Published January 16, 2022
Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

In 1969, a book authored by Carlos Marighella became hugely popular among young leftist activists. The book, Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla, was written after a series of attempts to trigger revolutions had failed in South America and Africa.

The successful 1959 revolution in Cuba was supposed to inspire similar uprisings in ‘Third World’ countries. But when one of the architects of the Cuban Revolution, Che Guevara, tried to employ his Cuban guerrilla tactics in Congo and Bolivia, they crashed. His insurgencies failed to gain enough support from the locals.

Gaining the support of locals, especially in the rural areas, was a vital ingredient in Guevara’s scheme of things. It was mainly because of the debacle that Guevara’s tactics suffered in Bolivia, that Marighella wrote his book. Arguing that revolutionary activity should shift its focus from rural to urban areas, Marighella put forth various ways to cause disruption through violence, specifically against state and government institutions. He theorised that the escalation of violence would force the state to become even more repressive. Eventually, the masses would join the revolutionaries in reaction to the repression.

Across the 1970s, leftist urban guerrilla groups in South America and Europe tried to do just that. The ‘masses’, however, were repulsed by the violence. Most people actually began to support the state’s retaliatory actions. Marighella’s tactics clearly failed but, ironically, they were adopted by far-right white supremacist groups in the US.

In 1978, a novel called The Turner Diaries appeared. Written by William L. Pierce, the plot revolves around one Earl Turner, and the discovery of his diaries, years after his demise. In a future US, where the white race had defeated the state, the entries in Turner’s diaries lay out how this was achieved: Acts of terrorism were designed to instigate intense state crackdowns on basic freedoms, thus turning the tide in favour of Turner’s group. It began to gain converts from the (white) masses. The novel describes in detail how the group drew the state into a series of battles, until the Caucasian population comes together to ‘save the white race.’ 

White and Hindu supremacists and militant Islamists are only fighting for earthly territory and power, much as they would wish to cast their fight as a spiritual one of good versus evil

The novel was not taken seriously. However, years later, it jumped into prominence when, in 1995, a white supremacist Timothy McVeigh, planted a powerful bomb in a government building in Oklahoma. The bomb killed 168 people. Pages from the novel were found in McVeigh’s car. He said he was influenced by the book and believed that his actions would trigger a civil war in the US. He was expecting sympathy from the masses but he was executed.

The American journalist AC Thompson’s recent investigations, of the activities of white supremacist groups in the US, posit that almost all of them still believe that, if they escalate their violent tactics, they will attract more repression from the federal government. It would gain them sympathy from white Americans, thus triggering a civil war in the US, and a (white) revolution. 

This mindset is also present in various Islamist terror groups. The literature which is believed to be instrumental in influencing their actions include writings of men such as Hassan Al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Abul Ala Maududi, and Bilal Philips.

Most of these authors suggest a gradualist approach towards enacting an Islamic state. Al-Banna, Qutb and Maududi emphasise the building of an ‘Islamic society’ through propaganda, infiltration and social work. Once such a society is ready, it will become conscious of the evilness of the rulers, removing them and paving the way for an Islamic state. 

But to men such as Osama bin Laden, Muslim societies had already reached this point of readiness. To gain their sympathy, Islamist groups began launching vicious terror attacks. The attacks soon spiralled out of control. Frustrated by being unable to attract the kind of widespread support they expected, they began to target civilians. This not only led to more effective retaliation measures by military and police, but the terror groups largely ended up repulsing a large majority of the people they were attempting to get on their side. 

Editorial: Extremism is a hydra-headed monster that needs a sustained, multifaceted approach to vanquish

White supremacists and militant Islamists took more than a page from Marighella’s ideas of using violence to make the state more repressive, and thus push the masses into the laps of the insurgents. But one element separates Marighella from the first two. Marighella’s ideas were firmly grounded in an entirely materialistic understanding of social, political and economic conditions. 

Militant Islamists and white supremacists too, view the conditions in a similar manner, but they package them as a war between good and evil. This approach is rooted in what is known as ‘Manicheism’, a 3rd century Persian system of doctrines which was later adopted by various religions.

It constitutes a ‘dualist cosmology’, based on the idea of a primordial conflict between light and darkness, good and evil. Class, ethnicity, nationality or material economic conditions do not play a role in this conflict. Race and faith do. It is also called a ‘cosmic war.’ 

When white (or for that matter, Hindu) supremacists talk of battling enemies, they explain the resultant conflict as one which has been going on for centuries outside the material realm, and within a spiritual one that the Bible and/or Hinduism’s sacred texts speak of. Same is the case with Islamists. States and governments that try to use similar symbology and imagery to neutralise the supremacists or Islamists, actually fall into a trap.

Presidents and prime ministers often quote verses and words from sacred scriptures to prove that they were the good, and the supremacists and Islamists were the bad, or misguided. But all this does is it convinces the cosmic warriors that, indeed, they are fighting a cosmic war in which evil is now trying to usurp and mutate the sacred texts. 

The cosmic imagery that the supremacists and Islamists use, actually needs to be demystified and disenchanted. They need to be displayed as men and women who are fighting for territory and power, and for very earthly and materialistic purposes. There is nothing ‘cosmic’ about them.

Published in Dawn, EOS, January 16th, 2022



Dark days
Updated 26 May, 2022

Dark days

The PTI, on its part, does not seem to have been prepared to face such a large deployment of state machinery.
26 May, 2022

No room for dissent

WHILE political turmoil roils the land, a number of incidents over the past few days have demonstrated that though...
26 May, 2022

Harassing passengers

REPORTS of the confiscation of personal items from passengers’ private luggage by customs officials at Karachi’s...
Back to bedlam
Updated 25 May, 2022

Back to bedlam

FEAR tactics have never worked in the past, and most likely will not this time either. The government’s ...
25 May, 2022

Balochistan blaze

THE forest fire on the Koh-i-Sulaiman range in Balochistan’s Shirani area is among a series of blazes to have...
25 May, 2022

Unequal citizens

INDIFFERENCE would have been bad enough, but the state’s attitude towards non-Muslims falls squarely in the...