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Editorial: Neither God nor State

Paris, 13 November 2015. Yet another atrocity in the name of religion. A deliberate attempt to kill as many innocent people as possible, at a pop concert, an international football match, and at random in the streets. Of course there was a political motive behind it. It was as President Hollande said, an act of war.

The ‘Islamic State’, which governs parts of Syria and Iraq, to which the perpetrators owed allegiance and on whose behalf they carried out the atrocity, is at war with various ordinary capitalist states – Syria, Iraq, the United States, Russia, Britain and of course France as well as others.

Deliberately targeting civilians is against the Geneva Convention but not, apparently, against sharia law nor (if you are on the winning side) against realpolitik, as Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima and Nagasaki show. Once a war starts in the end anything goes because, if a state loses, then even the life of its rulers is at stake, let alone their position as rulers or the economic interests of its capitalists.

We are dealing, then, with a war atrocity, and wars arise from capitalism. They occur when, in the competition between states for sources of raw material, trade routes, markets, investment outlets and strategic points and areas to protect and acquire these, the rulers of a capitalist state feel that their ‘vital interests’ are at stake and that they have more to lose by not going to war.

In the Middle East what’s at stake is who controls its oil resources and the routes by which the oil reaches the rest of the world. The US and its allies (‘the West’) have been determined to control this and largely do, but this control has always been challenged by local elites. During the Cold War period these used secular nationalism to win mass support, but in 1979 Iran set a new trend, which has since become dominant, by exploiting religion instead. So, anti-Western feeling there, expressing the interests of local elites, now takes the form of militant Islam.

In 2002 President George W Bush denounced Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an ‘axis of evil’. The US State Department quickly added Cuba, Libya and Syria. These all became targets for ‘regime change’. The first to undergo this was Iraq, then Libya, with disastrous results in both cases. Syria was to be the third. This attempt has had an even worse result. Playing the Sunni Muslim card, financed and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, has created a monster that has taken the already extreme version of Islam imposed in Saudi Arabia to an even further extreme, wanting to go back to the 8th century and employing the barbarous methods of that time to get there.

The reaction in France to the atrocity has been to treat it as an attack on the ‘French nation’ whereas it was more accurately an attack on the French state. The result has been a reinforcement of French nationalism and of the false ‘sacred union’ between workers and the ruling class. Yet atrocities committed in the name of the nationalism of so-called ‘nation-states’ are less than those of religion only because these have not been around for so long.

The anarchist Bakunin raised the slogan ‘Neither God, nor Master’.  Adapting it as our response to the Paris atrocity: Neither God, nor State, but Humanity.