By Daniel Pipes
“Here are two brother countries, united like a single fist,” said socialist Hugo Chávez during a visit to Tehran last November, celebrating his alliance with Islamist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Che Guevara’s son Camilo, who also visited Tehran last year, declared that his father would have “supported the country in its current struggle against the United States.” They followed in the footsteps of Fidel Castro, who in a 2001 visit told his hosts that “Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees.” For his part, Ilich Ramírez Sánchez (“Carlos the Jackal”) wrote in his book L’islam révolutionnaire (“Revolutionary Islam”) that “only a coalition of Marxists and Islamists can destroy the United States.”
It’s not just Latin American leftists who see potential in Islamism. Ken Livingstone, the Trotskyite former mayor of London, literally hugged prominent Islamist thinker Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Ramsey Clark, the former U.S. attorney general, visited Ayatollah Khomeini and offered his support. Noam Chomsky, the MIT professor, visited Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and endorsed Hezbollah’s keeping its arms. Ella Vogelaar, the Dutch minister for housing, neighborhoods, and integration, is so sympathetic to Islamism that one critic, the Iranian-born professor Afshin Ellian, has called her “the minister of Islamization.”
Dennis Kucinich, during his first presidential campaign in 2004, quoted the Koran and roused a Muslim audience to chant “Allahu akbar” (“God is great”) and he even announced, “I keep a copy of the Koran in my office.” Spark, youth paper of Britain’s Socialist Labour party, praised Asif Mohammed Hanif, the British suicide bomber who attacked a Tel Aviv bar, as a “hero of the revolutionary youth” who had carried out his mission “in the spirit of internationalism.” Workers World, an American Communist newspaper, ran an obituary lauding Hezbollah’s master terrorist, Imad Mughniyeh.
Some leftists go farther. Several — Carlos the Jackal, Roger Garaudy, Jacques Vergès, Yvonne Ridley, and H. Rap Brown — have actually converted to Islam. Others respond with exhilaration to the violence and brutality of Islamism. German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen termed 9/11 “the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos,” while the late American novelist Norman Mailer called its perpetrators “brilliant.”
And none of this is new. During the Cold War, Islamists favored the Soviet Union over the United States. As Ayatollah Khomeini put it in 1964, “America is worse than Britain, Britain is worse than America and the Soviet Union is worse than both of them. Each one is worse than the other, each one is more abominable than the other. But today we are concerned with this malicious entity which is America.” In 1986, I wrote that “the U.S.S.R. receives but a small fraction of the hatred and venom directed at the United States.”
Leftists reciprocated. In 1978-79, the French philosopher Michel Foucault expressed great enthusiasm for the Iranian revolution. Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson explain:
Throughout his life, Michel Foucault’s concept of authenticity meant looking at situations where people lived dangerously and flirted with death, the site where creativity originated. In the tradition of Friedrich Nietzsche and Georges Bataille, Foucault had embraced the artist who pushed the limits of rationality and he wrote with great passion in defense of irrationalities that broke new boundaries. In 1978, Foucault found such transgressive powers in the revolutionary figure of Ayatollah Khomeini and the millions who risked death as they followed him in the course of the Revolution. He knew that such “limit” experiences could lead to new forms of creativity and he passionately threw in his support.
Another French philosopher, Jean Baudrillard, portrayed Islamists as slaves rebelling against a repressive order. In 1978, Foucault called Ayatollah Khomeini a “saint” and a year later, Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, called him”some kind of saint.”
This good will may appear surprising, given the two movements’ profound differences. Communists are atheists and leftists secular; Islamists execute atheists and enforce religious law. The Left exalts workers; Islamism privileges Muslims. One dreams of a worker’s paradise, the other of a caliphate. Socialists want socialism; Islamists accept the free market. Marxism implies gender equality; Islamism oppresses women. Leftists despise slavery; some Islamists endorse it. As journalist Bret Stephens notes, the Left has devoted “the past four decades championing the very freedoms that Islam most opposes: sexual and reproductive freedoms, gay rights, freedom from religion, pornography and various forms of artistic transgression, pacifism and so on.”
These disagreements seem to dwarf the few similarities that Oskar Lafontaine, former chairman of Germany’s Social Democratic party, managed to find: “Islam depends on community, which places it in opposition to extreme individualism, which threatens to fail in the West. [In addition,] the devout Muslim is required to share his wealth with others. The leftist also wants to see the strong help the weak.”
Why, then, the formation of what David Horowitz calls the Left-Islamist “unholy alliance“? For four main reasons.
First, as British politician George Galloway explains, “the progressive movement around the world and the Muslims have the same enemies,” namely Western civilization in general and the United States, Great Britain, and Israel in particular, plus Jews, believing Christians, and international capitalists. In Iran, according to Tehran political analyst Saeed Leylaz, “the government practically permitted the left to operate since five years ago so that they would confront religious liberals.”
Listen to their interchangeable words: Harold Pinter describes America as “a country run by a bunch of criminal lunatics” and Osama bin Laden calls the country “unjust, criminal and tyrannical.” Noam Chomsky terms America a “leading terrorist state” and Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, a Pakistani political leader, deems it “the biggest terrorist state.” These commonalities suffice to convince the two sides to set aside their many differences in favor of cooperation.
