it is against modernism and all human values represented in Western culture, values that people have gained through the ages. Take secularism and freedom of speech, for example. People of the world, especially the labour movement in many countries, have fought for at least two, three hundred years, from the great French revolution onwards, for a civil society, with separation between church and state, as well as freedom of speech at the core of it. Freedom of speech was fought for, and achieved, especially as a means to criticise religion and in practice to mobilise against religion. These were achievements of the people of the world that Islam totally rejects based on their being “Western values”! They say, “We are against the West, so ‘to us our own culture’”, as it were. And today not even “to us our culture, to the Westerners their culture”, as the Jihadists are now waging their holy war against the “infidel Westerners” at large!
On the other hand, and at the same time, we have a way of thinking in the West called “cultural relativism’, which is what lies hidden, indeed beneath the surface of multi-culturalism as its theoretical cornerstone. It was not just the Koran, it was also Neo-liberalism contained in cultural relativism that welcomed the exact same thing: to us our culture, to them their culture. The Neo-liberal thinkers argued, “Civil Society is for us Western people. Those people are Muslims. They have different values, they have different cultures; they have different lifestyles. Let them be! Don’t criticise them! Who are we to judge!? Even in the West, let’s say, in Germany, male members of a Turkish family kill a female member because she got herself a boyfriend. Even in purely and grossly inhuman instances such as this the defenders of multi-culturalism, the bigoted heroes of cultural relativism, would caution their “fellow-Westerners” against the universal human values by saying, “be careful! They are not of us. They are from an ‘Islamic country’ called Turkey, so it may be OK for them to kill their wife, sister or daughter in defence of what they consider to be their honour.” So you can see that Islamism and multiculturalism are basically two sides of the same coin; they both deny the universality of human rights and human values, albeit from two opposite standpoints.
To summarise: now, after the Cold War, we have a new force in the world. It calls itself the Islamic movement, which is, in character, political Islam, that is, organised Islam endeavouring to conquer state power. It is against the West; but against what in the West? This movement is against progress, modernism, secularism, freedom, civil society and civil values, in a nutshell, against whatever the human race has achieved through the ages which are now found accumulated in, and represented by, Western culture. They just went backwards to the Middle Ages to challenge modernism under the banner of Islam. And, on the other side, we have people in the West who said that’s OK! That’s a new civilisation!! And that is how we came to have the phoney concepts such as “conflict of civilisations”, or the “dialogue between civilisations”, that sort of garbage.
The Third Camp says, “no!” Because when you come to think of it, and in a certain sense, it actually boils down to only two camps. One is civilisation, freedom, the last stage of all the achievements of the people of the world that happens to be found now in the West. But, having said that, it does not mean it originated only in the West. It is the product of hundreds of years of struggle by people across the world for a better, freer life. All those generations of the human race who struggled for freedom, for modernism, for equality, for civil society, for separation of church from the state, and so on, and so forth, struggled for something the end result of which we presently call “Western civilisation”. But, in fact, it is human civilisation, that is, civilisation as a collective achievement of humanity. So that’s one camp, the camp of people, civilised people, which is represented by this Manifesto. And then there are the other two forces that have their own conflicts, but are both totally opposed to humanity at large. Both of them are actually against Civil Society. Islamists say, “We are for an Islamic society so we are against Western Civil Society.” And in the West we have those who say: “There is no such thing as universal civilisation, that is, there are no such things as universal human values as a collective achievement of the whole humanity.” So they are against civilisation as such, indeed, in the name of Post-modernism. Post-modernism is, therefore, as reactionary as Islamism. They have, in my opinion, the same reactionary character vis-à-vis human civilisation, that is, as far as universal human values are concerned, in two different wrappings. Third Camp means, simply put, the camp of the people, the camp of the civilised world.
Patty Debonitas: So anyone can join?
