Croick Church, a grey whinstone building that stands strategically at the junction of three small streams that feed the headwaters of the River Carron, was built by Thomas Telford in 1827. Today, like so much of the Scottish Highlands, the area is bereft of human habitation though the church windows bear testimony to the terrible plight once experienced by small tenant farmers from Glencalvie who practised subsistence farming on patches of arable land in the neighbouring straths and from shielings on nearby hills.
Etched on the diamond – shaped window panes, along with names written in fine, cursive handwriting, is the statement that reads, ‘Glencalvie people the wicked generation.’ Whoever wrote those words was speaking for the entire community of 90 people, including the 23 children, who had camped there in the church grounds having been driven from their land in what became known as the Highland Clearances.
The statement confirms their adherence to Calvinistic doctrine that maintained their awful situation was because of their innate wickedness. It was not because of union with England or because of Sir John Lockhart Ross of Balnagowan seeking to introduce commercial sheep farming into Ross-shire. Nor was it because of James Gillanders, the factor to the Robertsons of Kindeace who had decided to clear the tenant farmers from Glencalvie who had farmed these lands for generations. It was the actual wickedness of the people themselves that was responsible for their tragedy.
This type of religious mind, it seems, works well when things are going well but when things start to go bad then it is God who is punishing you for transgressing His laws. That was clearly how those poor people of Glencalvie saw their condition in 1845 as they camped in Croick churchyard by making tents from plaids and blankets.
When we look at the Islamic world today we see chaos almost everywhere. Somalia has become the byword for the idea of the failed state. Not far from Somalia, Yemen seems to be undergoing a medieval cholera epidemic as the country is bombed from the air by Saudi Arabia and racked by civil war within. Further north we find the countries of Iraq and Syria, two ancient lands with two of the earliest civilisations on the earth. The names Baghdad and Damascus today conjure up chaos and destruction, their Old Testament lineage erased, echoes of Babylon and Gilgamesh buried under rubble.
Libya now seems split in two after ‘allied’ bombing brought down Muammar Gaddafi and plundered arms caches found their way initially into the hands of the Tuareg and later plumped up the arsenal of Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria. If only the dead bodies lining the streets of Sirte, Boris Johnson recently said, could be picked up then Sirte could become a fine tourist resort. Pity about the dead bodies, especially if they are not yours.
Egypt now seems to have a blackout on western media after the Arab Spring ushered in the Moslem Brotherhood when the people of Egypt ousted the western-backed President Mubarak. Egypt’s military are now fully in charge again, with ex-President Morsi still behind bars. No doubt arms sales from the west continue to pour into the land of the Pyramids, Pharoahs and Sphinx.
Then there is Afghanistan, another byword for the failed state. In the 1970s, not all that far from Croick Church, the SAS once trained some of Osama Bin Laden’s leading lieutenants so they could use the techniques they had learned against the Soviet Union who were propping up the discredited Najibullah at the time. What the US and UK governments failed, failed utterly to realise was the fact that the Mujahideen they had allied themselves with in their attempt to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan was that their erstwhile allies loathed capitalism and its accompanying values just as much as they loathed communism.
The Saudis, it seemed, were quite happy to have their own internal zealots transferred to Afghanistan and keep them out of the way while they got on with enforcing the Kingdom’s own brand of Wahhabism , an ultra- conservative variant of Islam which, until recently, banned women from driving a car. This form of Islam is used to enforce a severe restraint on its citizens which serves to keep the House of Saud in power. The oil-rich Kingdom is also aided with billions of pounds and billions of dollars of arms sales, much of it being used in Yemen at the moment. Despite most of the 9/11 hijackers coming from Saudi Arabia, this land is a key ally of the West in the Middle East. Oil, it seems, transfigures all transgressions.
Across the Red Sea, Iran, with its Shia brand of Islam, is a land also rich in oil and natural gas. After Mohammed Mossaddegh was elected Prime Minister in 1951 and began to nationalise the Anglo-Persion Oil Company (now BP) a joint CIA and MI6 operation was hatched to remove him in 1953. Power was then enforced by the military and supreme power vested in the Shah. His notorious secret police force SAVAK, funded and trained by the west, smashed all opposition in the country. The great travel writer Ryszard Kapuscinski in his ‘Shah of Shahs’ (1982) explained how the only place that could not be closed down for fear of opposition ideas being propagated was the mosques and it was in the mosques that political Islam, albeit with a Shia variant, was born. Goya, in his drawing ‘The Sleep of Reason produces Monsters’ saw that the Enlightenment ideals he supported were being eroded through a lack of intellectual vigilance and today’s counter forces are being born by the failure to realise that political repression of others will also give rise to disturbing developments that were never envisaged.
