Why do leftists defend Islam?
The left has long stood for secularism — if not outright atheism — against the privileges of religion.
When the French Revolution occurred the Church was among the prime targets for revolutionary ire.
The consequences were gory.
Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine was briefly imprisoned in a dungeon thick with clotted blood and skull fragments from priests who had been beaten to death.
Denis Diderot, the Enlightenment thinker and encyclopédist, whose thought formed the intellectual background to the Revolution contributed this on the topic of religion and monarchy:
Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.
And his hands would plait the priest’s entrails,
For want of a rope, to strangle kings.
This is often translated to the more snappy and sloganistic: “Man will never be free until the last king is hanged with the entrails of the last priest.”
And they say religious people are barbaric, eh?
And in a more modest way the American revolutionaries curtailed the rights of religion by forbidding the creation of an established Church in the United States.
Feudal oppression, absolute monarchical oppression, and religious oppression. This was the devilish anti-Trinity that liberals wanted to wash away to free mankind.
Those were the aims of the liberal revolutionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries. The communist and socialist revolutionaries in the 20th century were more fanatical in their hatred of religion.
Uncounted temples, churches, and mosques were destroyed by the communist regimes while the socialist governments in liberal democratic countries attacked religion’s role in education and undermined religion’s social role with the foundation of the welfare state.
Secularism was no longer sufficient. The communists preferred atheism while liberals and socialists sought to eliminate religion’s public role with help from a vigorous feminism that would eliminate the traditional family, along with restrictions on human sexuality.
The left in the widest sense considers itself to be rolling towards maximal human freedom.
Leftists conceive this in different ways to be sure.
For Marxists humans are engaged in a dialectical historical process that will lead us back to our original maximally free primal state enhanced with all the advantages of technological civilization.
At the end of this process we will be like the nomads who knew no social division due property, sexual mores, or religion — but we will have rocket ships, and poetry as well.
History will have returned us, through centuries of struggle and division, to this primitive gestalt.
Socialists and liberals are less utopian, more modest. They hope to use the state to make the world fairer — although what they mean by this is ambiguous.
Unlike the Marxists, they conceive human freedom not so much in terms of a return to a seamless organic whole, but rather as the removal of material barriers to human action.
The state must ensure that everyone is fed, clothed, materially comfortable, and in addition able to self-actualise their desires whether for adult colouring books, or to fuck as many partners as one wishes.
Leftists are nihilists.
They do not believe in God. They believe in the operation of History (capital ‘H’ in the philosophic sense), evolution, and above all power — as such they are cynics.
For the leftist everything is mutable and changeable. There is no constant or fixed point. This is their nihilistic core.
Open the leftist and there is no heart to find, only what cannot ever be seen: nothingness.
Power and a naïve materialism may seem like fixed points for the leftist, but even these would disappear under examination. Leftists do not think too hard about their shibboleths. Their solution to philosophical problems is to make people shout slogans louder so the doubt will go away.
If that fails, shoot people who ask questions.
“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it,” said Marx, embodying this world view.
The change is the point. This makes Marx a rather superficial thinker. It is not truth or wisdom that his goal. His goal is change for the sake of change.
A wealthy man is not, for the leftist, generous to a church charity because his emotions are disturbed at seeing poor people. He is trying to control the poor through religion, and he is only rich in the first place because he exploits people.
This worldview is in fact a psychological projection of leftist thought.
Leftists have dispensed with God and absolute prohibitions in general whether from philosophy or tradition.
There is only the operation of power.
Leftists, though they preach the unity and brotherhood of all mankind, are deeply suspicious of other human beings and wish to exploit them.
They cannot imagine that a human would be kind from compassion. They see only the operation of power.
This is because they have nothing to sustain them except suspicion and power. And this is why the secret police in communist countries and liberal revolutionary regimes, such as France, were much more ruthless than any previous regime.
And though leftists claim to fight for equality, justice, social justice, community, or socialism these words really mean whatever the leftist wants them to mean at that particular moment.
There is nowhere for the leftist to appeal for these values outside the operation of power. So if a leftist is in power and they decide justice means everyone has to wear red shoes then that is what justice means.
