Surprised by progressives celebrating Oct. 7? Look at how they have treated Iran

Even today, opposition members from Islamic countries who dare to uphold the universal validity of human rights and condemn religious despotism face vehement backlash from certain left-wing intellectuals in the West.

Rather than embracing their commitment to human rights, these individuals are slandered as imperialist collaborators, perpetuating Islamophobia.

When Iranian protests burgeoned into a mass movement in 1978, French philosopher Michel Foucault decided to fly from Paris to Tehran. He wanted to understand what enabled the insurgents to sweep away the heavily armed regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi and to deprive the “American imperialists” of one of their most powerful vassals.

In previous years, Foucault had published influential studies developing the thesis that the European Enlightenment’s development of bourgeois discipline had its way paved institutionally in prisons, while a true “dungeon system” was tested in clinics until it had finally subjugated the entire society. The Iranian revolution fascinated him, precisely because it was not a revolution based on a Western, eastern, bourgeois, or Bolshevik model, but had instead brought something new into the world. He called it “political spirituality”, which he defined as the unity of an anti-imperialist struggle and Shiite martyrdom. In short, the critic of bourgeois states and theoretician of anti-colonialism had discovered Islamism.

Foucault penned enthusiastic articles about this novel form of revolution in the French press and secured an audience with Ayatollah Khomeini, then residing in exile in Paris. However, he appeared unwilling or unable to subject the emerging theocracy of Iran to the same critical scrutiny he applied to bourgeois civil society. Even as the Islamists persecuted dissenters through bloody trials and imposed patriarchal control over Iranian women, while institutionalizing antisemitism, Foucault remained silent. His ire only surfaced when feminist Iranian exiles in France confronted him for overlooking women’s disenfranchisement. He rebuked them, accusing them of reinforcing Western prejudices against Islam and failing to grasp the historical imperative: sacrificing personal concerns for the unique opportunity to liberate the earth from capitalism’s damnation and its European legacy.

Even today, opposition members from Islamic countries who dare to uphold the universal validity of human rights and condemn religious despotism face vehement backlash from certain left-wing intellectuals in the West. Rather than embracing their commitment to human rights, these individuals are slandered as imperialist collaborators, perpetuating Islamophobia. Former colonial powers, now steeped in anti-colonialist rhetoric, assert authority over residents of former colonies, dictating their behavior in the global decolonization process with unrivaled arrogance and self-righteousness.

What is it that makes many self-declared “anti-imperialists” sympathize with reactionary despotisms? I think that it’s their constant search for something that they can no longer find in their own countries of prosperity: some revolutionary class, stratum, or group that has what it takes to liberate humanity from oppression and alienation through its own emancipation. In the Marxist view of things, the international working class was called upon to do this work. But after all the economic, social, and technological developments of recent decades, its fragmentation as a class, and the accompanying politically driven de-solidarization, hardly anyone trusts it to do this task anymore.

For decades, Western revolutionary spirits have sought a replacement. Initially, they looked to the liberation movements of Asia or Latin America, hoping their heroic struggles would serve as a global model. Later, it was the ostracized and marginalized within highly developed capitalist countries who carried the burden of hope for a solidarity-based society. In today’s era of campus radicalism, any group of perceived victims or the disadvantaged becomes a canvas for revolutionary aspirations and ideals.

The imposition of the death penalty for homosexuality in the mullahs’ state failed to deter Michel Foucault from his fervor for “political spirituality,” despite his own freedom to express his sexuality in the supposedly coercive bourgeois regime of the West. His refusal to confront reality ideologically has since been emulated by many, who prefer the allure of pseudo-revolutionary attitudes over grappling with harsh truths. Even if sometimes it remains just an attitude, the matter is anything but harmless, as can be seen from the cheers that followed Hamas’ brutal assault on October 7.

It may seem ridiculous, but it is a serious matter in both senses when some queer activists – apparently with suicidal disregard for what they are endorsing – express their solidarity with Hamas. One can only imagine how long a queer solidarity group would survive in the realm of Sharia (it’s worth noting that anti-Israel Palestinian LGBTQ activists have their headquarters in Tel Aviv and not in Ramallah, why?). But one doesn’t have to use imagination to see the enthusiasm that the annihilation of Israel, explicitly propagated by Hamas and Iran, generates among millions upon millions of sympathizers of these Palestinian ‘freedom fighters.’ The most prominent advocates of Hamas, Yanis Varoufakis and Judith Butler, waited until Israel reacted (as Hamas had no doubt expected) with counterstrikes, which have since resulted in the deaths of an appalling number of civilians in Gaza, before publicly denouncing the Israeli counterattack while ignoring the jihadi-eizantsgruppen who massacred more than 1,200 people.

Others didn’t wait that long. Like some of Butler’s American counterparts, the Austrian Nicole Schöndorfer (who is very prominent on social media) rushed to celebrate on Instagram the terrorists who themselves died in the butchering of Jews as “martyrs” on the very first day after the pogrom. One remembers the atheist Foucault, who denounced religious criticism of the Islamist movement; so why should we be surprised by women who explicitly describe themselves as feminists and yet celebrate as martyrs of a just cause the young men who raped, mutilated, murdered, or kidnapped Israeli women and presented them as trophies to an adoring civilian mob of cheers?

A few weeks before the Hamas massacre, I was asked what the easiest way was to fuel antisemitism. Today I would have to answer: by massacring as many Jews as possible. Nothing has fueled hatred of Jews more than the worst attack on Jews since the Shoah, and because the attack was carried out against Jews, the rapists, and murderers can only be called “resistance fighters” motivated by a “holy hatred” against foreign Jewish rule in Palestine. “Heilige Hass” (holy hatred) is, by the way, a motif that literally comes from Julius Streicher’s Nazi magazine Der Stürmer and which has been taken over in anti-colonial discourse.

Ali Khamenei. Photo by wikipedia

There are forms of ignorance among the anti-imperial left that are entirely culpable. One of these is when Israel haters, who see themselves as left-wing, simply refuse to acknowledge the political foundations of Hamas. Hamas has never made a secret of the fact that it is not concerned with national equality, social justice, or a two-state solution, but only with the destruction of Israel – which Hamas says represents the most important stage in the battle for final victory between believers and nonbelievers. Its foundational charter from 1988 is a compact collection of antisemitic stereotypes and a blatant declaration of murderous intent. The supposed moderation of Hamas, which one could apparently find from the 2000’s onward, reflects what people wanted to hear, not what Hamas was ever actually saying.

Four decades after Foucault abandoned his intellectual and moral standards to support “political spirituality,” the most sensitive youth in the West are forming an alliance with one of the most brutal terrorist representatives of “political spirituality.” There are some new things that the anti-Zionists put forward between Berkeley and Berlin – such as the rigorous rejection of the Enlightenment principles, which is denounced in self-loathing as a weapon of Western supremacy; but the core of their accusation against the Jews is ancient. And while the gun may have been introduced in the first act by Foucault, it is the Palestine extremists on the streets of London and New York that have gleefully pulled the trigger. Progressivism, in today’s form, is dead; it’s just that most within the movement don’t realize this yet. It died the day they formulated an assembly line behind anti-Zionism.

Published in ‘Israel Hayom’