Marxism and Islamism

There have been a number of names given to radical Islam. Terms such as the Islamists, or Jihadists, or militant Muslims, are often used. Another term often used is Islamofascism. It is a fitting term, in many respects. All-embracing Islam can be every bit as totalitarian and dictatorial as fascism was.

It might also be possible to speak of radical Islam as Islamomarxism, to coin a term. That is, there appear to be a number of parallels between Marxist thought and radical Islam. Both tend to argue that politics is everything, even though one rests on atheism, and the other on strident monotheism.

English commentator Theodore Dalrymple teases out the similarities in an intriguing article in the May 2007 New English Review. He begins his piece by describing how he studied Marxism in his earlier years. He notes that reading the main Marxist thinkers was a daunting task: “Marxist writers were not famed for their clarity or elegance of exposition. Indeed, clarity was rather looked down upon by them, for the dialectical nature of the world was inherently hard to understand and therefore to express. For Marxists, clarity was simplification, or worse still vulgarisation. It was the handmaiden of false consciousness that misled the workers into not being revolutionaries.”

He continues, “As with philosophy, I am not sure whether my efforts to understand Marxism were a complete waste of time, which I could and should have employed better. At any rate, when the Soviet Union collapsed, no thanks to my efforts to understand Marxism, I thought, ‘Well, at least I shall never have to struggle through any ideological nonsense again if I want to understand what is going on’. How wrong I was! . . . I found myself reading about Islam because it had suddenly emerged as the next potential totalitarianism.”

The rest of the article is taken up with an examination of one of Sayyid Qutb’s best-known books, Milestones. “Qutb, who was hanged by the secularising nationalist, Nasser, in 1966, for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the government, was one of the most influential Muslim thinkers of the 20th Century. He did not start out as an Islamist, but became one partly in response to his sojourn in the United States. He was appalled by what he saw there as its moral laxity (though he went at a time now looked back on by moral conservatives as a time of great and even exemplary personal restraint, at least by comparison with the moral atmosphere of today).”

Dalrymple argues that “Qutb’s thought has many parallels with Marxism. Where Marx has Historical Inevitability, Qutb has God‘s Law. Marx, you remember, envisages a time when the state will wither away and history will end. In Marx’s vision, political power will have dissolved, and the exploitation of man by man will have ceased, to be replaced by the mere administration of things. (How anybody of minimal intelligence could have believed such a thing beats me.) In Qutb’s vision, all political power will have dissolved, replaced by man’s spontaneous obedience to God’s law. Just as the administration of things in Marx’s utopia will not confer power on the administrators, presumably because everything will be so plentiful that no one will be tempted to appropriate more than the next man, so in Qutb’s utopia no one will have to interpret the law and gain power from doing so. God’s law will be as evident as things will be abundant in Marx’s classless society.”

Both believed in the New Man: “In both Marx and Qutb, the idea is expressed that, under the new dispensation, man will become more human, less animal. Personally, I have always found this kind of thought an appallingly arrogant slur on all the people who have lived before the thinker of it: does humanity really have to wait for Marx and Qutb before it becomes truly human?”

And both believed that violence was essential in bringing about the New Man: “Marx understood that the classless society could not come about by merely preaching socialism, as if it were merely an ethical demand or theory. Violence would be necessary. Similarly, Qutb denies that the world will become Islamic merely by preaching the word of God. He refers to Mohammed’s Meccan period, when the Prophet did not resort to arms. This, he says, was merely tactical; it would have been impossible in practice to impose his rule by force. But when he went to Medina, he had no hesitation in fighting his enemies, including those who simply did not accept his message.”

He continues, “Just as Marx says that a showdown between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable, leading to the triumph of the former and the subsequent establishment of a classless society, so Qutb thinks that a showdown between believers and infidels is inevitable, leading to the victory of Islam, which will eliminate all religious conflict. Is this Marx or Qutb speaking: ‘[there] is a natural struggle between two systems which cannot co-exist for long’. It is Qutb; but it could have been taken from the writings of thousands of followers of Marx, if not from Marx himself, including Mao Tse-Tung.”

Just as Marxism was a secular religion, or worldview, so too, ironically, is the militant Islam of Qutb: “There is very little that is specifically spiritual in Qutb’s book: it is a political rather than a religious manifesto. And like Marx, he insists that Islam is not so much a body of doctrine or theory or facts, but a method. His notion is uncommonly like the Marxist one of praxis, of a dialectical relationship between theory and practice.”

He continues, “The only religious aspect of Qutb’s thought is his belief that the Koran is the unmediated word of God, a belief that he does not, because he cannot, justify. For him, the will of God is indisputably known without any need of interpretation, and in fact he knows it. It isn’t difficult to see, then, that in the name of the destruction of all political authority and of the lordship of man over man in obedience to God’s will, Qutb thinks he ought to be total dictator, and that he is as obsessed with the here and now as any Marxist.”

Concludes Dalrymple, “It is the same old story. As Dostoyevsky said, starting out from limitless freedom, we end up with total despotism.” Quite so. Dalrymple is certainly on to something here, and his entire article is well worth reading.

Back in 1983 Erich and Rael Jean Isaac penned a book entitled The Coercive Utopians. Marxism has clearly been a classic example of this, but hardline Islamism certainly comes to mind here as well. And just as the free West needed to actively challenge the coercive Marxists and their plans to radically remake society, so too it needs to resist with all of its strength the totalitarian designs of the utopian Jihadists.

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7 Replies to “Marxism and Islamism”

  1. Patrick Sookhdeo, the international director of Barnabas Fund, has made similar comparisons between Islam and Marxism, especially in their mode of operation.
    John Nelson

  2. Bill

    Great article! Dalrymple is insightful as he so often is. Just finishing his ‘Our Culture, What is Left of it; The Mandarins and the Masses’, he has great understanding of the nature of man. A great modern intellectual!

    BTW if anyone wants more on Qutb then read Paul Berman’s article ‘The Philosopher of Islamic Terror’ in the NY Times Qutb is a very interesting character and very necessary for understanding the modern fundamentalist Islamist mindset.

    Damien Spillane

  3. I have often thought that the west has already become islamicised, in that both evolutionary humanism and islam believe in fate or chance. This renders any decision we make as useless. In the words of Winston Churchill’s famous description of Mohammedanism, written, I believe in 1898, he says, “there is this fearful fatalistic apathy…the influence of the religion(ideology) paralyses the social development of those who follow it.” As we look at our society, both in Britain, Australia and the West generally, there does indeed exist the feeling that we have lost the power and authority to act. This is most poignantly felt by parents, teachers and police. We have lost our moral courage and Christian mandate.
    David Skinner

  4. Thanks David

    Yes it was an interesting comment made by Churchill back in 1899. The fuller context is this:

    “Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen; all know how to die; but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science – the science against which it had vainly struggled – the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  5. Churchill’s term “fearful, fatalistic apathy”. My Dad, who died in Dec 1989, had this. It tended to paralyze his thinking. I think we in the West need to guard against this. We can read in the Bible how things are going to get so bad that we throw in any idea of resistance. We must resist evil every way we can, and show the world what the love of Father God is like in all we say and do. Yes, I know things are going to get bad, but where sin did abound, grace did much more abound, and God always has a way out for those ‘silly’ enough to put their trust in Him.
    Ian Brearley

  6. Nice comment David Skinner. Your comments are always insightful and fresh!
    Jesse Smyth

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