Politics & Policy

Jihadi Chic

Ideology isn't everything.

At the annual Cairo antiwar conference in Egypt, the hot panel discussion this year was “Bridge-Building Between the Left and Islam.” John Rees, a British Trotskyite, observed: “Where else can you sit down in a single evening and listen to senior people from Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, people from the revolutionary left and the antiwar movement from around the globe?”

#ad#Gosh, it sounds great. I’m just sorry I missed the rollicking game of Pictionary between the Castroites and the jihadis afterwards.

Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute, recently reported in the New York Sun on the growing alliance between elements of the hard left and the Islamist extremists. “The roster of Islamist-left alliances quietly grows every day,” Stalinsky writes. For example, “Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor Noam Chomsky praises Hamas and denounces America on Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television. London Mayor Ken Livingstone invites a leading Islamist, Sheikh Yosef Al-Qaradawi, who is known for supporting suicide attacks, to visit his city. And Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “calls for a world without America even as he plays host to a Tehran peace conference” well attended by American members of the religious Left.

The aim of those “bridge-building” sessions in Cairo was, according to literature at the event, to address “the challenges and prospects facing the international antiwar and pro-intifada movements” and planning “strategy and tactics for bridging the gap and uniting Islamist and leftist ranks in the face of U.S. imperialism and Zionism.”

Now, it’s way too early to start talking about the “Taliban wing of the Democratic party” or anything like that, but this is a fascinating and largely ignored phenomenon.

Of course, if you’ve followed the anti-Israel movements on college campuses, you already know there’s a strong alliance — both ideological and strategic — between Islamic and leftist radicals. Indeed, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism are often inextricably linked dogmas.

I’m a big believer in the importance of ideas and the notion that ideology matters. But I can’t help but think ideology isn’t everything. Something else is going on. For example, I recently participated in a debate at the Oxford Union (the subject of the debate: “This House regrets the founding of the United States of America”). Two of my opponents were British Islamists. One was the head of the moribund Islamic Party of Britain, the other the head of the British branch of the radical Hizb ut-Tahrir organization. Both men were more interested in spouting ancient socialist chestnuts about America’s greedy individualism than in saying anything particularly interesting about Islam itself.

Undoubtedly, selling their vision of a world caliphate where Jews and Christians would be thrown into official ghettos and homosexuals executed wouldn’t have been a smart strategy in appealing to an audience that tends to think America is too oppressive already. But I got the distinct impression that something else explained their run-of-the-mill socialist twaddle. Both men seemed to be Muslims because that’s where the action is for lefty radicals today. Indeed, the Islamic Party of Britain’s website reads like a 1920s socialist pamphlet with Muslim buzz phrases penciled into the margins.

In the 1960s, every would-be revolutionary called himself a Marxist, usually without any serious regard to what Marx wrote, said or believed. The specifics of the ideology didn’t matter, because Marxism was the oogah-boogah word radicals used to scare the fat, lazy bourgeoisie. In 1969, Stuart Schram, a specialist on Chinese Communism, wrote that “never in the course of the past century has the name Marx been so widely invoked; never has this name served to justify so many ideas and actions totally foreign to the genius of Marx.”

Today, Marxism has lost its oomph. Yuppies drinking five-dollar lattes put Che Guevara t-shirts on their private-school toddlers.

And because nobody thinks Marxists are scary anymore, radicals consumed with hatred for the status quo — for America, for Western civilization or for the plain old dreariness of their boring lives — don’t bother calling themselves Marxists anymore. It’s not that they’re any more or less Marxist then they were before. It’s just that Marxism won’t get a rise out of your in-laws the way it used to.

But Islamic radicalism? Hooboy, that’s where the action is. Of course, not everybody follows the John Walker Lindh route and actually converts to Islam, just as not every Black Panther supporter became a bank robber. But who can deny that this post-colonial, anti-imperialism, indigenous-peoples-and-the-suburban-revolutionaries-who-love-them-unite! stuff is in many respects just a magnet for the same riffraff and rabble rouses of yesteryear? 

Sure, there’s much to fear in Jihadism. But there’s also something deeply pathetic about it, too. And that’s worth pointing out. 

(C) 2007 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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