Hamid Taqvaee: Yes, it’s the camp of people who believe in the universality of our values simply as humans. It doesn’t matter whether you are Iranian, Muslim, non-Muslim, whatever. Because if, and only if, we are human beings, so we can be united, that is, we can have the same interests all over the world, regardless of our sex, ethnicity, creed, and race. Such factors do not matter because we are all people, we are all human beings, and, therefore, we love freedom, we love each other, and we want to have a compassionate, modern, technically advanced, civilised society. In this sense, when you come right down to it, you are not only against the Islamist movement because you are a civilised human being, but, by the same token, you are against Bush and Post-modernism as well; you are against all pseudo-spokespersons of “Western civilisation” who want us to recognise “Islamic civilisation” as well. From their standpoint, whatever Islam says “is good for the Muslim people.” Don’t criticise it; don’t even talk about it! “They kill their own daughters, sisters and wives, maybe because their religion or their culture, in general, condones killing in the name of what it considers to be their ‘honour’. Their religion says women are not equal with men. So let it be that way for them.”
Again, just to summarise, we are confronted with a movement with two factions: Post-modernism and Islamism. They are, in character, one and the same reactionary movement as far as humanity, as far as the universal values of the civilised people across the world is concerned. Just forget, for a moment that the US wants to attack Iran. That’s just the political situation at this moment. Our movement, the Third Camp movement, on the other hand, has deeper roots. It goes beyond that particular political confrontation, which could well prove to be only a transitional phase. Our movement is the movement of the people of the world who are represented neither by the Bush administration (or Western governments, in general, or, in a yet wider sense, by Post-modernism and Neo-liberalism) nor by the Islamist forces. They are the people who want to have a civilised, modern society based on liberty and equality. Our movement is the movement of these people, who, first of all, believe people of the world, throughout the world, have common interests, have the same political goals and ideals. Freedom is the same for everybody. Happiness is the same for everybody. Equality is the same for everybody. It does not matter what the colour of your skin or your religious background or your nationality is. It just does not matter. In this sense, the Third Camp is a camp of the people of the world representing the achievements of the French Revolution, the October Revolution, representing Spartacus, representing any movement in the world that has been about fighting for liberty and equality. Liberty and equality are currently being fundamentally denied, theoretically as well practically.
This is, in a certain sense, a new phenomenon, and the Third camp is all about mobilising to fight against it.
Patty Debonitas: Denied by whom?
Hamid Taqvaee: By both sides. By, on the one side, Western governments and Western bourgeoisie, which includes, of course, its theoreticians such as Post-modernist thinkers and strategists. When you come right down to it, Post-modernism involves nothing but denying universal human values. That’s what Post-modernism is all about. Or take Cultural Relativism which is a direct derivative of Post-modernism. If 50 years ago someone asked a thinker in the West, a liberal thinker let’s say, “how do you think the people of Africa should be liberated,” he/she would answer, “they need social welfare, they need good schools, they need hospitals, they need a modern life, they need a civil society.” But, if asked today, he/she would first ask, “what is their religion”, “which ethnic group do they belong to?”, and other questions like these. The same liberals can’t give you a straight answer today, because, for them, now everything about human beings “depends”, in other words, is “relative”, and not “universal”. If you are a Muslim, you could, from their point of view, very well be happy with your hejab. As a Muslim – which, for today’s liberals, is defined as almost everyone just born in what we call an Islam-stricken country – you may very well have accepted lashing and maiming people or pushing them off cliffs as a suitable code of punishment for yourself and those of your culture, as it were. Maybe you as a Muslim even enjoy hunger, because it’s considered a blessing, or you are culturally used to it by now, or, whatever! “Who are we, the Western people, to judge you?” That’s the kind of condescending, reactionary thinking we are up against in the West itself in this day and age! Nobody raises a voice against present day inhumanities, and against the spokespeople of the Western Liberal tradition who condone them in theory and practice through churning out only justifications. Not even the so-called progressive Western opposition! Look at the women’s lib movement today. It raises no objection against hejab in Iran. I haven’t seen a feminist activist today talking about the deprivation of all women’s rights in Iran.
Patty Debonitas: You mean women activists in Europe, for example?
