Apologists of Totalitarianism: From Communism to Islam, Part I

by Ibn Warraq
(Jan. 2009)

Charles Watson, and G.-H. Bousquet refer to Islam as a totalitarian system tout court, while Bertrand Russell, Jules Monnerot, and Czeslaw Milosz compare Islam to various aspects of communism, and finally, among others, Carl Jung, Karl Barth, Adolf Hitler, Said Amir Arjomand, Maxime Rodinson and Manfred Halpern note Islam's similarities to fascism or nazism (the latter two terms often used synonymously).

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".[1]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.[2]

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".[3] 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".[4]

Bertrand Russell in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, published in 1920 wrote,

"Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam....Marx has taught that Communism is fatally predestined to come about; this produces a state of mind not unlike that of the early successors of Mahommet....Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world".

Jules Monnerot in his 1949 study, Sociologie du Communisme
[6] called Communism the Twentieth-Century 'Islam'. Monnerot wrote that the ultimate aim of Soviet Communism was "the most absolute tyranny ever conceived by man; a tyranny that recognises no spatial limits (except for the time being those of the planet itself), no temporal limits (communist believers generally refuse to contemplate any post-communist ages), and no limits to its power over the individual: its will to power claims total possession over every man it wins, and allows no greater freedom in mental than in economic life. It is this claim that brings it into conflict with faiths, religions, and values, which are older than itself or developing independently; and then the battle is joined. We are the battle".

"Communism," continues Monnerot, "takes the field both as a secular religion and as a universal State [7]; 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".[8]

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].[9]

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."[10]

Karl Barth[11], also writing in the 1930s [12], reflected on the threat of Hitler, and his similarities to Muhammad:

"Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill—with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam [emphasis in original], its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.  

"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."
Albert Speer, who was Hitler’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, wrote a memoir  of his World War II experiences while serving a 20-year prison sentence imposed by the Nuremberg tribunal. Speer’s narrative includes this discussion which captures Hitler’s racist views of Arabs on the one hand, and his effusive praise for Islam on the other: [13]

"Hitler had been much impressed by a scrap of history he had learned from a delegation of distinguished Arabs. When the Mohammedans attempted to penetrate beyond France into Central Europe during the eighth century, his visitors had told him, they had been driven back at the Battle of Tours. Had the Arabs won this battle, the world would be Mohammedan today. 13 For theirs was a religion that believed in spreading the faith by the sword and subjugating all nations to that faith. Such a creed was perfectly suited to the Germanic temperament. [emphasis added] Hitler said that the conquering Arabs, because of their racial inferiority, would in the long run have been unable to contend with the harsher climate and conditions of the country. They could not have kept down the more vigorous natives, so that ultimately not Arabs but Islamized Germans could have stood at the head of this Mohammedan Empire. [emphasis added] Hitler usually concluded this historical speculation by remarking, “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”

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":

"The neo-Islamic totalitarian movements are essentially fascist movements. They concentrate on mobilizing passion and violence to enlarge the power of their charismatic leader and the solidarity of the movement. They view material progress primarily as a means for accumulating strength for political expansion, and entirely deny individual and social freedom. They champion the values and emotions of a heroic past, but repress all free critical analysis of either past roots or present problems."

Halpern continued,
"Like fascism, neo-Islamic totalitarianism represents the institutionalization of struggle, tension, and violence. Unable to solve the basic public issues of modern life—intellectual and technological progress, the reconciliation of freedom and security, and peaceful relations among rival sovereignties—the movement is forced by its own logic and dynamics to pursue its vision through nihilistic terror, cunning, and passion. An efficient state administration is seen only as an additional powerful tool for controlling the community. The locus of power and the focus of devotion rest in the movement itself. Like fascist movements elsewhere, the movement is so organized as to make neo-Islamic totalitarianism the whole life of its members".[14]

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".[15]

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."[16]

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."

[1] The Muslim World,  January 1938 (Vol. 28 Issue 1 Page 1-107) , p.6.
[2] G.-H.Bousquet. [1900-1978]. L'Ethique sexuelle de l'Islam. Paris: Desclée de Brouwer. 1990 [Ist edn.1966], p.10.
[3] C.Snouck Hurgronje [1857-1936]. Selected Works. Edd. G.-H.Bousqet & Joseph Schacht, Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1957, p.264.
[4] C.Snouck Hurgronje. Selected Works. Edd. G.-H.Bousqet & Joseph Schacht, Leiden: E.J.Brill, 1957, p.261.
[5] Bertrand Russell. The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1920 pp.5,29,114.
[6] Jules Monnerot. Sociologie du Communisme, Paris: Gallimard, 1949. [English translation by Jane Degras and Richard Rees. Sociology and Psychology of Communism, Boston: Beacon Press, 1953]
[7] [Jules Monnerot's footnote and emphases: In intention but not in fact. The universal State is a sort of collective fantasy; the totalitarian State's image of itself projected into the future.]
[8] Jules Monnerot. Sociologie du Communisme, Paris: Gallimard, 1949. [English translation by Jane Degras and Richard Rees. Sociology and Psychology of Communism, Boston: Beacon Press, 1953] pp.18-22.
[9] Czeslaw Milosz. The Captive Mind. Translated from the Polish by Jane Zielonko. New York:Vintage Books, 1959, pp.51-77.
[10] Carl Jung. The Collected Works Volume 18, The Symbolic Life, 1939, Princeton, Princeton University Press p. 281.
[11] I owe the references to Karl Barth and Carl Jung to Dr. Andrew Bostom.
[12] Karl Barth. The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day, New York: Scribner, 1939, pp. 43; 64-65.
[13] Albert Speer. Inside the Third Reich. 1970, New York:The Macmillan Company, p. 96.
[14]Manfred Halpern. Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963, quoted at Martin Kramer's Wesbsite: http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2006_09_20.htm, Accessed October, 22, 2007.
[15] Martin Kramer's Wesbsite: http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2006_09_20.htm, Accessed October, 22, 2007
[16] Maxime Rodinson. Islam Resurgent? Le Monde, December, 6-8, 1978, quoted in Janet Afary and Kevin B.Anderson. Foucault and the Iranian Revolution. Gender and the Seductions of Islamism. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005, p233.
[17] Quoted in Martin Kramer's Website: http://www.geocities.com/martinkramerorg/2006_09_20.htm, Accessed October, 22, 2007

Continue reading part II, Christian Apologists of Islam, here.

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