From Communism as “The 20th Century Islam,” to “Islam as the 21st Century Communism?”

Jules Monnerot’s, 1949 “Sociologie du Communisme,” was translated into English and published as “Sociology and Psychology of Communism,” by The Beacon Press, Boston,  in 1953. Monnerot elaborated at length upon a brief, but remarkably prescient observation by Bertrand Russell, published already in 1920, which compared emerging Bolshevism to Islam. Russell had noted in his “The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism,” (London, 1920), pp. 5, 114-115:

“Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam… Those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated…Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism [Islam] 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.”

Monnerot made very explicit connections between pre-modern Islamic and 20th century Communist totalitarianism. The title of his first chapter dubbed Communism as “The Twentieth Century Islam”. He elucidates these two primary shared characteristics of Islam and Communism: “conversion”—followed by subversion—from within, and the fusion of “religion” and state. But Monnerot’s brilliant, remarkably compendious analysis in chapter 1 also introduces the modern Western reader to apposite examples from Islam’s enduring Legacy of Jihad—Mahmud of Ghazni, Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan, the Fatimids of Egypt, the Shiite Persian Safavids, and even the ostensibly “pacific, benevolent” Sufis. Here are extracts from pp. 15, 18-20, of the first chapter:

“[p.15]: …There is a resemblance between the use made of Marxism by the present masters of the totalitarian world and the conversion of nomadic barbarians…such as the Turkish mercenaries Mahmud of Ghazna [Ghazni; modern Afghanistan], [and the Turcomen of Asia Minor] Togrul Beg, and Alp Arslan to the universal religion[s] of the civilization[s] they threatened, namely…Islam…Like Stalin’s Marxism, their conversion gave them the pretext for disrupting civilization from within [emphasis in original]; as converst they were able to attack in the name of the true Faith the very societies which had brought the Faith to them. In the same way the Marxist chiefs of totalitarian Russia attack Western society from within, attempting to destroy the social structure of European countries for the sake of the socialism to which these countries themselves gave birth.”

[pp. 18-20]: “Communism takes the field both as a secular religion [emphasis in original] and as a universal State [emphasis in original]; it is therefore…comparable to Islam…Soviet Russia (to use the name it gives itself, although it is a misdescription of the regime) is not the first empire in which the temporal and public power goes hand in hand with a shadowy power which works outside the imperial frontiers to undermine the social structure of neighboring 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 organizing legend, an historical myth, calculated to make fanatics and obtain their total devotion, designed to create in neighboring States an underworld of ruthless gangsters. The eponymous ancestor of the Safavids was a saint from whom they magically derived the religious authority in whose name they operated. They were Shi’is of Arabian origin, and the militant order they founded was dedicated to propaganda and ‘nucleation’ throughout the whole of Persia and Asia Minor. It recruited ‘militants’ and ‘adherents’ and ‘sympathizers’. These were the Sufis. [emphasis added] As rulers, their sympathies were recognized by other sovereigns in the same way that Stalin, head of the State, is recognized by other heads of States, and rightly, as the leader of world communism. This merging of religion and politics was a major characteristic of the Islamic world in its victorious period. It allowed the head of a State to operate beyond his own frontiers in the capacity of the 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…To an educated European or American, unless he is himself a communist, it appears that communists are religious fanatics in the service of an expansionist empire which is striving for world dominion. But communists see it differently: for them communism is what ought to be, and the whole of history, the whole past of humanity, takes its meaning from this future event…Communism is a faith, and it has in Russia a sort of fatherland; but such a fatherland cannot be a country like any other. Russia is to communism what the Abbasid empire was to Islam. Communism…is a religious sect of world conquerors for whom Russia is simply the strongpoint from which the attack is launched.”

Monnerot returns briefly to Islam’s paradigmatic fusion of religion and state in chapter 12, entitled, “Twentieth Century Absolutism,” invoking [on p. 219] another relevant historical example—the Ottoman empire, and its brutal jihad enslavement and forced conversion to Islam of subjected Christian children for the slave soldier devshirme-janissary system.

