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


Andrew C. McCarthy

In thinking about how to argue the depth of terrorist depravity to the jury while prosecuting a 1995 terrorism trial, I must confess it crossed my mind that jihad literally means “struggle,” the same word found in the title of Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). I quickly dismissed any thought of mentioning this as too explosive — nothing provokes a mistrial motion faster than a prosecutor’s comparison of defendants to Nazis, and when your evidence is damning, it’s always better to let it, rather than your rhetoric, do the talking. But I certainly didn’t think the point was beyond the pale. As noted by Daniel Pipes (who does not agree with Wilders’s analogy), no less a figure than Winston Churchill described Mein Kampf as “the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.”

In the middle of the 20th century, before suffocating political correctness took hold, it was not all that controversial to say such things. Note that in 1954, Bernard Lewis obviously felt no need to resort to such devices as “Islamism” — a device I adopt myself in The Grand Jihad — to conform to today’s obligatory but unproved assumption that there exists a moderate, tolerant Islam, scripturally based and doctrinally distinguishable from the Islam of the “extremists.”

In those bygone days, the term “Islamist” was usually used to identify a scholar of Islam — akin to a Sinologist or an Arabist. There was another usage, dating back to the 1920s. It was the one coined by Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna to denote a person who urged Islam as a complete way of life and favored installation of the sharia system. For Banna, there was no difference between Islam and Islamism.

That, by the way, is not only the Brotherhood’s view. It is the adamant opinion of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Islamist prime minister of Turkey who continues to be regarded by the U.S. government as a great moderate, just as he was during the Bush administration. “Very ugly” was his take on the term “moderate Islam” in a 2007 interview. As Erdogan fumed at the time, “It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam.  Islam is Islam, and that’s it.”

Islam is Islam. That is Erdogan’s position, it seems to have been the position of Bernard Lewis a half century ago, and it is Geert Wilders’s position today. Not that Muslims are bad, but that Islam is a dangerous ideology. Wilders summed up his views in a 2009 interview with Jeff Jacoby (also quoted in Andrew Bostom’s piece):

I have nothing against the people. I don’t hate Muslims. But Islam is a totalitarian ideology. It rules every aspect of life — economics, family law, whatever. It has religious symbols, it has a God, it has a book — but it’s not a religion. It can be compared with totalitarian ideologies like Communism or fascism. There is no country where Islam is dominant where you have a real democracy, a real separation between church and state.

These claims are materially indistinguishable from points Professor Lewis made in 1954 — other than, perhaps, Wilders’s assertion that Islam “is not a religion,” although by that, I take him to mean Islam is not merely a religion or a set of spiritual principles but a comprehensive system controlling all of life.

From those premises, Wilders concluded that “Islam is totally contrary to our values.” That is a bracing conclusion. I think the problem people have with Wilders is that he is bracing. He says out loud what they fear is the case, or what they refuse to examine for fear of discovering that it is the case. That makes him inconvenient. It doesn’t make him wrong.

– Andrew C. McCarthy, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, is the author, most recently, of The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America.