Who Says Islam Is Totalitarian?
Not long ago, Bernard Lewis sounded almost like Geert Wilders.


Andrew C. McCarthy

This is wrong on several levels. First, as Robert Spencer explains, “Jihad . . . is a key element of the Islamic faith according to every single Islamic authority on the planet.” To deny that it is the “essence of Islam” — which is how the prophet Mohammed regarded it — is to deny a basic fact. And though, as Spencer acknowledges, jihad is subject to varying interpretations, Lewis is clear on the preponderant construction. As he has recounted several times, most recently in The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years, “The overwhelming majority of early authorities . . . citing relevant passages in the Qur’an and in the tradition, discuss jihad in military terms.” This jibes, to quote Ibn Warraq, with “the celebrated Dictionary of Islam,” which describes jihad as an “incumbent religious duty,” and defines it as “a religious war with those who are unbelievers in the mission of Muhammad.”

Spencer echoes Lewis when he elaborates that “all the mainstream sects and schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach as a matter of faith that Islam is intrinsically political and that Muslims must wage war against unbelievers and subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law.” The fact that most Muslims do not engage in violent jihad, whether out of practicality, indifference, or what have you, does not change what Islamic doctrine says. Nor does it mean these Muslims are “rejecting” that mandate. They are ignoring it.

Moreover, as I’ve noted on several occasions, the point of jihad is to spread sharia, the Islamic legal system whose installation is the necessary precondition to creating an Islamic society. That need not be done by violent means. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s most influential Islamist organization, maintains that America and Europe will be “conquered” not by violence but by dawa­ – the proselytism of Islam by non-violent (or, more accurate, pre-violent) means, such as infiltration of our institutions. Spencer calls this phenomenon “stealth jihad.”

Consequently, one can be an Islamist without engaging in violent jihad, which is precisely the case with the vast majority of Islamists. The fact that they are not terrorists does not mean — as we wish it would mean — that they are not extremists. While they abstain from the use of force (particularly against other Muslims), staggering majorities of Muslims throughout the world favor the implementation and strict application of sharia. Andrew Bostom’s essay demonstrates this, citing polling done in 2009 by World Public Opinion in conjunction with the University of Maryland.

Back in 1954, Lewis recalled “the political history of Islam” as “one of almost unrelieved autocracy” that was “authoritarian, often arbitrary, [and] sometimes tyrannical.” Besides this, the most interesting part of his essay is its focus on “certain uncomfortable resemblances” between “the Ulama of Islam” and “the Communist Party.” Though “very different” in some ways, the two, he stated, “profess a totalitarian doctrine, with complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth.”

Those answers, of course, are worlds apart in their particulars. Nonetheless, Lewis saw them as strikingly similar in

their finality and completeness, and in the contrast they offer with the eternal questioning of Western man. Both groups offer to their members and followers the agreeable sensation of belonging to a community of believers, who are always right, as against an outer world of unbelievers, who are always wrong. Both offer an exhilarating feeling of mission, of purpose, of being engaged in a collective adventure to accelerate the historically inevitable victory of the true faith over the infidel evil-doers. The traditional Islamic division of the world into the House of Islam and the House of War, two necessarily opposed groups, of which the first has the collective obligation of perpetual struggle against the second, also has obvious parallels in the Communist view of world affairs. There again, the content of belief is utterly different, but the aggressive fanaticism of the believer is the same. The humorist who summed up the Communist creed as “There is no God and Karl Marx is his Prophet” was laying his finger on a real affinity. The call to a Communist Jihad, a Holy War for the faith — a new faith, but against the self-same Western Christian enemy — might well strike a responsive note.

In light of this scholarly comparison of Islam to Soviet totalitarianism, is it really so outrageous for Geert Wilders to compare Islam to Nazi totalitarianism? One needn’t agree with the analogy — and, agree or not, one needn’t think it a useful analogy — in order to understand why someone who is not intimidated by political correctness might employ it.


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