Geert Wilders, Western Sages, and Totalitarian Islam
In April 2008, during his keynote address to the first conference of the Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa, Professor Bernard Lewis warned of the ominous limits on scholarly analysis of Islam imposed by political correctness and multiculturalism:
The degree of thought control, of limitations on freedom of speech and expression is without parallel in the Western world since the eighteenth century and in some cases longer than that. ... It seems to me it’s a very dangerous situation, because it makes any kind of scholarly discussion of Islam, to say the least, dangerous. Islam and Islamic values now have a level of immunity from comment and criticism in the Western world that Christianity has lost and Judaism has never had.
The politicized prosecution of Dutch MP Geert Wilders for his free speech criticism of Islam is a case study illustrating Professor Lewis’ most grave concerns. But it is also possible that the outrageous proceedings against Geert Wilders may have pushed the Western freedom-stifling agenda of Islamic correctness too far.
This past Friday (10/15/10) Dutch prosecutors asked the presiding judges to acquit Mr. Wilders on all charges of inciting hate and discrimination. Wilders was unsurprisingly “very happy” with the prosecutors’ recommendations, adding with his usual plainspoken lucidity:
I do not insult, I do not incite to hatred, I do not discriminate. The only thing I do and will continue to do is to speak the truth.
As the Associated Press reported, however, there was a caveat:
The move by prosecutors signaled their belief the case against Wilders was weak, although judges could still disagree and convict him. The defense begins its case next week and a verdict is scheduled for next month.
Former U.S. federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy underscores this concern regarding the presiding judges. He reminds us that the Dutch prosecutors never desired to charge Wilders, but they were in effect “overruled” by the Dutch judiciary:
In 2008, the office of the public prosecutor declined to charge him. The lunatic judges are the ones who’ve been behind this all along, representative as they are of the transnational progressive thinking responsible for having such “crimes” on the books in the first place. In 2009, the Dutch Court of Appeals issued an order essentially overruling the prosecutors and ordering that Wilders be charged.
With refreshing sobriety, Dutch prosecutor Birgit van Roessel argued in her summation that Wilders’ statements were made as an integral part of the public debate "about the immigration and integration of non-Western foreigners, especially Muslims. Standpoints can vary considerably and emotions can run high, but ... it is a debate that it must be possible to have."
And most importantly, Ms. van Roessel further acknowledged:
Many of Wilders' statements seemed to denounce Islam as an ideology or its growing influence in the Netherlands, rather than being intended as an abuse of Muslims as a people or group.
During a March 2009 interview with the Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby, Wilders had earlier rejected the notion he “hates Muslims,” while providing a frank characterization of the totalitarian nature of Islam:
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. Islam is totally contrary to our values.
By making this latter claim, Wilders shattered a corrosive modern taboo, enforced rigidly and without forgiveness by cultural relativist politicians and government bureaucrats as well as influential “savants” in media, academia, and religion.
But Wilders' assessment not only comports with scholarly observations made (primarily) before the advent of the postmodern Western scourge of cultural relativism, it is supported by contemporary hard polling data from 2006 -2007, and a more recent follow-up reported February 25, 2009. At present, overwhelming Muslim majorities -- i.e., better than two-thirds (see the weighted average calculated here) of a well-conducted survey of the world’s most significant and populous Arab and non-Arab Muslim countries -- want these immoderate outcomes: “strict application” of Shari’a, Islamic law, and a global caliphate.
Specifically, the World Public Opinion.org/ University of Maryland poll (released February 25, 2009) indicated the following about our putative Muslim ally nations of Egypt and Pakistan: 81% of the Muslims of “moderate” Egypt, the largest Arab Muslim nation, desire a “strict” application of Shari’a, Islamic law; 76% of Pakistan’s Muslims -- one of the most important and sizable non-Arab Muslim populations -- want this outcome. Furthermore, 70% of Egyptian Muslims and 69% of Pakistani Muslims desire the re-creation of a “single Islamic state or caliphate.” Elsewhere, I have detailed the totalitarian impact of these fulfilled Islamic desires -- based upon their doctrinal and historical application across space and time.
