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No. 12. It was written
before the Arab Spring and the death of Ben Laden.
Islam, the Left and Palestine
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh The attacks on the twin towers in September 2001 gave the USA and other imperial powers the perfect opportunity to reinstate their power and hegemony in a region of the world from whence they have been expelled over and again throughout the 20th Century. As with all wars, this offensive required a visible enemy, easy to identify which lent itself to facile explanations aimed at and consumed by the masses in their own countries. The Islamic fundamentalists met all the requirements. Nefarious personalities such as the “academic” Samuel P. Huntington emerged from the “intellectual” sewers where they had holed up. Huntington's book the The Clash of Civilisations was reedited and sold by the thousands and thousands around the world. His argument was that in the new modern world conflict would not be about resources or ideology but rather future wars would be fought between the forces of good (USA and Europe) from a Judeo-Christian tradition and the forces of evil from the Islamic world. His thesis was absurd, but so many years of post-modern domination of academia permitted the acceptance of a such a fallacy which can only be described as stupidity incarnate. Post-modernism has through its puerile arguments on relativism always favoured the right wing. I am not accusing Huntington of being a post-modernist, rather the post-modernists are, due to their extreme relativism, responsible for the legitimation of authors such as the aforementioned. The academic offensive justified an even more crude and cruel offensive on the streets. In the US there was an increase in racist attacks on arabs and even against Sikhs, as the ignorant followers of the antimuslim fanaticism couldn't even differentiate between a Sikh from India who professed the Sikh faith and an Arab muslim. In Europe proposals to limit and ban “Islamic” dress in public spaces arose. The liberals reacted in horror at the racist wave that swept over Europe. The Left in many cases did not respond but rather borrowed liberal arguments and added a few comments on the supposed progressive nature of Islam and even on its anti-imperialism. One should point out that there are 1,570 million muslims in the whole world and only 20% live in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Political Islam is to be found in all countries where there are muslims, including those territories where they are a minority. However, this article concentrates on the Arab world and also Iran. In general terms, the representatives of various left tendencies forgot that the Left more than the Right is the political force that has to struggle against religion. They did not wish to fall into the right-wing trap of offending religious minorities or oppressed ethnic groups. They mistook defending a group from oppression with accepting the postulates of that group. In fact, there may even be a contradiction in doing so. Defending a religious community from oppression whilst accepting their discriminatory treatment of women, homosexuals etc, is to defend that religion and not those who hold that faith. Religion This article aims to restate marxist concepts on religion, oppression, imperialism and the class struggle, many of which have been ignored by the Left in the debates on Islam and the struggle of the Palestinians. It does not aim to offend any religion but it will, without a doubt. To the fundamentalist, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim any criticism of what Marx called “religious superstition” offends. Any call to get rid of priests, imams or rabbis offends or even just to compare the three forms of
Religion is. the Irish revolutionary James Connolly. therefore. executed by the British Empire believed in god. It is precisely when there is no visible road in the material world that people seek comfort in immaterial things. so that he will move around himself as his own true Sun. and the soul of soulless conditions. The increase in religious fanaticism goes hand in hand with an increase in repression as much as with a lack of response by the people and their organisations. Religion will disappear when the social conditions change or as Lenin said “No educational book can eradicate religion from the minds of masses who are crushed by capitalist hard labour. The criticism of religion disillusions man. Firstly it worth looking again at what Marx said on religion. and fashion his reality like a man who has discarded his illusions and regained his senses. western domination for a reactionary theocracy in Iran). However. at one and the same time. Marx said: Religious suffering is. and who are at the mercy of the blind destructive forces of capitalism. So we are left with no choice but to offend. To put it another way. as are all social phenomena. until those 1 Marx. the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. as Marx had already said: The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. the religious phenomenon indicates a state of oppression or suffering. the heart of a heartless world. K (1844) A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right www. the quote is a lot longer and more complex than that. They are sure that they have a truth revealed to the chosen ones. so that he will think. The criticism of religion is. There are even Marxists who do not come from a Liberation Theology background that believe in god and some even go to mass! For example. but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower. as each not only believes that they are holders of the absolute truth but rather of something much more important. the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo2. a product of its material environment (a statement which will surely offend the believer. This last part of quote of Marx is the most important. His most famous quote is perhaps “religion is the opium of the people”. Religious superstitions will not disappear in a society that requires illusions. act. the struggle of the Left is not against religion per se but rather against the circumstances that make it necessary. Religions come to dominate a region when they reflect and serve the new worldly powers.marxists. It is the opium of the people1. in embryo. The Catholic Church came to its dominant position in Europe due to its relationship with the Roman Empire and not for being a divine truth incarnate. Changes in society produce changes in the dominant religions. the aim is not to take away the comfort that some find in religious faith but rather to offer them the opportunity to live instead of preparing for a supposed eternal life that awaits them once they are dead. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature. who thinks that it is a divine product). Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation. However.obscurantism also offends.org 2 Ibíd . To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. Religion is only the illusory Sun which revolves around man as long as he does not revolve around himself. It is to encourage them to struggle for a better world and not just to exchange one form of oppression for another (for example.
which covers the head but not the face and which women begin wearing at the onset of puberty.org . but imposing a restriction on the use of these symbols and the profession of faith is counter productive. except the eyes and the infamous burqa which is not really seen much outside of Afghanistan. the western offensive to control oil is reflected in an increase in state and street racism against Muslims. One of the clearest signs of this is to be seen in the issue of the clothing that the women use. In France and Spain measures where taken against the use of these garments. rights of homosexuals and free access to contraception did not know how to manage such an ambivalent issue as that related to a symbol of the religious oppression of women and the evident racism of a State against a religious minority. It is worth recalling Marx: substituting the struggle against capitalism for religious illusions that numb the pain is not a left-wing proposal and hasn't the slightest progressive content. when and wherever they want. banning them in official buildings and. the “secular” nature of the State was restated in banning the wearing of religious symbols in schools. where the prohibition of the Catholic Church (penal laws) by the British increased its prestige and gave it a great power and control over the population which only really began to be confronted in the last decades of the 20th Century. quite clearly.. (1909) The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion www.. supported the repressive laws against wearing the veil claiming they were defending women. it is a different matter to state that there is something positive in wearing a veil. though in practice it dealt more with veils than other religious symbols such as crucifixes or kipas (garment with which Jewish males cover their heads) This offensive caused great confusion on the Left as to which position they should adopt in relation to state racism. the niqab which covers the entire body. Engels in his debates with Blanqui and the anarchists opposed explicit declarations of setting up an atheist party and declaring a war on religion. They are usually referred to in generic terms as the veil. Everybody has the right to wear whatever garments they choose. However. Though the term refers to the hijab. Some on the Left not only proclaimed. Unlike the transvestite who expresses their concept of their being when they dress as a “woman” the veil is a symbol of the oppression of women and at the same time a symbol of religious alienation and as such there is nothing progressive about it. the issue is quite simple. The Left (and not just the French Left) which was used to fighting against religious oppression on issues such as abortion. divorce. Its real nature can be seen when one looks at the political proposals of evangelicals in the US. But the issue of the veil is not that important. as according to him. Others. It is true that the law should ban any imposition of the use of religious symbols and even of the obligation to profess a faith. as was the case in Ireland.I. However.marxists. in the case of France. 3 Lenin V.masses themselves learn to fight this root of religion. Returning to the theme of Islam. It is a simple universal right.3 Women and the Veil. This does not just include Muslim women or Jews with their kipas but also transvestites. Christianism in the US is a political force that raises and topples presidents. this was the best way to guarantee its survival amongst the masses. at the end of the day it is just a garment whose use had been in decline for decades. reactionary and forgets what is most important: ideas are fought by ideas and not by the oppression of a bourgeois state. The supposed progressive nature of Political Islam is of greater importance. Nobody ceases to believe in religion by official decree and in fact it may even strengthen a religion. fight the rule of capital in all its forms. especially in France. that the hijab was progressive and even anti-imperialist but they also formed alliances alliances with the fundamentalists and in Britain they formed electoral coalitions with them.
