Apologists of Totalitarianism: From Communism to Islam,
Part I: ISLAM AS TOTALITARIANISM
by Ibn Warraq
From New English Review, January 2009.
Charles Watson, a Christian missionary in Egypt, in 1937, described Islam as totalitarian by showing how, “by a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it is able to maintain its hold upon the life of Moslem peoples”.G.H.Bousquet, formerly Professor of Law at the University of Algiers, and later at the University of Bordeaux, one of the foremost authorities on Islamic Law, distinguishes two aspects of Islam which he considers totalitarian: Islamic Law, and the Islamic notion of Jihad which has for its ultimate aim the conquest of the entire world, in order to submit it to one single authority.
Islamic Law has certainly aimed at, to quote another great scholar of Islamic Law, and longtime Professor of Arabic at the University of Leiden, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje, “controlling the religious, social and political life of mankind in all its aspects, the life of its followers without qualification, and the life of those who follow tolerated religions to a degree that prevents their activities from hampering Islam in any way”. The all-embracing nature of Islamic Law can be seen from the fact that it does not distinguish between ritual, law (in the European sense of the word), ethics and good manners. In principle this legislation controls the entire life of the believer and the Islamic community, it intrudes into every nook and cranny: everything, to give a random sample, from the pilgrim tax, agricultural contracts, the board and lodging of slaves, the invitation to a wedding, the use of tooth-picks, the ritual fashion in which one’s natural needs are to be accomplished, the prohibition for men to wear gold or silver rings to the proper treatment of animals is covered.
Islamic Law is a doctrine of duties, external duties, that is to say, those duties which, continues Hurgronje, “are susceptible to control by a human authority instituted by God. However, these duties are, without exception, duties towards God, and are founded on the inscrutable will of God Himself. All duties that men can envisage being carried out are dealt with; we find treated therein all the duties of man in any circumstance whatsoever, and in their connections with anyone whatsoever”.
Bertrand Russell in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, published in 1920 wrote,
“Communism,” continues Monnerot, “takes the field both as a secular religion and as a universal State ; it is therefore more comparable to Islam than to the Universal Religion which began by opposing the universal State in the Hellenistic and Roman worlds, and which can be said to have drawn men’s hearts away from the State to itself….Soviet Russia…is not the first empire in which temporal and public power goes hand in hand with a shadowy power which works outside the imperial frontiers to undermine the social structure of neighbouring States. The Islamic East affords several examples of a like duality and duplicity. The Egyptian Fatimids, and later the Persian Safavids, were the animators and propagators, from the heart of their own States, of an active and organising legend, an historical myth, calculated to make fanatics and obtain their total devotion, designed to create in neighbouring States an underworld of ruthless gangsters….This merging of religion and politics was a major characteristic of the Islamic world in its victorious period. It allowed the head of State to operate beyond his own frontiers in the capacity of commander of the faithful(Amir al-muminin); and in this way a Caliph was able to count upon docile instruments, or captive souls, wherever there were men who recognized his authority. The territorial frontiers which seemed to remove some of his subjects from his jurisdiction were nothing more than material obstacles; armed force might compel him to feign respect for the frontier, but propaganda and subterranean warfare could continue no less actively beyond it. Religions of this kind acknowledge no frontiers. Soviet Russia is merely the geographical center from which communist influence radiates; it is an “Islam” on the march, and it regards its frontiers at any given moment as purely provisional and temporary. Communism, like victorious Islam, makes no distinction between politics and religion, but this time the claim to be both universal State and universal truth applies not only within a civilization or world which co-exists with other different civilizations, other worlds, but to the entire terrestrial globe”.
In The Captive Mind, Czeslaw Milosz devoted a chapter to how people in totalitarian societies develop means to cope publically with all the contradictions of real life. One cannot admit to contradictions openly; officially they do not exist. Hence people learn to dissimulate their views, emotions and thoughts, never revealing their true beliefs publically. Milosz finds a striking analogy of the same phenomenon in Islamic civilization, where it bears the name Kitman or Ketman [Persian word for concealment].
Islam has also been compared more precisely to Nazism or sometimes Fascism, usually used synonymously. For example, Carl Jung, the famous Swiss psychiatrist, was asked in the late 1930s in an interview if he had any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development. He replied, referring to the rise of Nazism in Germany, “We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.”
“A prayer for the ruling National Socialism and for its further expansion and increase simply cannot be uttered—unless one wishes to strike his confession in the face and make nonsense of his prayer. But there is one prayer with regard to the ruling National Socialism which may be uttered and ought to be uttered. It may and has to be prayed, in all earnestness, by Christians in Germany and throughout the whole world. It is the prayer which was uttered right into the nineteenth century, according to the old Basel Liturgy: “Cast down the bulwarks of the false prophet Muhammad!”…And there we have it—we stand today, all Europe, and the whole Christian Church in Europe, once again in danger of the Turks [emphasis in original]. And this time they have already taken Vienna and Prague as well. “Thy will be done!” “If I perish then I perish!” They really knew that at the time of the old Turkish menace. They knew it better, knew it with more resignation to the will of God and less querulousness than we today do.”
Manfred Halpern, [1924-2001], was a politics professor at Princeton for nearly forty years. Born in Germany in 1924, Halpern and his parents fled the Nazis in 1937 for America. He joined the war against the Nazis as a battalion scout in the 28th Infantry Division, and saw action in Battle of the Bulge and elsewhere. After Germany’s surrender, he worked in U.S. Counterintelligence, tracking down former Nazis. In 1948 he joined the State Department, where he worked on the Middle East, and in 1958 he came to Princeton, where he did the same. In 1963, Princeton published his Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa, an academic treatment of Islamism, which Halpern labeled “neo-Islamic totalitarianism”:
As Martin Kramer said “his rigorous treatment of Islamism stands up well, and his equating it with fascism was a serious proposition, made by someone who had seen fascism up close”.
The comparison of Islamism with fascism was also put forward by Maxime Rodinson, [1915– 2004] the eminent French scholar of Islam, and by common consent one of three greatest scholars of Islam of the 20th century, who pioneered the application of sociological method to the Middle East. As a French Jew born in 1915, Rodinson also learned about fascism from direct experience; his parents perished in Auschwitz. Rodinson replied to Michel Foucault-to be discussed at length below- and Foucault’s uncritical endorsement of the Iranian Revolution. In a long front-page article in Le Monde, Rodinson targeted those who “come fresh to the problem in an idealistic frame of mind.” Rodinson admitted that trends in Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood were “hard to ascertain….But the dominant trend is a certain type of archaic fascism (type de fascisme archaïque). By this I mean a wish to establish an authoritarian and totalitarian state whose political police would brutally enforce the moral and social order. It would at the same time impose conformity to religious tradition as interpreted in the most conservative light.”
In 1984, Said Amir Arjomand, an Iranian-American sociologist at SUNY-Stony Brook, also pointed to “some striking sociological similarities between the contemporary Islamic movements and the European fascism and the American radical right…. It is above all the strength of the monistic impulse and the pronounced political moralism of the Islamic traditionalist and fundamentalist movements which makes them akin to fascism and the radical right alike.”