This is true of Hezbollah, the militant Shia group from Lebanon. Its creation was caused by Israel’s incursion into the southern part of Lebanon in 1982, an action given tacit approval by the west. As a result of this occupation the militant group Hezbollah was born and funded by the new Islamic Republic of Iran. Israel was eventually forced out of Lebanon in 2000 and Hezbollah has become a key player in Lebanese and Middle Eastern politics. Certainly they have played a pivotal role in the war against Isis/Daesh in Syria and this has further enhanced their profile much to the alarm of Saudi Arabia.
And Isis/Daesh, of course, did not exist before the war against Iraq in 2003. Well do I remember walking in protest through Glasgow streets on a cold day in February 2003 to listen to speaker after speaker tell the 100,000 crowd that invading Iraq would not stop terrorism, it would simply create it. And it did.
Throughout the Islamic world there is chaos and instability, tension and unease. And where there are Islamic communities established in the West there is real fear. Rather than blame ourselves for creating the monsters Goya alluded to in his drawing, sections of our political class, press and media whip up hatred toward all Moslems and at Islam itself for the terrorist outrages that occur daily in our world.
The old word for Christians throughout the world – Christendom – has an equivalent in Islam. It is called Ummah. The Ummah is the community of Islamic believers who see their communities devastated all around the world and it is a deeply felt sense of grievance and humiliation for Moslems to see their co-religionists from Syria and Iraq become refugees; to see the continued occupation of Palestine and, more recently, the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Moslems from Myanmar. The US support for Jerusalem/Al Quds being made capital of Israel can only create further instability in the region and give rise to newer forces reacting against this decision.
The self-defeating religious mind-set of the Glencalvie tenant farmers also has an equivalent within Islam though the Islamic version is much, much more lethal. The devastation that exists around the Islamic world and the Islamophobic reaction to it in the west has brought about a religious delusion in some that seems to believe that only by returning to the world of the seventh century when Islam was strong and more certain of itself can today’s Islam flourish again. The followers of Isis/Daesh believe that they are purifying Islam and cleansing it of its worldliness by bombing other Moslems who remain the people most at harm from this delusional, apocalyptic creed. The Islamophobic reaction to their deeds they also hope will bring about a fundamental clash between Islam and the West. However it should also be pointed out most strenuously that it is the majority of Moslems themselves around the world who are the most implacable opponents of this death cult.
Yet it is so called radical Islam that has replaced communism as the evil empire and this now justifies the bloated arms industries that carry on killing and keep on creating terrorists and terrorism. The forces that preferred sheep to tenant farmers in Croick are the same forces that prefer propping up vile regimes that deny their people any sense of social justice and become the swamps where suicide bombers are born. In the west the hysterical Islamophobia that further marginalises the western- born Moslem is also the breeding ground for a troubling alienation that can also become deadly.
Of course it does not have to be like this. There has to be an alternative modus vivendi. The whole world and her peoples demand it. Against a backdrop of continual capital crises where liberal values have now been overtaken by calls from ultra- nationalist and racist voices both with Brexit here and with Trump in the US, we should realise that the endgame of such reaction has been played before. It leads to greater and greater chaos and spreads hatred of the other not just abroad but creates it at home too. These are dark days indeed where Islamophobia has replaced anti-semitism (though many Islamophobes retain their anti-semitism) as an article of faith for many.
The finger, or rather the voice, should be raised elsewhere. Again it is the forces of what Marx once called ‘primitive accumulation’ that has to be taken to task. The world is as we have made it, or as we have allowed it to be made, and that includes the changes to climate which could, if not collectively dealt with, undo us all. While Marx marvelled at the productive capacities of capitalism in his day, he also noted its exploitative nature and its capacity to crash.
The signs are here already.
We have our own Brexiteers who seem to have a hankering for the 19th century but the empire is over and history just does not work that way. No-one wishes to sign up to anyone’s empire these days. Some lessons by others have been learned.
If we have to go back we should do so to note the prophetic words of Rosa Luxemburg. In her Junius Pamphlet of 1915, while languishing in jail, she posed the issue facing her war-torn world. Recalling Karl Kautsky and his Erfurt Program of 1892 she said we must either have ‘a transition to socialism or regression into barbarism.’ I reckon many feel we are already in or heading to the latter. That is why a progressive socialism that enables tenant farmers the world over – from Croick to Kandahar – to practice their faiths in peace and to bring about social justice for all by draining the swamps that poison our body politic is an essential component to improve the world we live in. The forces of ‘primitive accumulation’ have taken us where we are. They now have to be reined in. They have done enough damage. There is only one world and it belongs to us all. Its fruits must be jointly shared.