The theologians approached Marxism basing themselves on some (and only some) of the tenets of their faith and their central text the bible. he may be allowed to join the ranks of the Social-Democrats. So if the the criticisms of Political Islam are correct. It professes submission and not emancipation”4.c cit . an Egyptian Marxist has stated. El Islam Político www. This is true and in Colombia we have one of the most emblematic of them: Camilo Torres. Malcolm X broke with that organisation and embraced the cause of the black people and the working class and he declared himself a socialist. for the contradiction between the spirit and principles of our programme and the religious convictions of the priest would in such circumstances be something that concerned him alone. V. was an FBI secret agent). Malcolm X represented a greater threat than the US intelligence services (it should be remembered that the General Secretary of the Nation. his own private contradiction. a religious State or a State where the Catholic priests had the last word on society. at least. It is a contradiction. Of course there can be and historically there have been Marxists that believed in the existence of a god.com . Political Islam “is not a 'liberation theology' analogous with that which has developed in Latin America. and a political organisation cannot put its members through an examination to see if there is no contradiction between their views and the Party programme.barackobama. As Samir Amin. He did not propose an Islamic State and rejected the bourgeois philosophy of Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam.I op.. We must not only admit workers who preserve their belief in God into the Social-Democratic Party. There are clear and profound differences between the Liberation Theologians and the Islamic fundamentalists. He paid dearly for his daring. his sexual games with secretaries and cigars notwithstanding. without opposing the programme of the Party. At no stage did they propose a theocracy. An important and weighty difference. If a priest comes to us to take part in our common political work and conscientiously performs Party duties. (1977-81) all US presidents have been elected with the support of wide evangelical sectors and this includes Clinton. To the Nation. as the Nation of Islam in collaboration with the FBI murdered him. The debate is not new. what does this say of Liberation Theology? The issue is not as thorny as it seems at first.vientosur. but we recruit them in order to educate them in the spirit of our programme. Political Islam Some will say that in Latin America there are examples of religious people who have struggled for the people and what is more many of them have given their lives for their people. Obama is perhaps a partial exception in the sense that the white evangelicals did not support him. In fact they had to fight against the own bishops and even the Pope. and not in order to permit an active struggle against it. John Ali. Malcolm X was a Muslim and the greater part of his political militancy was in in the ranks of the religious organisation. The Islamic world has also had its champions of liberation. It is not the case that there can be no progressive believers.5 4 Samir Amin. (2010). Political Islam is the enemy of liberation theology. However. but as was explained at the beginning we are products of our society and this means certain contradiction amongst those on the Left.b ut he does read the bible and go to mass according to his web page www.Since Carter. we are absolutely opposed to giving the slightest offence to their religious convictions.info 5 Lenin. We are talking about a debate that exists even before the Bolsheviks as can be seen in the following quote from Lenin.. the Nation of Islam. but must deliberately set out to recruit them.
Although. In fact were it not for the war unleashed by Iraq. perhaps excepting Afghanistan under the Talibans (which is not a Middle Eastern country nor is it Arab). which for reasons of space we cannot go into in this article. Its laws are the strictest of all the countries. Others say that they recognise the limitations of Political Islam. against the regime it is not beyond reason to state that they could have reached some agreement with the US. What is more it is the fiefdom of the most famous of political muslims. For example who in Colombia would die in order for the Liberal Party to hold power rather than Juan Manuel Santos? Worse still. These regimes have always supported imperialism and recent revelations from Wikileaks make it very clear as Saudi Arabia suggested that the US attack Iran and in addition stated that it understood the reasons for banning the construction of new minarets in Switzerland. Firstly. Is it the case that Iran is a great opponent of imperialism and offers an alternative to the world? We do not. as is the case with Saudi Arabia. They demand that the working classes struggle and die in order for their oppressors to hold power. As regards its anti-imperialism. . Osama Ben Laden. favoured son of the regime who travelled to Afghanistan with the blessing of not only the CIA but also the House of Saud in his native land. think so. The social and political struggles the Iranian people are taking part in could lead to a rejection of the very principle of “wilaya al faqui” which places the clergy above all other institutions of political and civil society. as : The Iranian system of Political Islam has gone down a blind alley. Amin. Lets be clear that we are not saying that there can be no progressive Muslims. with the blessing of Washington. in the least. whilst it is true that they overthrew the regime of the western playboy Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The Islamic Republic of Iran has not conceived of any other political system other than the dictatorship of a single party