And these concrete data validate eminent Western scholarly appraisals of Islamic despotism, or in modern parlance, totalitarianism. Repeatedly for 100 years, between the mid-19th through mid-20th centuries, important scholars and intellectuals -- for example, the historians Jacob Burckhardt, Waldemar Gurian, and Karl Wittfogel, philosopher Bertrand Russell, Carl Jung (the founder of modern analytical psychiatry), Protestant theologian Karl Barth, sociologist Jules Monnerot (one of the pre-eminent 20th century scholars of Islamic law), G.H. Bousquet, and even the contemporary Western eminence grise on Islamic civilization, Bernard Lewis -- have all referred to Islam as a despotic or totalitarian ideology.
For example, being imbued with fanaticism was the ultimate source of Muhammad’s great strength and led to his triumph as a despot, according to Burckhardt. Jacob Burckhardt (d. 1897), an iconic figure in the annals of Western historiography, believed it was the solemn duty of Western civilization’s heirs to study and acknowledge their own unique cultural inheritance -- starting with the culture and heritage of classical Athens. Burckhardt emphasized how the Western conception of freedom was engendered in Athens, where its flowering was accompanied by the production of some of history’s most sublime literary and artistic works. Moreover, while Burckhardt affirmed the irreducible nature of freedom and upheld equality before the law, he decried the notion -- a pervasive, rigidly enforced dogma at present -- that all ways of life, opinions, and beliefs were of equal value.
Burckhardt argued that this conceptual reductio ad absurdum would destroy Western culture, heralding a return to barbarism. And contra the Western legacy of Athens -- epitomized by freedom -- Burckhardt referred to Islam as a despotic, or in 20th century terms, totalitarian ideology:
All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life ... and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!) This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form.
The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it. It accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed of their past.
A century later, historian Waldemar Gurian, in 1945, sees Burckhardt’s description of Muhammad as critically important for understanding Hitler’s temperament and historical role, both leaders having been consummate practitioners of reductionist demagoguery -- “radical simplifiers.”
Slightly earlier, during an interview conducted in the late 1930s (published in 1939), Karl Jung was asked: “ ... had [he] any views on what was likely to be the next step in religious development?” Jung replied, in reference to the Nazi fervor that had gripped Germany:
We do not know whether Hitler is going to found a new Islam. He is already on the way; he is like Muhammad. [emphasis added] The emotion in Germany is Islamic; warlike and Islamic. They are all drunk with wild god. That can be the historic future.
Also published in 1939 was Karl Barth’s assessment (from The Church and the Political Problem of Our Day) of the similarity between Fascist totalitarianism and Islam:
Participation in this life, according to it the only worthy and blessed life, is what National Socialism, as a political experiment, promises to those who will of their own accord share in this experiment. And now it becomes understandable why, at the point where it meets with resistance, it can only crush and kill -- with the might and right which belongs to Divinity! Islam of old as we know proceeded in this way. It is impossible to understand National Socialism unless we see it in fact as a new Islam, its myth as a new Allah, and Hitler as this new Allah’s Prophet.
Jules Monnerot’s 1949 Sociologie du Communisme was translated into English and published as Sociology and Psychology of Communism in 1953. Monnerot elaborated at length upon a brief but remarkably prescient observation by Bertrand Russell, published already in 1920, which compared emerging Bolshevism to Islam. Russell had noted in his The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism:
Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam. ... Those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated. ... Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism [Islam] rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.
