Similarities between Radical Islam and Marxism – limitless freedom leads to total despotism

In his book Anything Goes (published 2011), Theodore Dalrymple says one of his preoccupations is “evil” and many of the essays in the book deal with it. In this excerpt, he talks of two people whose writings show a strong strain of hatred – Karl Marx and Sayyid Qutb. Qutb was a theorist of Islam, and Marx was the main theorist of Communism. The similarities between the two thinkers are striking, and Dalrymple describes them:

“Recently, I have been reading one of Sayyid Qutb’s best-known books, Milestones. Of course, not being an Arabic-speaker, I rely on the accuracy of the translation. Qutb, who was hanged by the secularising nationalist, Nasser, in 1966; for allegedly plotting the overthrow of the government, was one of the most influential Muslim thinkers of the Twentieth Century. He did not start out as an Islamist, but became one partly in response to his sojourn in the United States. He was appalled by what he saw there as its moral laxity (though he went at a time now looked back on by moral conservatives as a time of great and even exemplary personal restraint, at least by comparison with the moral atmosphere of today). He was a cultivated man, and very far from an ignorant one….

“Qutb’s thought has many parallels with Marxism. Where Marx has Historical Inevitability, Qutb has God’s Law. Marx, you remember, envisages a time when the state will wither away and history will end. in Marx’s vision, political power will have dissolved, and the exploitation of man by man will have ceased, to be replaced by the mere administration of things. (How anybody of minimal intelligence could have believed such a thing beats me.) In Qutb’s vision, all political power will have dissolved, replaced by man’s spontaneous obedience to God’s law. Just as the administration of things in Marx’s utopia will not confer power on the administrators, presumably because everything will be so plentiful that no one will be tempted to appropriate more than the next man, so in Qutb’s utopia no one will have to interpret the law and gain power from doing so. God’s law will be as evident as things will be abundant in Marx’s classless society.

In both Marx and Qutb, the idea is expressed that, under the new dispensation, man will become more human, less animal. Personally, I have always found this kind of thought an appallingly arrogant slur on all the people who have lived before the thinker of it: does humanity really have to wait for Marx and Qutb before it becomes truly human?

Marx understood that the classless society could not come about by merely preaching socialism, as if it were merely an ethical demand or theory. Violence would be necessary. Similarly, Qutb denies that the world will become Islamic merely by preaching the word of God…

Just as Marx says that a showdown between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is inevitable. leading to the triumph of the former and the subsequent establishment of a classless society, so Qutb thinks that a showdown between believers and infidels is inevitable, leading to the victory of Islam, which will eliminate all religious conflict. Is this Marx or Qutb speaking?

[there] is a natural struggle between two systems which-cannot co-exist for long.

It is Qutb; but it could have been taken from the writings of thousands of followers of Marx, if not from Marx himself, including Mao Tse-Tung.

The violent imposition of a socialist and Islamic society is justified in the same way in Marx and Qutb: if people were really free, that is to say suffering from neither false consciousness nor jahilliyah (ignorance of divine guidance), they would accept the socialist or Islamic state not merely without demur, but joyously, as being for their own good freely chosen. True freedom in both Marx and Qutb is the recognition of necessity. Everything that prevents people from seeing the truth of their messages is an enemy of real, as against merely apparent, freedom…

Qutb insists that the triumph of Islam is the only way that what he calls the lordship of man over man will be abolished, just as Marx and Marxists insist that the triumph of Marxism is the only way that the exploitation of man by man will cease.

Marx believed that man once lived in a state of primitive communism which ended with the division of labour. Qutb believes (much less excusably or plausibly) that the first generations after Mohammed lived in a perfectly functioning Islamic society. He doesn’t ask himself, at least not in this book, why it was, then that three of the four supposedly rightly-guided caliphs were brutally murdered. This is a very odd kind of perfection, to say the least. But just as the division of labour came and spoiled primitive communism, so did Greek philosophy and other innovations come and spoil the perfect Islamic society. Why perfection should fall apart because of outside influences – could perfection be as imperfect as that? – is another question Qutb does not ask himself.
Throughout his book, one senses his rage. Just as Marx expresses his admiration for the work the bourgeoisie has done in the past, so does Qutb pay tribute to Europe: but both Marx and Qutb are full of hatred. Of course, Qutb would have claimed to be nothing more than a humble instrument of God, expressing God’s design for humanity, just as Marx would have claimed that he was merely the mouthpiece of historical inevitability. But all is not humility that claims to be humble. Self-knowledge and self-examination is no more part of Qutb’s programme than it is of Marx’s.

Qutb’s book is obsessed with the achievement of political and social power. There is very little spiritual content in it. He says:

It is clear, then, that a Muslim community cannot be formed or continue to exist until it attains sufficient power to confront the existing jahili society.

Only the total triumph of Islam (in Qutb’s sense) will bring peace to the world, just as all human conflict will end when the classless society is brought about by the final triumph of the proletariat.
The only religious aspect of Qutb’s thought is his belief that the Koran is the unmediated word of God, a belief that he does not, because he cannot, justify. For him, the will of God is indisputably known without any need of interpretation, and in fact he knows it. It isn’t difficult to see, then, that in the name of the destruction of all political authority and of the lordship of man over man in obedience to God’s will, Qutb thinks he ought to be total dictator, and that he is as obsessed with the here and now as any Marxist.

It is the same old story. As Doestoyevsky said, starting out from limitless freedom, we end up with total despotism.

Karl Marx

Sayed Qutb


The excerpt (the entire post) is from “Anything Goes” by Theodore Dalrymple. It was published by ‘New English Review Press’ in 2011

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