monopolised by the clergy” 6 The left-wing Colombian who sees an alternative in Political Islam for the arab masses (and also those of Iran would not agree to live under the same conditions here.Although Lenin accepted the possibility of priests as militants in the ranks of the Bolsheviks he had no doubts or qualms in expelling a priest who engaged in religious proselytism as part of his political activity. Some will say that with Political Islam this is true but that they are at least anti-imperialists and this is progressive. op. it should be remembered that the ayatollahs murdered thousands upon thousands of left-wingers. the enemies of my enemies cannot be my friends if they are at the same time the enemies of the popular classes in their own countries. they exist but they are not the fundamentalists. as in practice they have had many agreements with the imperialists regarding the sale of oil and the exploration and exploitation rights of foreign multinationals in their territory. For the fundamentalists they are left with Iran as Hezbollah does deals with Christians in Lebanon and really it is an Islamism Light compared to the Iranians or the Saudis. this was only possible due to the participation of left-wing and nationalistic sectors that were later crushed by the Islamists. Once in power their anti-imperialism came to an end. 6 S. but that it is a progressive and antiimperialist force because they happily presume that “my enemy's enemies are my friends”. The Islamic fundamentalism of this country is beyond doubt. cit. the anti-imperialism of the Islamists is more a myth than a reality given that the most proimperialist regimes in the Middle East are the ultra islamic. Samir Amin explains that it is a regime in crisis.
in the best of cases. Nowadays. They don't worry as much about atheists as they deny the existence of god. with the others they are in dispute about who possesses the revealed truth and who is an apostate. All of the Islamic States are capitalist. the principal movement fighting for the liberation of Palestine is Hamas. the Islamic regimes have done little or nothing for the palestinians. Being a Shia or a Sunni. In fact. The Pew Center calculates that between 10% and 13% of Muslims in the world are Shias and 80% of them are to be found in just one Arab country. George Habash. In the case of the so called Political Islam. Iraq and in non Arab countries like Iran. This small sectarian difference is of great importance to themselves. but they do not deny its existence. They do not propose that the working class take power but rather accept that old dominant and corrupt elites (case of Saudi Arabia) or the new dominant classes (as in Iran) continue in power or. distribution and exchange are in private hands. as with Nasser in Egypt. the same cannot be said of the current Arab or Iranian leaderships. Iraq is not the only country that suffered attacks perpetrated by Sunnis against Shias. The religious fundamentalists have always shown greater hostility towards those that differ with them from another religious viewpoint. But Hamas does not represent the victory of a radical current amongst Palestinians but rather its defeat. Pakistan and India. that the current elites are got rid of and replaced with newly emerging elites. Being a Protestant was a greater sin than being an atheist. which are considered heretics by the former. Many will recall the declarations of the Catholic Church regarding Jews and Protestants. The religious proposal divides the working class on the interpretation of a sacred book or the lineage of Mahoma and not on the question of whether the Arab bourgeoisie should hold power or not. there is a significant Christian minority. depending on the case. Some academics such as James Petras have placed the holocaust in its context and they have compared it to other genocides committed throughout the 20th Century. what solidarity do they offer? Iran is a Shi’ite country whilst Al-qaeda and the others are Sunni. the means of production. The mode of production is capitalist. it is just for the masses. In the best case. It is an element that is inherent in the sectarian and fundamentalist vision which characterises them. To deny that one of the greatest crimes committed by Fascism ever happened is to do a favour for Fascism. they offer a populism for the masses. . the deceased leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was a Christian. is a sin punishable by death. including Iran. Although one has to acknowledge Nasser's anti-imperialism.The anti-imperialism of Iran is like the pacifism of Obama. Its rise went hand in hand with the fading of other left-wing currents that opposed Arafat and the Oslo Agreements. Is it the case that Hezbollah puts socialism into practice or struggles to implement it some day? The leaderships in the Middle East have never made proposals different to those of capitalism. The Islamists deny that it ever happened. In the case of Iran it is limited to incendiary declarations by its president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he denies the existence of the second world war holocaust. There is nothing strange about it. However. Although there are few Shias amongst the Palestinians. they explain it. where fanaticism predominates brings greater division to the Palestinians as the enemy is no longer just the Israeli State but also their own Palestinian and Arab brothers and sisters. an Islamic movement. This religious panorama. The Liberation of Palestine In real life. it is not real. The recent attack in Iran is a clear example that this phenomena cannot be explained by the division of power under the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and the loss of economic and political power by Sunnis. Greek Orthodox. fervent enemy of the working class and the shock troops of capitalism in its moments of deep crisis.
Perhaps one of the few exceptions to this was Jordan. The Arab countries helped with the international diplomacy which also benefitted them and they gave it a lot of money which strengthened the PLO. when Arafat agreed to powers more befitting those of the mayor of a small town than the president of a country and leader of an oppressed people. It is worth remembering the Jordanian army dealt the PLO one of its greatest blows. The PLO incorporated the liberation of these territories into its programme after their occupation by Israel and not before when they were under the occupation of other Arab powers. The recovery of these territories can only be considered a partial victory. There are no theoretical discussions on the nature of the State (any State) nor of capitalism nor even of how to mobilise the people. It is telling that Hezbollah later expelled the Israelis where the Palestinians couldn't. The PLO from its very beginning and following the political line of its largest faction. In such circumstances it is not surprising that a group like Hamas expanded following on from such a betrayal. even before Israel which would only match the Jordanians 10 years later. the original reason for the struggle of the Palestinians would be excluded. There is no need to worry about the class . The PLO did not delay in adjusting to the new reality with the signing of the Oslo agreements in 1993. Despite all of Hezbollah's failings (amongst them its Islamism) it is national liberation organisation that sought to liberate a people and not just to safeguard the “privileges” of a part of the population (the Palestinians). These benefitted it in various ways. the Jew (no longer the Israeli) and one has to fight him militarily.The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was founded in 1964 with the aim of liberating the territories occupied and usurped in 1948 by the Zionist State of Israel. What is strange lies in why other groups such as the PFLP or the DFLP did not also do so. Arafat not only abandoned the Palestinians expelled in 1948 but also a large part of those expelled in 1967 when he agreed to “govern” a reduced version of the West Bank and Gaza. as the territories of 1948. murdering thousands of people. although other more radical Palestinian factions placed these agreements in danger. Al Fatah (lead by Arafat). silence in relation to the despotic nature of all the regimes in the Middle East. This support came at a high price. There is an enemy. At long last the Palestinians could enjoy the right to be tortured by their own brothers and sisters. The reason perhaps lies in the simplicity of Hamas' message. The PLO took refuge in Lebanon but was later expelled by the Israeli Defence Forces in the 1982 invasion and siege of Beirut. Arafat reached some agreement with the king in order to guarantee the peace and stability and domination of the monarchy over all of the territory. but it is an historic fact that Jordan expelled the Palestinians through a bloodbath. occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Three years later Israel invaded the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The territories in question where not even the totality of those of 1967. carried out a series of alliances with the Arab dictatorships and kingdoms. not only in military terms but also in terms of their social base as they could use some of the funds (the ones that Arafat did not steal) to build hospitals and schools amongst Palestinian refugees. The regimes in the region have never hesitated in attacking the Palestinians in order to protect their interests or to sacrifice them in the name of Realpolitik. which prevented them from forming alliances with the poor in those countries. where the Palestinians represented one third of the population of the kingdom. In exchange he promised to hound the radicals and to that end created an endless list of security agencies. There is not enough space here to discuss in detail the events and responsibility of each party. There is no need to understand imperialism just the perfidious nature of the Jew. The Palestinians operated as a State within a State creating tensions with the monarchy. who had never offered independence to the Palestinians and it is worth remembering that Egypt was then under the rule of the great “progressive” Nasser.