Monnerot made very explicit connections between pre-modern Islamic and 20th century communist totalitarianism. The title of his first chapter dubbed communism “The Twentieth Century Islam.” He elucidates these two primary shared characteristics of Islam and Communism: “conversion” -- followed by subversion -- from within, and the fusion of “religion” and state. But Monnerot’s brilliant, remarkably compendious analysis in Chapter 1 also introduces the modern Western reader to apposite examples from Islam’s enduring legacy of jihad -- Mahmud of Ghazni, Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan, the Fatimids of Egypt, the Shiite Persian Safavids, and even the ostensibly “pacific, benevolent” Sufis. Here are extracts from the first chapter:
There is a resemblance between the use made of Marxism by the present masters of the totalitarian world and the conversion of nomadic barbarians ... such as the Turkish mercenaries Mahmud of Ghazna [Ghazni; modern Afghanistan], [and the Turcomen of Asia Minor] Togrul Beg, and Alp Arslan to the universal religion[s] of the civilization[s] they threatened, namely ... Islam. ... Like Stalin’s Marxism, their conversion gave them the pretext for disrupting civilization from within; as converts they were able to attack in the name of the true Faith the very societies which had brought the Faith to them. In the same way the Marxist chiefs of totalitarian Russia attack Western society from within, attempting to destroy the social structure of European countries for the sake of the socialism to which these countries themselves gave birth.
Communism takes the field both as a secular religion and as a universal State; it is therefore ... comparable to Islam. ... Soviet Russia (to use the name it gives itself, although it is a misdescription of the regime) is not the first empire in which the temporal and public power goes hand in hand with a shadowy power which works outside the imperial frontiers to undermine the social structure of neighboring States. The Islamic East affords several examples of a like duality and duplicity. The Egyptian Fatimids, and later the Persian Safavids, were the animators and propagators, from the heart of their own States, of an active and organizing legend, an historical myth, calculated to make fanatics and obtain their total devotion, designed to create in neighboring States an underworld of ruthless gangsters. The eponymous ancestor of the Safavids was a saint from whom they magically derived the religious authority in whose name they operated. They were Shi’is of Arabian origin, and the militant order they founded was dedicated to propaganda and "nucleation" throughout the whole of Persia and Asia Minor. It recruited "militants" and "adherents" and "sympathizers." These were the Sufis. As rulers, their sympathies were recognized by other sovereigns in the same way that Stalin, head of the State, is recognized by other heads of States, and rightly, as the leader of world communism. This merging of religion and politics was a major characteristic of the Islamic world in its victorious period. It allowed the head of a State to operate beyond his own frontiers in the capacity of the commander of the faithful (Amir-al-muminin); and in this way a Caliph was able to count upon docile instruments, or captive souls, wherever there were men who recognized his authority. The territorial frontiers which seemed to remove some of his subjects from his jurisdiction were nothing more than material obstacles; armed force might compel him to feign respect for the frontier, but propaganda and subterranean warfare could continue no less actively beyond it.
Religions of this kind acknowledge no frontiers. Soviet Russia is merely the geographical center from which communist influence radiates; it is an "Islam" on the march, and it regards its frontiers at any given moment as purely provisional and temporary. Communism, like victorious Islam, makes no distinction between politics and religion. ... To an educated European or American, unless he is himself a communist, it appears that communists are religious fanatics in the service of an expansionist empire which is striving for world dominion. But communists see it differently: for them communism is what ought to be, and the whole of history, the whole past of humanity, takes its meaning from this future event. ... Communism is a faith, and it has in Russia a sort of fatherland; but such a fatherland cannot be a country like any other. Russia is to communism what the Abbasid empire was to Islam. Communism ... is a religious sect of world conquerors for whom Russia is simply the strongpoint from which the attack is launched.
Monnerot returns briefly to Islam’s paradigmatic fusion of religion and state in Chapter 12, titled “Twentieth Century Absolutism,” invoking another relevant historical example -- the Ottoman empire and its brutal jihad enslavement and forced conversion to Islam of subjected Christian children for the slave soldier devshirme-janissary system:
Islam has provided the type of society in which the political and the sacred are indissolubly merged. The law of the Koran was religious, political, and civil all in one; and an infidel could be no more than a tributary. In history and in law he appeared as an object, but not as a participating subject; and the Ottoman empire was interested in the children of infidels only because they could be recruited as janissaries. During the great period of Islamic conquests the State, in so far as it existed in our sense of the word, participated in the sacred doctrine of the prophet [Muhammad] and was its embodiment and life. The companions of the prophet, partakers in the revolutionary legitimacy, did not constitute a Church; nor do the secular religions inherent in 20th century absolutisms, but the power of the prophetic elite (which is what the party’s "summit" is at the moment when the new State is created) is all the more absolute for being, as it were, a condensation of the power of the whole society. And the leader represents the extreme point of condensation.