And if tomorrow they decide justice means everyone has to wear blue shoes then that is what justice means.
This is the tendency Orwell satirises in 1984. The state’s slogans are “War is peace” and “Freedom is slavery”.
Thus in the Soviet Union the initial revolutionary period celebrated free love and abortion rights as socialist steps to the emancipation of women and full communism. But when Stalin was in charge sexual modesty and as many babies as possible became socialist steps to the emancipation of women and full communism.
This was because it was expedient to the left to build up the Soviet state with stable families, whereas before it was expedient to break the power of Russia’s traditional mores.
A God-fearing society is at least restrained by fear of God, but a leftist knows that God is a childish illusion and so is free to adopt whatever methods of government they deem necessary to achieve the goals of staying in power.
They are as ruthless as they claim their opponents are, for what they claim their opponents are is in fact what they wish to do.
Ironically, their ruthlessness often destroys their regimes.
In Western liberal democratic states this leftist power building takes the form of semi-benign and technocratic control that occasionally short-circuits — as with Brexit.
So, a leftist — whether Marxist, socialist, or liberal — opposes religion as an agent of social control that serves the corrupt, unjust Ancien Régime.
Religion lets the rich exploit the poor; it is the proverbial “opium of the people” described by Marx. Religion allows men to exploit women, so say the feminists. Religion represses sexual minorities.
Why then does the contemporary left defend Islam*? When in power in Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, the Marxist left crushed and repressed Islam without mercy.
But now Marxists are at the forefront of campaigning against Islamophobia.
The answer is strategic. Strategy is paradoxical. Sometimes to advance one has to retreat, and the best way to attack a rival army is the most indirect route, not the fastest.
The left’s great advantage over the right is its nihilism. Since it believes in no values other than those created for the moment there is no need to be consistent.
The right binds itself with tradition, honour, loyalty, and morality.
The left says what is necessary to take power.
There are degrees of leftist duplicity. The Leninist-inspired groups are the most ruthless and expedient in what they will do.
This is why Marxist groups are at the forefront of campaigning against Islamophobia, and why Muslims should also remember that if these Marxist organisations seized power (very unlikely though that is in most countries of the world) the mosques would be among the first targets for the leftist state.
Marxist groups in my lifetime have also been in the forefront of campaigns for feminism, gay rights, against climate change, against austerity, against racism, against globalisation, and against Western wars in the Middle East.
Little to none of this is sincere support for those causes. The leaders of these groups believed that those causes were hot issues and a way to capture members — or simply a means to damage the existing function of power.
South Africa’s communist party initially had a policy summed up in the slogan: “Workers of the World, unite and fight for a white South Africa!”
When it was no longer expedient to use this slogan the party became a vociferous opponent of white majority rule and eventually sat in government with the African National Congress.
Racial equality was not the real issue for the communists. The question was the best method for the communists to seize power.
The ANC leadership were always aware that this was a tension in their alliance with the communists. They kept a careful eye on communist influence within their organisation.
Liberals are more bound within traditions, possibly even a belief in a force beyond power and manipulation. They find it harder to use people and groups, but they still do so to a lesser degree.
For the moment the American left has calculated that Muslims and the US relation to Islam can be exploited to damage the existing system.
Therefore, despite their stated dislike of religion, leftists will defend Islam.
This is why they remain hostile to Christianity. If it was expedient to support Christianity then leftist intellectuals would find progressive elements in Christianity (they have done so in the past), and Christ would be declared the first socialist again.
But this is not conducive to the current balance of political forces in the leftist calculation.
No matter how much violence Islamists unleash against Americans and Westerners — and how pacific Christians are relative to this violence — the left will attack Christians and support Muslims because Islamists are the most active force against US interests.
Indeed, Christians will still be attacked in traditional leftist terms for being regressive or reactionary towards women while Islam will be promoted as progressive.
But such contradiction is acceptable to leftists.
There are people — including leftists — who can’t follow the nuances of strategy, and become upset that the left is following a contradictory line.