“Islam has provided the type of society in which the political and the sacred are indissolubly merged. The law of the Koran was religious, political, and civil all in one; and an infidel could be no more than a tributary [emphasis in original]. In history and in law he appeared as an object, but not as a participating subject; and the Ottoman empire was interested in the children of infidels only because they could be recruited as janissaries. During the great period of Islamic conquests the State, in so far as it existed in our sense of the word, participated [emphasis in the original] in the sacred doctrine of the prophet [Muhammad] and was its embodiment and life. The companions of the prophet, partakers in the revolutionary legitimacy, did not constitute a Church; nor do the secular religions inherent in 20th century absolutisms, but the power of the prophetic elite (which is what the party’s ‘summit’ is at the moment when the new State is created) is all the more absolute for being, as it were, a condensation of the power of the whole society. And the leader represents the extreme point of condensation.”

Elsewhere, I have demonstrated that contemporary jihadism—despite certain prevalent but very misguided understandings—possesses, critically, no serious ideological affinity with the practical world order envisioned by Communist totalitarians, who clearly do not long for a Shari’a (Islamic Law)-based global “Caliphate.” Consider the most recognizable modern Shiite jihadist, Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini’s 1942 speech “Islam Is Not a Religion of Pacifists,” is a modern vision of the classical formulations of jihad, which states plainly, and accurately,

“…those who study jihad will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world.  All the countries conquered by Islam or to be conquered in the future will be marked for everlasting salvationFor they shall live under [Allah’s law; the Sharia]….Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war.  Those [who say this] are witless.  Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all!  Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]?  Islam says:  Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies].  Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us?  Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you!  Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]?  Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword!  People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!  The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors!

There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths [sayings of the prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight.  Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war?  I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.”

Thus despite whatever transient “alliances” Khomeini may have forged with Iranian Communists to remove the Shah in the late 1970s, he found their views anathema, and eventually purged these erstwhile “allies.” Moreover, even during the early 1970s, as detailed in Mahmood Davari’s “The Political Thought of Ayatullah Murtaza Mutahhari” ( Routledge Curzon, London, 2005, pp.76-77) Khomeini disputed the views of a group of Communists—the “Mujahidin Khalq”—seeking his support at a private meeting with him in Najaf.

“Khomeini listened to the delegations’ explanations about their ideology, in a series of secret audiences (probably 24 sessions). He also tried to test their religious beliefs by asking them some questions on theological issues, but they failed to present satisfactory replies. Furthermore he urged them to change their views about Marxism and international communism…”

Following the Islamic takeover of 1979, and the subsequent assassination of his close student Ayatollah Mutahhari—another avowed anti-Communist cleric—Khomeini, during a public speech on June 25, 1980 which was entitled, ‘A hypocrite [munafiq] is worse than an unbeliever [kafir],’ made reference to the Najaf encounters with the Communist Mujahidin Khalq in 1971. According to Davari,

“He [Khomeini] then disclosed that the Mujahidin representatives had come with a mouthful of dangerous lies, claiming to champion Islam but all the time planning secretly to use their ‘irresponsible talk of armed struggle’ to destroy Islam and the ulama. He concluded his attack by mentioning that he had not been fooled by these compulsive liars, for he had kept in mind the old parable of the recent Jewish convert in Hamadan who incessantly quoted the Quran without having the faintest notion about Islam.”

On the other hand it is very plausible that the nearly 1400 year old menace of Islamic jihadism is currently exploiting 20th century Communist tactics during Islam’s ongoing triumphant revival, which has extended into the 21st century.

A concluding observation from Jules Monnerot (which invokes the scholar Ernest Renan [d. 1892], in chapter 10, “The Psychology of Secular Religions”, p. 141) underscores how incoherent Western “intellectual” apologists for totalitarianism—whether Communist or Islamic—promote the advance of these destructive ideologies.

“Renan’s saying, ‘the principle of mythology consists in giving life to words’, applies literally to these ‘isms.’ Thus ‘communism’ may possess a vitality, a prestige, and an authority which do not depend upon the actions of ‘communists’. One has heard ‘sympathizers’ in all sincerity reproaching communists for being unfaithful to communism, and one might conclude that these ‘intellectuals’ attribute priority and superiority, or in any case primacy, to ‘essence’ over ‘existence’. Thus communism is no longer the sum or epitome of the morals and behavior and beliefs and customs of communists, but a sort of self-subsistent entity which can be known by contemplation and in the light of which the behavior of communists can be judged; so that the intellectual whose good intentions place him, in his own eyes, upon a pedestal, can remonstrate, ‘Communists, what have you made of communism?’”

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