Bernard Lewis, in his 1954 essay "Communism and Islam," expounded upon on the quintessence of totalitarian Islam, and how it was antithetical in nature to Western democracy, while sharing important features of Communist totalitarianism -- most notably, global domination via jihad:
I turn now from the accidental to the essential factors, to those deriving from the very nature of Islamic society, tradition, and thought. The first of these is the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition. ... Many attempts have been made to show that Islam and democracy are identical-attempts usually based on a misunderstanding of Islam or democracy or both. This sort of argument expresses a need of the up- rooted Muslim intellectual who is no longer satisfied with or capable of understanding traditional Islamic values, and who tries to justify, or rather, re-state, his inherited faith in terms of the fashionable ideology of the day. It is an example of the romantic and apologetic presentation of Islam that is a recognized phase in the reaction of Muslim thought to the impact of the West. ... In point of fact, except for the early caliphate, when the anarchic individualism of tribal Arabia was still effective, the political history of Islam is one of almost unrelieved autocracy. ... [I]t was authoritarian, often arbitrary, sometimes tyrannical. There are no parliaments or representative assemblies of any kind, no councils or communes, no chambers of nobility or estates, no municipalities in the history of Islam; nothing but the sovereign power, to which the subject owed complete and unwavering obedience as a religious duty imposed by the Holy Law. In the great days of classical Islam this duty was only owed to the lawfully appointed caliph, as God's vicegerent on earth and head of the theocratic community, and then only for as long as he upheld the law; but with the decline of the caliphate and the growth of military dictatorship, Muslim jurists and theologians accommodated their teachings to the changed situation and extended the religious duty of obedience to any effective authority, however impious, however barbarous. For the last thousand years, the political thinking of Islam has been dominated by such maxims as "tyranny is better than anarchy" and "whose power is established, obedience to him is incumbent."
Quite obviously, the Ulama [religious leaders] of Islam are very different from the Communist Party. Nevertheless, on closer examination, we find certain uncomfortable resemblances. Both groups profess a totalitarian doctrine, with complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth; the answers are different in every respect, alike only 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.
Karl Wittfogel’s seminal 1957 analysis of pre-modern Eastern totalitarianism, Oriental Despotism -- A Comparative Study of Total Power, contains insights on Islam that are particularly illuminating, and ever-relevant to present-era tribulations deriving from the unreformed (and even unexamined) mandates of Islamic supremacism. Underpinning Islamic “absolutism,” Wittfogel notes, is the same Koranic injunction (Koran 4:59) -- cited by Islamic legists from Mawardi (d. 1058) to Mawdudi (d. 1979) -- as legitimizing the totalitarian caliphate system:
The Koran exhorts believers to obey not only Allah and his prophet, but also "those in authority amongst you." In the absolutist states established by Mohammed’s followers, this passage was invoked to emphasize the importance of obedience in maintaining governmental authority.
Wittfogel’s candor extends to these unapologetic observations contrasting Ottoman and Medieval Western European regulation of guilds, and the nature of Islamic religious “tolerance” -- more aptly, non-Muslim dhimmitude under Islamic law:
In Ottoman Turkey officials inspected the markets and controlled the prices, weight, and measurements, thus fulfilling functions which in the burgher-controlled towns of Medieval Europe were usually the responsibility of the urban authorities. Furthermore, the state, which in most countries of feudal Europe collected few if any taxes from the urban centers of strongly developed guild power, was able in Turkey to tax the guilds and, as elsewhere in the Orient, to employ its fiscal agents the headmen of these corporations, who distributed the tax-quotas of their members and who were personally responsible for their payment.
