Radical Islam Picks Up Where Communism Left Off

 Like Communists, extremist Islam seeks to impose a worldwide utopia.
Like communism, extremist Islam seeks to impose a worldwide utopia. (Outside the belt way)

EspañolToday, the most concerning international issue is extremist Islam. Media ceaselessly showcase disturbing images from Syria and Iraq, where vast territories are under the control of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, who are doing everything they can to impose a religious caliphate. Recently, the terrorist attack in Paris brought even more attention to the pressing debate about what to do with Islam.

This scenario, which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago, demands deep analysis. An inescapable starting point is the theory put forward by Samuel Huntington in his influential essay — subsequently a book — “The Clash of Civilizations.” It argued that the end of the Cold War meant the disappearance of conflicts over conventional ideologies, but not over culture, and that the West’s rule would gradually decline.

Huntington’s central thesis was:

It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics.

He goes on to explain how a civilization’s most salient characteristic is its religion. In an ever-changing and globalized world, nation states are losing their collective identity, and religion appears to be filling that vacuum, especially with fundamentalist groups in the Middle East that provide community bonds. Religion thus leads to wars because “[it] reinforces the revival of ethnic identities” that feel threatened by secularization and globalization.

This latter trend tends to dissolve all cultures into western values, mirroring culture in the United States. As a further affront to Islam, there’s the crisis that came with creation of the state of Israel in 1948, which was perceived as a foreign threat.

In The Terrorist Jihad, Luis de la Corte Ibáñez and Javier Jordán explain that “jihadis believe or promote the idea that the West and Israel are the main culprits for all the Muslim countries’ woes.”

So influential became Huntington’s theory that the Islam phenomenon nowadays is considered a religious issue, but is it, really?

To my understanding, religion is just a handy camouflage for today’s jihadis, and why those who approach these issues superficially can be easily misled. The Islamist leaders take it upon themselves to underline their religious motivations and repeatedly name the prophet Mohammed and Allah as the only true god. They argue that a peaceful and just world can only come about through observance of the sharia, a set of precepts contained in the Koran that were created by Allah and sent to Mohammed through the archangel Gabriel.

Against these claims, there are several clues that indicate Islamist extremism is actually a political movement, not a religious one. Among them is the fact that its intellectual forefathers — Ibn Taymiyya [1], Hassan al-Banna, Abul A’la Maududi [2], and Sayyid Qutb — were intellectuals, not clergymen [3]. Furthermore, they believed priests to be merely tools of western domination, and thus expendable. Their proposals were of a political nature, dealing with sovereignty, power, authority, law, and community that ultimately lead to the establishment of the Islamic State.

Besides, there’s no “correct” interpretation of the Koran. Thanks to the principle of ijtihād (free interpretation), any political leader charismatic enough can claim that the ruling government is acting against the holy book and declare a jihad against it. That’s why the ijtihād has “enormous revolutionary potential.”

Islamic extremism can be conceived as a contemporary phenomenon crafted through some intellectuals’ reinterpretation of Islam. Since it’s a revolutionary movement, we can compare it to fascism and communism.

Communism, fascism, and Islamic extremist were all strengthened by war. World War I brought about the extinction of the Ottoman Caliphate in Istanbul, and World War II debilitated the European imperial powers enough to allow the rise of decolonization around the world. Both processes were crucial for the emergence of Islamic extremism.

However, what separates Islamic extremism from fascism is that the former pretends to be an international movement — like communism — while fascism is essentially nationalistic.

Islamist leaders portray the non-Muslim world as one rife with violence and warfare. Lenin similarly held that capitalism led to imperialism and perpetual war. Therefore, explain de la Corte and Jordán, “the only form of stable peace will happen when religious pluralism is replaced by universal Islam.”

On the other hand, just as Soviet Russia carried out mass exterminations known as the dekulakization, the Islamic extremists will remove Muslims who don’t submit to their version of the Koran.

In addition, neither communism nor extremist Islam allow for a private life or freedom of conscience. Fascism never pretended to reach that far.

The Islamist utopia paints a fortunate future for all mankind, once they rule over the world, of course. A perfect society will result from an Islamic state based upon their values and principles, they promise, just as the communists did. But the ugly truth is that it would quickly devolve into hell.

A look beyond first appearances reveals that today’s radical Islam is the new communism.


[1] Taymiyya was an authority on Islamic thought since the Middle Ages. According to De la Corte Ibáñez et al., 20th-century jihadist ideologues were mainly inspired by his writings.

[2] Founder of the organization Yamaat-i-Islami, conceived as an authoritarian political party.

[3] This feature puts it closer to Communism than to Fascism. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Lenin are Communism’s intellectual fathers, while Fascism was more action than theory.

[4] The Turkish Empire, which united Muslims, disintegrated and its territories were handed over to western nations, specially Britain and France.

Translated by Daniel Duarte. Edited by Fergus Hodgson and Laurie Blair.

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