Hamid Taqvaee: Yes. Women’s rights activists in Europe or in the West to be precise. Or civil rights activists in Germany or, let’s say, in Britain, or in US and Canada. They don’t criticise the hellish conditions the Islamic Republic of Iran has created for women. By law, and I mean by law, officially, women count as half of men in Iran. But the feminist movement won’t raise any objection anymore. Why? Because its leaders, thinkers, spokespersons and activists are Post-modernists now! So, not only do they not raise any objections, but, for them, it’s the other way around, in fact. Today they claim it is Iranian women’s right to live by whatever values and standards they believe in. Recognising the right of people to believe in anything they wish is one thing; respecting every belief anyone happens to believe in is quite a different thing. You have the right, and you should judge and criticise religion. That’s the basis of freedom of speech. People began demanding freedom of speech 300 years ago because the church wouldn’t let anyone criticise the Bible, Christ, and so on. So freedom of speech without having the right to criticise religion is just an empty phrase. And now look at the UN Human Rights Council which just recently passed a resolution that says nobody should “insult” religion, especially Islam!
Patty Debonitas: So we are going back?
Hamid Taqvaee: Yes, of course, we are. We are going back to the Middle Ages. Having respect for Muslims, as believers in Islam, is one thing; having respect for Islam itself, having respect for its anti-human content (like the anti-human content of any religion) is something quite different. Because I respect people, because I respect human beings, I respect their right to believe in anything they wish. But, by the same token, I also must have the right to criticise whatever I consider to be against humanity, including religion. If religion is against people which it is, as we have experienced during the Dark Ages for a few hundred years and we know what Christianity did in Europe, and we also have the experience of the Islamic Republic which is presently doing the same in Iran, then we have every right, and not only the right but the duty, indeed, to criticise it; and not only that, but also to fight it.
If religion seizes state power in any society, it will do the same thing as the Taliban did in Afghanistan or the Islamic Republic is currently doing in Iran or Christianity did for 500 years all over Europe. That sort of “skill” in creating Hell on Earth is inherent in religion. So if a state won’t let its citizens criticise religion out of “respect” for religion, and forbids the “insulting” of religion, it simply means that the state has no respect whatsoever for humanity in general! Respecting human beings means I have, as a citizen of universal humanity, the right, that is, the right in practice, to criticise all the beliefs in the world I believe to be against human values. It doesn’t matter whether it is religion or the theory of Cultural Relativism I wish to criticise; whatever the name, it just does not matter. Any way of thinking such as “women are not equal with men”, for instance, is against people, against the whole humanity. It just does not matter whether this belief, this dogma, emanates from God or Mr. Bush or Cultural Relativism; whatever the stamp you put on it, it is against people, and I must have the right to criticise it, and not only that, but to mobilise people, to start a campaign in order to put an end to it; the same way people in Europe put an end to the rule of the church in the Middle Ages.
So my point is that the Manifesto of the Third Camp is not solely rooted in the conflict between the US and Iran. That was the issue back then, but the ramifications of the content of the manifesto go much deeper and further. The Third Camp is a movement against today’s capitalism, today’s bourgeoisie and its states, and all the doctrines we are confronted with, doctrines which, in a very fundamental way and on the philosophical, social, and political levels deny the very essence of humanity. Our movement is a movement for survival; the survival of civilisation. It’s the movement of the people of the world who want to continue to live as civilised human beings. The civilised people of the world want to save their humanity no matter how they are labelled by the other two camps. The civilised people of the world want to save their humanity despite all the strivings by the other camp, or camps, to divide us into different categories such as creed, ethnicity, gender-specific, religion, or race which we, as human beings sans phrase, are not born with. Those categories, or divisions, are human-made, as it were, or, more precisely, fabricated by the ruling classes, by their states, by some almost extinct tribal chiefs in the Middle East, and by the sort of thinkers who think people of the world have no common interests and are, inherently, divided. Now they even claim we have different types of civilisations! I think it’s much closer to the mark to say it is the first time we hear such nonsense! We only have one universal civilisation, which is the achievement of humanity as a whole. But now we are pushed back, and Christianity, Islam, or better to say, religion in general, makes a socio-political come back, claims that we belong to different kinds of civilisation, and that we shouldn’t criticise “other civilisations”! That’s sheer garbage! What we say, from the standpoint of the interests of the people of the world, is that we have to not only criticise those ways of thinking, be it Islamic, non-Islamic, Neo-liberal or Post-modernist, not only should we have the right to criticise such reactionary garbage, but we should also actually mobilise a movement against them. And that movement, we believe, is the Third Camp.
The above is the first part of an interview from Third Camp TV. Thanks to Jamshid Hadian and Patty Debonitas for the above.