Clash of Ideologies:
Communism, Islam, and the West

by John Walker
5th December 2015

Islam and Communism For much of the 20th century, and especially after the end of World War II and the emergence of the Cold War, an ideological struggle existed between communism in its various forms (Soviet, Maoist, etc.) and the Western ideals of consensual government, economic freedom, and individual liberty. This conflict was waged in many ways and on many levels: in explicit military confrontation in conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam, in proxy wars in Africa and Latin America, in quests for prestige such as the space race, and in propaganda and efforts to influence popular opinion.

Throughout this period, both parties to the conflict were explicit in identifying the adversary: “godless communism” on the one side and “capitalist, imperialist aggressors” on the other. Political leaders on both sides were confident their approach was best, and intellectuals supported them. Both sides produced and distributed abundant propaganda tailored to adversary audiences to advance their side's philosophy. Nobody thought there was anything remarkable about this. Anybody with a short wave set in the West could listen to Radio Moscow and follow a multi-part course in Marxism-Leninism, and many people in the communist bloc who managed to dodge Soviet jammers could follow the other side from the Voice of America or Radio Free Europe.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, this ideological conflict came to an end, and now most people have access to a wide variety of opinion on the topics contested during the Cold War. (To be sure, restrictions on information flow such as the Great Firewall of China exist, but people are clever, and I'm sure anybody with a modicum of technical knowledge [or who knows somebody with it] will have no difficulty downloading the entire free library of the Mises Institute if its content intrigues them.)

Now, decades after the supposed conclusion of the Cold War (although one can argue it persists within the institutions of the West), the West finds itself in another protracted conflict with an ideology opposed to its fundamental beliefs: an ideology few are willing to name. Is it “Islamic extremism”, “militant Islam”, “Islamofascism”, “Islamism”, or just “Islam”? Does it matter? I don't recall during the Cold War that people tied themselves into knots distinguishing the fine points of various communist factions: all of them were incompatible with Western values, and all had to be opposed although, for tactical reasons, one might temporarily ally with one against another.

What was clear, however, is that in order to eliminate the threat to the West, whether from aggression without or subversion within, what needed to be defeated was the ideology of communism. By whatever means, individual liberty, self-determination, and economic freedom must triumph in every way over collectivism, tyranny, and enslavement to the state.

To this end, a wide variety of strategies were employed, all with the goal of demonstrating to those in the unaligned world that the Western model was superior and, by all means available, discrediting the communist model within the nations it enslaved. The goal was destroying the communist ideology, as it was fundamentally incompatible with the enlightenment values of the West.

This brings us to the present day, and to Islam. “We aren't at war with Islam”, Western politicians say. Fine, but that isn't the question, is it? For most of the Cold War, the West wasn't at war with communism, either. But the West recognised communism as an ideology which, if it triumphed in its stated goal to spread around the world, would forever extinguish Western values. Many argued that the best that could be hoped for was a stalemate where the West and communism could co-exist, but others feared a ratchet effect where territory which fell to communism was forever forfeit and the light of freedom would slowly gutter and die as darkness encroached.

Others saw the internal contradictions in communism: that it impoverished its people, stifled their creativity and spirit of enterprise, and was inherently uncompetitive. They believed that, with a sufficient push, the entire corrupt structure would collapse and, in the end, they were right.

Which brings us to Islam. Islam, if taken literally as defined in the Koran, the Hadiths, and in interpretations such as Reliance of the Traveller, is grossly incompatible, even more than the doctrines of communism, with Western values. Let me quote two items from Reliance of the Traveller

I could quote hundreds of others which violate freedom of conscience, equality of the sexes, due process of law, endorsement of slavery, and the obligation to jihad (o9.0 et seq.).

If we take the Islamic scriptures seriously, then anybody who believes them cannot also accept the tenets of Western civilisation. Conversely, somebody who is fully integrated into Western civilisation must necessarily be an apostate from this pure interpretation of Islam, just as an émigré from a communist country must have renounced fundamental precepts of its society to fully join the West.

During the Cold War, the West explicitly worked to subvert the ideology of the communist bloc, overtly in contested arenas (USIA libraries, etc.) and covertly by funding anti-communist publications and political parties, and in communist countries by broadcasts and other means. The goal was to bring down the opposing ideology, and while some of the initiatives to do so were secret, nobody hesitated to name the enemy creed nor deny the goal of discrediting it.

Does the fact that Islam calls itself a religion make any difference? To the extent that Islam embraces values diametrically opposed to those of the West, should it not be a target just as communism was? If it sheds those destructive beliefs (just as many communists in Western Europe have been effectively neutered into social democrats), then we'll know the effort has succeeded. But until then, it makes absolutely no sense to deal on an equal basis with those who do not embrace Western values nor welcome them into Western societies, any more than it would have made sense to treat Iron Curtain countries as peers or welcome masses of unreformed communists into the West.

In particular, why should the West accept that Islam can evangelise within its societies, while Islamic societies forbid not only missionaries from other faiths but, in many cases, even the practice of other religions within their territories? If the West allows Muslim recruitment within its prisons, for example, why should it tolerate the exclusion of evangelical Christian, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, Roman Catholic, Scientology, Rastafarian, and other missionaries from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries?