On Sept. 30, at around 8:15 pm local time, a Chevrolet Malibu plowed into a police barricade just outside a football game in Edmonton. After knocking a police officer to the ground, the driver exited the car and attacked the injured officer, stabbing him multiple times. The attacker, now identified as Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, a 30-year-old Somali refugee, then fled on foot. Hours later, just before midnight, the attacker was stopped at a checkpoint two kilometres away from the first scene driving a U-Haul truck. A high-speed chase ensued, in which the U-Haul truck deliberately moved to hit pedestrians. Four pedestrians were hit and injured, with one in serious condition. Finally, the U-Haul truck was maneuvered by police vehicles to flip on its side and the attacker arrested. An ISIS flag was later found inside the truck.
This terror attack in Edmonton has shaken the city and the whole province of Alberta. It seems to remind everyone that no city is too small or too insignificant to be a target. As one Edmontonian said, “Until last weekend we felt very sheltered in Edmonton.”
We strongly condemn this terrorist attack and our deepest sympathies are with those who are affected by it. However, condemnation alone is not enough. A long lineup of politicians always fill the air with words of condemnation when terrorism like this strikes, but all their condemnation has yet to stop terrorism. In fact, it has become a ritual of empty words that serves to distract people from the real cause of and material basis for this barbaric manifestation.
The origin of terrorism
Islamic fundamentalist terrorism does not fall from the sky. It is not the inescapable result of a certain culture or religion originating in the Middle East or sub-Saharan Africa. The Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and later its more menacing version, ISIS, are created by the interventions of imperialism in the region.
In the post-World War II era, in a period known as the Cold War, the “free world” supported and nurtured various forces of Islamism to counter the rising revolutionary wave that was sweeping the colonial world. After the end of the Second World War, colonial countries all over the world were infected with revolution. Workers and peasants were fighting to rid themselves not only of imperialist shackles but also feudalist – and even pre-feudal – shackles that had bound them for centuries. Communist ideas found a fertile ground amongst these toiling masses. To counter the spread of communism in Muslim countries, the imperialists relied on the most reactionary and backward forces in these societies: the Islamic fundamentalists, who in many respects were tied to the feudal classes and thus feared the rising masses.
Unable to convince the masses of colonial countries of the virtue of capitalism, the imperialists could only rely on the prejudices that the masses had against communism—that it will take away their religion, which is often times the only thing that they possess in a world that has deprived them of everything material. The Islamic fundamentalists became the imperialists’ most reliable stooges in propagating these prejudices to keep the masses away from communist ideas. The bureaucratic and crude manner by which Stalinists often dealt with religious sensitivity did not help the case.
The US support to the Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan during the 1980s who later became the Taliban is well known and documented. Following the Afghan Revolution of 1979, a revolution inspired by socialist ideas, the CIA backed, armed and funded the “mujahideen”, or “freedom fighters” as they were called at that time. The US imperialists had no qualm providing hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of military gear to Islamic fundamentalists and calling them “freedom fighters”, as long as they directed their violence against the Communists and the Afghan revolution. But the moment these mad dogs bite the hands that feed them, they are suddenly called “terrorists” and “violent extremists”.
One would think that the imperialists have learned their lesson to not arm Islamic fundamentalists to the teeth, as these dark forces would later direct those very same weapons toward them. But to hope for some sort of foresight from bourgeois strategists can only result in bitter disappointment. Recently the imperialists have given support to a horde of Islamist groups in Syria that they call “moderates”, only to find out that these “moderates” are of the same breed as Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
The reckless interventions by the imperialists in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, and later in Libya and Syria to derail the Arab Spring, have destabilised the entire region and created a living hell. It is from this living hell that a monstrosity like ISIS found its roots. Now this monster is knocking on the front door of the imperialists. As they provide soothing words of unity against terrorism, these governments are cynically cooperating with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the two bastions of Islamic fundamentalism and reaction in the region, where the latter is known to financially support ISIS and the likes. We need only be reminded that the Canadian government approved a $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
The imperialist role in nurturing Islamic fundamentalism is only one part of the equation. The other part is the blind alley that capitalism is in and the feelings of frustration penetrating all layers of society. The unemployed student in Cairo, the ruined shopkeeper in Karachi, the street peddler in Jakarta, the frustrated black youth in the banlieues of Paris, the poor immigrants trapped living on the margin of societies in most Western countries—they all provide a ready audience for well-funded movements that tell them that the problems they face are due to decadent Western cultures. These Islamist reactionary preachers offer a sense of identity to a group of people who have suffered humiliation, marginalization and alienation because of their religion, the colour of their skin, and where they come from. Returning to “pure” Islam becomes a calling to reassert their identity, and they are taught by these fundamentalist preachers that to be pure one has to rid the impure – inside and outside – with whatever means.
