Free the Slaves

Could an East-West hybrid blue-green-black world party free us all?

Nikon Ad, New York Times, November 2012

A new spiritual militancy is rising in the East . . . whose philosophical catalyst is a widespread epiphany, induced by Occupy Wall Street, that the core struggle is economic and not just political.

“When Egyptians rose up last year,” writes anthropologist Jason Hickel for Al Jazeera, “it was not only against tyranny and political repression, but also against the neoliberal economic order – designed by the United States – that has generated hunger, poverty and inequality in Egypt since the 1980s.” Now the failure of populist Islamic parties – especially Turkey’s AKP and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood – to break with this capitalist neoliberal economic order is pushing many revolutionary-minded Muslim jammers, theologians, and activists to embrace a militant anti-capitalism inspired by Occupy.

Istanbul’s Taksim square was packed on May Day 2012 with “red-flagged masses” who erupted in a “roar of delight,” reports journalist Susanne Güsten, “when the Anti-Capitalist Muslim Youth column marched in under a black banner bearing the slogan God – Bread – Freedom.” Other prominent slogans that day were “All Property Belongs to God” and “All Oppressed Are Equal” but it was an immense banner proclaiming FEKKU RAGABE (“Freedom to Slaves”) that fired up the people’s imagination. This slogan, a reference to the 13th verse of the Balad Surah of the Quran, and a reminder that the prophet Muhammad’s adopted son was a slave he’d personally freed, has struck a chord in Turkey, quickly becoming a rallying cry that could spark the next season of the Global Spring.

“We have a government that calls itself Muslim, but since they came to power, the number of banks in this street has risen from 10 to 25,” Mem Aslan, a 29-year-old Turkish anti-capitalist Muslim revolutionary says. “Some people have become rich, while others struggle to survive. We are talking about people who are sucking our blood.”

Tactically inspired, as one organizer put it, by “the rebellious Pirate Party,” the most prominent face of this new politics is the Anti-Capitalist Muslim Youth movement in Turkey which uses social media to organize horizontally. Their ideological positions are cosmopolitan and pluralistic, blending left and right while still being Islamic and deeply anti-capitalist. They take fearlessly controversial stands on hot issues – they unofficially support gay rights, recognition of the Armenian genocide, the rights of the Kurdish minority, an end to nuclear energy, a right to conscientious objection and an end to Turkey’s head scarf ban – while maintaining a strictly revolutionary agenda that is compatible with the blue-green-black, psycho-eco-politico, platform emerging from the West.

“God, Bread and Freedom – those demands express the soul of this region and its societies,” explains Ihsan Eliaçik, a Muslim theologian who is widely considered the spiritual mentor of the anti-capitalist movement in Turkey. Eliaçik’s philosophical approach is reminiscent of Christian liberation theology.

In an interview following May Day, still enjoying the afterglow of the large crowds who spontaneously showed up to their inaugural event, Eliaçik was forthright about his hopes for the future: “Capitalism is teetering, and people are searching for alternatives. Communism tried to provide an alternative without religion, but that didn’t work. Now people are looking for faith-based alternatives to capitalism. Islam has the capacity to offer that alternative.”

The tantalizing possibility behind the marriage of Islam with Occupy is that an East-West hybrid blue-green-black world party could emerge. If this happens … if anti-capitalist Muslim youth can launch an anti-usury and anti-poverty meme war that Western jammers can throw their weight behind, then we may finally have the strength to smash our financial shackles and free the billions of people enslaved by capitalism.

What is our one demand? Free the Slaves! FEKKU RAGABE!

- Micah White