Second, the two sides share some political goals. A mammoth 2003 joint demonstration in London to oppose war against Saddam Hussein symbolically forged their alliance. Both sides want coalition forces to lose in Iraq, the War on Terror to be closed down, anti-Americanism to spread, and the elimination of Israel. They agree on mass immigration to and multiculturalism in the West. They cooperate on these goals at meetings such as the annual Cairo Anti-War Conference, which brings leftists and Islamists together to forge “an international alliance against imperialism and Zionism.”
Third, Islamism has historic and philosophic ties to Marxism-Leninism. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian Islamist thinker, accepted the Marxist notion of stages of history, only adding an Islamic postscript to them; he predicted that an eternal Islamic era would come after the collapse of capitalism and Communism. Ali Shariati, the key intellectual behind the Iranian revolution of 1978–79, translated Franz Fanon, Che Guevara, and Jean-Paul Sartre into Persian. More broadly, the Iranian analyst Azar Nafisi observes that Islamism “takes its language, goals, and aspirations as much from the crassest forms of Marxism as it does from religion. Its leaders are as influenced by Lenin, Sartre, Stalin, and Fanon as they are by the Prophet.”
Moving from theory to reality, Marxists see in Islamists a strange fulfillment of their prophesies. Marx forecast that business profits would collapse in industrial countries, prompting the bosses to squeeze workers; the proletariat would become impoverished, rebel, and establish a socialist order. But, instead, the proletariat of industrial countries became ever more affluent, and its revolutionary potential withered. For a century and a half, author Lee Harris notes, Marxists waited in vain for the crisis in capitalism. Then came the Islamists, starting with the Iranian Revolution and following with 9/11 and other assaults on the West. Finally, the Third World had begun its revolt against the West, fulfilling Marxist predictions—even if under the wrong banner and with faulty goals. Olivier Besancenot, a French leftist, sees Islamists as “the new slaves” of capitalism and asks if it is not natural that “they should unite with the working class to destroy the capitalist system.” At a time when the Communist movement is in “decay,” note analyst Lorenzo Vidino and journalist Andrea Morigi, Italy’s “New Red Brigades” actually acknowledge the “leading role of the reactionary clerics.”
Fourth, power: Islamists and leftists can achieve more together than they can separately. In Great Britain, they jointly formed the Stop the War Coalition, whose steering committee includes representation from such organizations as the Communist party of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain. Britain’s Respect Party amalgamates radical international socialism with Islamist ideology. The two sides joined forces for the March 2008 European Parliament elections to offer common lists of candidates in France and Britain, disguised under party names that revealed little.
Islamists benefit, in particular, from the access, legitimacy, skills, and firepower the Left provides them. Cherie Booth, wife of then-prime minister Tony Blair, argued a case at the appellate-court level to help a girl, Shabina Begum, wear the jilbab, an Islamic garment, to a British school. Lynne Stewart, a leftist lawyer, broke U.S. law and went to jail to help Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh, foment revolution in Egypt. Volkert van der Graaf, an animal-rights fanatic, killed Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn to stop him from turning Muslims into “scapegoats.” Vanessa Redgrave funded half of a £50,000 bail surety so that Jamil el-Banna, a Guantánamo suspect accused of recruiting jihadis to fight in Afghanistan and Indonesia, could walk out of a British jail; Redgrave described her helping el-Banna as “a profound honour,” despite his being wanted in Spain on terrorism-related charges and suspected of links to al-Qaeda. On a larger scale, the Indian Communist party did Tehran’s dirty work by delaying for four months the Indian-based launching of TecSar, an Israeli spy satellite. And leftists founded the International Solidarity Movement to prevent Israeli security forces from protecting the country against Hamas and other Palestinian terrorism.
Writing in London’s Spectator, Douglas Davis calls the coalition “a godsend to both sides. The Left, a once-dwindling band of communists, Trotskyites, Maoists and Castroists, had been clinging to the dregs of a clapped-out cause; the Islamists could deliver numbers and passion, but they needed a vehicle to give them purchase on the political terrain. A tactical alliance became an operational imperative.” More simply, a British leftist concurs: “The practical benefits of working together are enough to compensate for the differences.”
The burgeoning alliance of Western leftists and Islamists ranks as one of today’s most disturbing political developments, one that impedes the West’s efforts to protect itself. When Stalin and Hitler made their infamous pact in 1939, the Red-Brown alliance posed a mortal danger to the West and, indeed, to civilization itself. Less dramatically but no less certainly, the coalition today poses the same threat. As seven decades ago, this one must be exposed, rejected, resisted, and defeated.
July 14, 2008 update: For a few examples in the other direction see my weblog entry, “The Left vs. the Islamists.”
I have written on the general topic of warm Leftist-Islamist relations before, many of which are listed at “Conservatives & Liberals.” In particular, note these topics:
- “Why the Left Loves Osama [and Saddam].”
- “Left ? CAIR, MPAC, et al.“
- “The Leftist-Islamist Alliance in Pictures.”
- “[William Blum and] Al-Qaeda’s Leftist Brigade.”
- “Why the Left Loves Osama [and Saddam, Explains Lee Harris].”
by Daniel Pipes
July 14, 2008