The Edmonton attack has resulted in an increased incidence of islamophobia in the city. It has stirred up anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments not only on social media, but also out in the public. Muslim women in hijabs have reported being harassed in the public, with people yelling hateful things toward them. One woman, Nuurto Abdirahman, said she was driving Monday morning when a man stopped his car to shout at her, calling her a “terrorist” and saying, “You should go back to your own country.”
Alt-right and right-wing reactionaries have been capitalizing on this attack to push their racist anti-immigrant agenda. Vile publicity-seeking individuals like Jordan Peterson, the new Milo Yiannopoulos but with tenure at the University of Toronto, attempted to stoke anti-Islamic fear from this Edmonton incident when he said “[Islamic extremism] is winning, mate. And every day it’s winning a little more”. This is the same person who denies that there is such thing as Islamophobia, and said that it is a “reprehensible word”, and “a word created by fascists and used by cowards to manipulate morons”.
But Alberta is no stranger to anti-immigrant and anti-Islam sentiments. Dubbed the Texas of Canada, where the Conservatives ruled for more than 40 years before losing their throne to the NDP, Alberta is known to be the bastion of reaction in Canada. All sorts of bigotry – sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, etc. – have been nurtured well by Conservative politicians and pundits there. But that is not the only thing that exists in Alberta. While there has been some backlash from the attack, we are also seeing Alberta workers getting together to express their solidarity with Muslim communities.
The Way Forward
Terrorism is nothing but a symptom of a society in crisis. When a society is in decline, and its outlook is filled with pessimism, people start losing faith in the existing social order, its values, its morality. It is during this period that we see the rise of all sorts of mystical ideas and superstitions, and the rise of fundamentalism is the extreme manifestation of that. It is not only Islamic fundamentalism, but also Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, Buddhist fundamentalism, Hindu fundamentalism. They all express the irrationality of the capitalist society we are living in.
When poverty and misery is spreading, when right-wing pundits are telling immigrants they are not welcome and should return to wherever they came from, when Islamophobes humiliate Muslims and their religion, in such a situation a small layer of people can get pushed to Islamic fundamentalism. The terror attacks perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists then push a layer of people into the arms of far-right groups, making them susceptible to nonsensical drivel from the likes of Jordan Paterson. In that sense, right-wing groups and Islamic fundamentalist groups are leaning on each other to divide the working class along national and religious lines.
We cannot trust the capitalist states to deal with terrorism, when in fact they are the ones responsible for creating and nurturing it, when they are the ones committing the greatest act of terrorism through their foreign military excursions, through their policy of extermination against the indigenous people. We cannot put our trust in the government to protect Muslim and immigrant communities, when through their economic policy they have condemned these same people to poverty. We cannot trust the government to fight extremism when it is selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, that bastion of reaction in the Middle East. Thus, we must oppose any attempt by the government to use the terrorist attack to curtail democratic freedoms, increase government’s power to surveil, and give more power to the police and intelligence bodies.
The only force that can defeat terrorism is the working class, relying only on its own strength, unity, methods and organizations. That would require striking at the roots of Islamic fundamentalism. That would require mass political mobilization by the whole working class with the following demands, although not limited to them:
the withdrawal of all imperialist troops from foreign soils and an end to any kind of foreign intervention;
prohibition of weapon sales to reactionary regimes such as Saudi Arabia;
an end to carding that has been used by the police to harass the poor and people of colour;
scrap all racist immigration and asylum controls;
no platform for alt-right racist groups and individuals—shut down the far right through mass mobilization;
full employment and living wages for all; and
an immediate and not gradual increase of the minimum wage to at least 2/3 of the average wage, which will have an immediate effect especially for workers from marginalized communities who are often employed in minimum-wage jobs.
Such demands will undermine the material basis that gives rise to reactionary ideas, which include not only religious fundamentalism but also all sort of bigotry such as racism, Islamophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, etc. The common struggle for those demands by the whole working class will erode and shatter racial, religious, and national divisions that have gripped the minds of the masses for centuries. It will bring about genuine unity of the working people.
In the end, the only way to stop Islamic fundamentalist terrorism on one side, and right-wing extremism that terrorizes marginalized communities on the other side, is to end the system that creates them. Both of these reactionary ideas are only a reflection of the barbarous conditions to which millions of people have been reduced to. Both are two sides of the same coin of capitalism in decline. We must end capitalism if we are to see an end to all terror—whether terror promoted by an individual, terror promoted by the state, or terror coming from the lack of food, housing, or healthcare. Only socialism can defeat terror in all its manifestations and build a genuinely human society.