The naïve leftist who genuinely thought the leftist pronouncements on women’s liberation carried the same weight as the Ten Commandments will attack their own side for being inconsistent.
By leftist feminist norms established over the past forty years Islam is regressive. But this is no longer an expedient position to adopt, so Islam must now be regarded as progressive.
The ideological struggle is now on by people on the left to adopt a correct position on Islam. This is possible because the left has no solid commitments as to what women’s liberation, a particular bugbear in this realignment, is in fact.
If it is now decided, for example, that wearing a veil is liberation then liberation it is, comrade.
And if burning veils is liberation next decade then liberation it is, comrade.
Naïve leftists who continue to proclaim the old line, which was that religion — Islam in particular — is a regressive force that oppresses women, will come under the most extreme attack from the left, even more savage than that reserved for conservatives.
This is because leftists who stick with the old line cause cognitive dissonance for those adopting the new line.
Conservatives have always affirmed the value of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and traditional faith in general and so have no such difficulties. They understand that the faiths are different, but they understand the value of faith. They will challenge Islam where it threatens their beliefs and cooperate to promote common values.
My view is that Islam — a very diverse set of practises and beliefs — embodies centuries of human wisdom, and that Muslims are right to maintain their traditions with regard to wearing the veil, and their customs regarding women generally.
Their standards are not my standards or the standards of my civilization in many respects, but I admire many aspects of their religion and civilization.
I do not wish to see their standards or values imposed on my society through terrorism or mass migration. But I respect the dignity and achievements of their religion.
Leftists have been here before in regards to Islam. During the 1970s the Marxist left worked with Islamists in Iran to overthrow the Western-backed Shah.
The two side cooperated for strategic reasons, for it was quite understood that if the leftists triumphed then Islamist blood would run on the streets of Tehran. In the end it was the Islamists who triumphed, and the leftists were sent to the wall and torture chamber.
The leftist gambit did not succeed, but both sides understood they were friends only until their common enemy — the Shah — was gone.
This is what people should be aware of in the current political climate.
The left, no matter what its propaganda says today, does not care about Islam or the fate of Muslims.
It is expedient for leftists to use Muslims and the current conflict with Islamism to advance the left’s quest for power in Western countries.
Once the left has used Islam to take power it will dispense with Islam, for Islam promotes eternal values.
Islam is anti-nihilist. Islam presents a threat to leftist power that cannot be tolerated in the long term by the left.
But for now Islam is useful, so the leftists will write sentimental articles to support it.
But tomorrow, ah, tomorrow is tomorrow, and who knows what that may bring in the quest for ‘progress’.
*Note: I’ve used Islam, Christianity, and Islamist somewhat loosely in this article. Obviously, the world’s major religions break down into many, many sects that hold contradictory beliefs with regard to each other and other faiths.
However, I do think it is meaningful to speak of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and so on at the highest conceptual level, i.e. we can generally understand that there is enough commonality between the sects for there to be people who are considered Christians or Muslims if they adhere to certain minimal beliefs and describe themselves as such.
‘Islamists’, as I understand the term, are people who have adapted Islam to serve certain political objectives — often, but not necessarily, involving violence. There are many, many varieties of Islamism.
I have used the terms Islam, Islamism, and Islamist a little interchangeably, but my experience of reading political discussions is that in practise the two are conflated anyway. The pejorative associations with Islamism will be associated with Islam in general. When one defends Islam as a belief system one is drawn in to debates about the conduct of “Islamists”, and how that relates to Islam as a religion. I have probably not dealt satisfactorily with this issue and need to think about it more.
The left’s strategy in regard to Islam, the US, and Christianity would not accept my designations; a leftist would be quite likely to deny “Islam” exists, and claim that the concept deliquesces once subjected to thorough examination. The crude generalisation ‘Islam’ is itself an ideological tactic to facilitate the oppression of people designated ‘Muslim’.
This is part of the left’s dialectical move against Islam. While leftists simultaneously defend Islam against the US political right in so far as it is politically expedient to do so, they attack Islam itself by telling Muslims their religion does not exist and has in fact been ‘invented’ by imperialists.