The most obvious example of an ideology that came into prominence—or better, prominently into our consciousness—after Communism’s fall was Islamism. Because of its emphasis on returning to Islamic purity, and its apparent—indeed noisy—rejection of modernity, most people failed to notice how modern a phenomenon Islamism was, not just in time but in spirit.
This is evident from reading just one of Islamism’s foundational texts: Sayyid Qutb’s Milestones
, first published in 1964. The imprint of Marxism-Leninism is deep upon it, especially the Leninist component.
Qutb starts with cultural criticism that some might find eerily prescient. “The leadership of mankind by Western man is now on the decline, not because Western culture has become poor materially or because its economic and military power has become weak,” he writes. “The period of the Western system has come to an end primarily because it is deprived of those life-giving values which enabled it to be the leader of mankind.” Since, according to Qutb, those “life-giving values” cannot come from the Eastern Bloc, he thinks (like Juan Domingo Perón, the Argentinean dictator, and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister) that a Third Way must exist: which, he says, can only be Islam.
Just as in Marx only the proletariat bears the whole of humanity’s interests, so in Qutb only Muslims (true ones, that is) do. Everyone else is a factionalist. In Qutb’s conception, the state withers away under Islam, just as it does—according to Marx—under Communism, once the true form is established. In Marx, the withering away comes about because there are no sectional material interests left that require a state to enforce them; in Qutb, there is no sectional interest left once true Islam is established because everyone obeys God’s law without the need for interpretation and therefore for interpreters. And when all obey God’s law, no conflict can arise because the law is perfect; therefore there is no need for a state apparatus.
One finds a unity of theory and praxis in both Qutb’s Islamism and Marxism-Leninism. “Philosophy and revolution are inseparable,” said Raya Dunayevskaya, once Trotsky’s secretary and a prominent American Marxist (insofar as such can be said to have existed). And here is Qutb: “Thus these two—preaching and the movement—united, confront ‘the human situation’ with all the necessary methods. For the achievement of freedom of man on earth—of all mankind throughout the earth—it is necessary that these methods should work side by side.”
Like Lenin, Qutb thought that violence would be necessary against the ruling class (of bourgeois in Lenin’s case, unbelievers in Qutb’s): “Those who have usurped the authority of God and are oppressing God’s creatures are not going to give up their power merely through preaching.” Again like Lenin, Qutb believed that until human authority disappeared, the leader’s authority must be complete. Referring to “the Arab” of the Meccan period—an age whose moral qualities he wants to restore—Qutb says: “He was to be trained to follow the discipline of a community which is under the direction of a leader, and to refer to this leader in every matter and to obey his injunctions, even though they might be against his habit or taste.” Not much there with which Lenin could have disagreed. The British Stalinist historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote of himself: “The Party had the first, or more precisely, the only real claim on our lives. . . . Whatever it had ordered, we would have obeyed.”
Qutb is as explicit as Lenin that his party should be a vanguard and not a mass party, for only a vanguard will prove sufficiently dedicated to bring about the revolution.
And like Leninism, Qutb’s Islamism is dialectical:
[Islam] does not face practical problems with abstract theories, nor does it confront various stages with unchangeable means. Those who talk about Jihaad in Islam and quote Qur’anic verses do not take into account this aspect, nor do they understand the nature of the various stages through which the movement develops, or the relationship of the verses revealed at various occasions with each stage.
Compare this with Lenin’s Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder
Right doctrinairism persisted in recognizing only the old forms, and became utterly bankrupt, for it did not notice the new content. Left doctrinairism persists in the unconditional repudiation of certain old forms, failing to see that the new content is forcing its way through all and sundry forms, that it is our duty as Communists to master all forms, to learn how, with the maximum rapidity, to supplement one form with another, to substitute one for another, and to adapt our tactics to any such change that does not come from our class or from our efforts.
There are many other parallels between Leninism and Qutb’s Islamism, among them the incompatibility of each with anything else, entailing a fight to the finish supposedly followed by permanent bliss for the whole of mankind; a tension between complete determinism (by history and by God, respectively) and the call to intense activism; and the view that only with the installation of their systems does Man become truly himself. For Qutb’s worldview, therefore, the term Islamo-Leninism would be a more accurate description than Islamofascism.
Qutb was a strange man: he never married, for example, because (so he claimed) he found no woman of sufficient purity for him. You wouldn’t need to be Freud to find the explanation suspect, or to find his reaction to Greeley, Colorado, in 1950, where he spent time on a scholarship—he saw it as a hotbed of unrestrained vice—somewhat hysterical, a cover for something seething deeply and disturbingly inside him. Devotion to an ideology can provide an answer of sorts to personal problems, and since personal problems are common, it isn’t surprising that a number of people choose ideology as the solution.