Hamas sees itself as an Islamic organisation that wants to create an Islamic Palestinian State. La Izquierda Palestina Revolucionaria: Tres décadas de experiencia de lucha (1969-1999). such as the PFLP. Gaza and the 1948 territories in which Jews and Muslims could live together. Nothing in this article is an argument against the national liberation of Palestine but rather an explication of the limitations of its movements. except when they make agreements with the Great Satan. It was a limited though progressive proposal. In this they are right. In opposition to such a perspective some went further than Arafat and Al Fatah. will make agreements with the Great Satan. The PLO before its surrender in Oslo proposed a secular united State composed of the West Bank. The limitations of Hamas will lead to its defeat because it is incapable of mobilising the Palestinian masses around demands that satisfy its national and class demands. Though it should be pointed out that Hamas. Suleiman. were on the Left they proposed to build a secular. emphasising that the resolution of the Jewish question was conditional on freeing itself from the zionist project and the necessary coexistence with the Palestinian Arabs on an equal footing under the slogan of a “Popular Democratic State” which would be built on the ruins of the State of Israel. Arafat betrayed them not because he was a bourgeois nationalist but rather because he wasn't a good Muslim.htm . have accepted accords favourable to imperialism in exchange for the crumbs of power. though when they talk of an Islamic State the question is even more complicated as it supposes the erection of a purely reactionary State apparatus. This right is not conditional on being politically correct. as they saw it as a counterweight to pressurise Arafat into reaching an agreement with Israel. This is very debatable. This would be a democratic State.fdlpalestina. an Islamic State does not allow for that possibility. FDLP http://www.struggle just the clash of cultures. However. (s/f). without any exceptions. but. one can say the Islamists deny the existence of a Jewish question and have no proposal to make to Jewish workers just like they have nothing to say to the Arab workers in the region. such as that in Iran or Saudi Arabia. however it is certain that Hamas would accept an Islamic State in the West Bank and Gaza and abandon the struggle to recover the 1948 territories.7 On this point. The Left could propose to go beyond that and argue for a Socialist Palestinian State. democratic bourgeois State. The Palestinians. when it proves necessary. Though some Palestinian currents. though for them it is the Palestinian and not the Jew who is uncouth. both the CIA and Mossad financed it in its early days. The class struggle does not fit into their paradigm. It is important to remember that the rights of the Palestinians are independent of the character of their leadership. At the end of the day. In this. One can make such a statement because all nationalist movements in the world.org/index. In this they have a lot in common with the US right-wing. selfdetermination and independence. how would this aim be achieved in the light of the overwhelming superiority of Israel and its firm commitment to North American Imperialism? The answer is to be found in the “prolonged people's war throughout the all Palestinian and Arab territories. as with every oppressed people have an inalienable right to freedom. Hamas has criticised the PLO for its betrayal. the DFLP had come to a premature recognition that as well as the Palestinian national question there was also a “Jewish question” which inevitably has to be resolved if one aims to reach a democratic solution to the conflict. The only question is how long they will take. They see in Islam the strength of the Arabs and do not have major differences with the Islamic regimes. The majority of the Palestinian Left were stagists. 7F. they break with the historic demands of the Palestinians. that is they believed in a bourgeois stage within the Palestinian revolution.
Instead of opposing all religious fundamentalists. Solidarity should be given to the progressive demands in the Middle East and not to X movement. have accepted the right-wing argument of the existence of an ethno-religious conflict in the world and strive. something which they would not contemplate for a split second with Evangelical Christians. The same mistake may be made with Hamas. As a youth I took part in Palestinian solidarity organisations. particularly in Europe. they can struggle for their country and class. The Left does them no favours by keeping quiet. sometimes to defend the Islamic reactionaries in the context of such a conflict completely ignoring the class character of those reactionaries and the defeat their victory would mean for the working class. The Palestinians have the right to struggle for their national liberation and also for the exploited classes to overcome the conditions of their exploitation. . In relation to Palestine this silence condemns the Palestinians to choosing between the Israeli reactionaries and the reactionaries in their own ranks. When the PLO betrayed its own people these organisations had nothing to say or do and the rebuilding of the solidarity movement took a while to recover. the Left. They do not have to die in order to place their class enemy in power.In short. as much Bush as the Islamic clergy they have opted for keeping quiet in the face of Islamic fundamentalists. They supported the PLO and not the demand for national liberation. but also in other parts.