[F]ollowers of these creeds [Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism] had to accept an inferior status both politically and socially, and they were prevented from spreading their ideas. The laws forbade conversion from Christianity to Judaism or vice versa; and penalties for apostasy from Islam were severe. Christians were not permitted to beat their wooden boards (these boards were used as bells) loudly, or sing in their churches with raised voices, or assemble in the presence of Muslims, or display their "idolatry," "nor to invite to it, nor show a cross," on their churches. No wonder that the religious minorities -- who during the Turkish period were set apart in organizations called millet-- vegetated rather than throve. The head of the millet was nominated by the millet but appointed by the sultan; once in office he was given just enough power to enable him to collect the taxes imposed on his community by the state.
G.H. Bousquet (d. 1978), one of the foremost 20th century scholars of Islamic law, explained how Islam’s unique institution of jihad war and its eternal quest to impose the Shari’a on all of humanity represented the quintessence of Islamic totalitarianism. Writing in 1950, Bousquet further warned that these ancient Muslim doctrines remained alive and relevant to the modern era:
Islam first came before the world as a doubly totalitarian system. It claimed to impose itself on the whole world and it claimed also, by the divinely appointed Muhammadan law, by the principles of fiqh, to regulate down to the smallest details the whole life of the Islamic community and of every individual believer. ... Viewed from this angle, the study of Muhammadan Law (dry and forbidding though it may appear to be to those who confine themselves to the indispensable study of the fiqh), is of great importance to the world of today.
Two contemporary assessments confirm the ongoing importance of Bousquet’s warning regarding Islamic law, and the totalitarian impulse of Islam.
In a brilliant, dispassionate modern analysis, Ibn Warraq describes 14 characteristics of “Ur Fascism” as enumerated by Umberto Eco, analyzing their potential relationship to the major determinants of Islamic governance and aspirations, through the present. He adduces salient examples which reflect the key attributes discussed by Eco: the unique institution of jihad war; the establishment of a caliphate under “Allah’s viceregent on earth,” the caliph, ruled by Islamic law, i.e., Shari’a, a rigid system of subservience and sacralized discrimination against non-Muslims and Muslim women, devoid of basic freedoms of conscience and expression. Warraq’s assessment confirms what G.H. Bousquet concluded (in 1950) from his career studying the historical development and implementation of Islamic law.
Finally, Arun Shourie’s The World of Fatwas analyzes the stultifying and dangerous living legacy of the Islamic doctrine being imparted by the orthodox Muslim religious establishment in his native India and repeated throughout the Muslim world. After providing copious examples, he maintains:
It is of the very essence of a totalitarian ideology that it enforces its right to regulate the totality of life. The Koran, the Hadith, the fatwas represent one continuous endeavor in this respect: they aim at controlling every single aspect of life. ... The ideology [of Islam] is premised not just on the belief that believers are eternally separate from, and eternally superior to non-believers. It is premised on eternal hostility between the two. Fanaticism and terrorism, [and] aggression are the inevitable results of this worldview. Accordingly, the ideology makes it well-nigh impossible for Muslims to live peaceably in societies in which Muslims are just one of several communities. Indeed, it makes it impossible for an Islamic state to live peaceably in a world where there are non-Islamic states also ...
And Shourie concludes with this germane admonition:
[W]e must expose, and work to thwart concessions by our opportunist politicians which are meant to appease, and will in the end strengthen the grip of these reactionary elements ...
Geert Wilders’ keen, if blunt conceptions articulate contemporary realities, while restating seminal insights on Islam observed by great scholars whose works antedate the present day morbid affliction of cultural relativism. The tragic rejection of freedom of conscience by mainstream Islamic religious and political institutions representing all Muslim nations, and the global Islamic umma -- a living sine qua non of Islamic totalitarianism -- provides irrefragable confirmation that Wilders' characterization of Islam as a totalitarian ideology is accurate.