Islamists have pushed the world to redefine itself in recent years due to global terror attacks. Often the underlying trigger or sentiment for this terrorism is expressed in an anti-West narrative.
Strangely, and interestingly, one often sees Islamists and Communists working together closely, despite how the communist regimes in Russia and China are treating the Muslims. A status far worse than in any Western nation.
And it is even more difficult to understand this Islamist-Communist alliance, given the claim of atheism by Communists. So what gives?
To understand this, one needs to understand the historical background of Communism and its political history, specifically with respect to its relationship with the Islamists.
Soviet Bolshevik communists, Orthodox Church and Islamic East
The Russian Orthodox Church was the nation’s largest landowner with 7.5 million acres as it was strongly aligned with the Russian Czars prior to 1918.
When the Bolsheviks came out with the Decree on the Separation of Church and State, the land and assets of the church were taken and put under the administration of the Soviet regime.
Within the Soviet Union, the Central Asian region was simply called “The East”. In these areas/states, over 90% population was Muslim.
The Bolsheviks convened the First Congress of the Peoples of the East in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1920. 2000 representatives of the Central Asian region attended along with Soviet leaders like Grigory Zinoviev, and Karl Radek and foreign communists like Bela Kun and John Reed.
It was at this conference that Zinoviev called for a “Holy War” by the “East” (Central Asian Muslim people) against the foreign imperialists (British and Americans).
“Comrades, you who have for the first time assembled in a congress of peoples of the East, must here proclaim a real holy war, against the robbers, the Anglo-French capitalists. Now we must say that the hour has sounded when the workers of the whole world can arouse and raise up tens and hundreds of millions of peasants, can form a Red Army in the East as well, can arm and organise a revolt in the rear of the British, can hurl fire against the bandits, can poison the existence of every insolent British officer who is lording it in Turkey, Persia, India and China.” – G. Zinoviev, Congress of the Peoples of the East, Baku, 1920 (Source)
Zinoviev was the President of the Leningrad Soviet, Member of the all-powerful Political Bureau of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Communist International (source).
The Bolsheviks welcomed “left-wing Muslims” into their party. Even at that time, 15% of the Soviet Communist Party members were Muslim! In the Central Asian “The East” region, this was as much as 70%.
This was indeed a strange alliance.
Relationship between Jadidism and Bolshevism
While Bolsheviks were deconstructing the Russian Orthodox Church, they were encouraging the Muslims – they called “leftist Muslims” – into their fold and in their “fight against the Western Imperialism”.
Within the Soviet Union, a unique program was initiated, called the usul-i jadid (‘new method’) (Source). This was billed as a program for educational reform. The top Jadid leader was Ismail Bey Gaspirali (also known as Gasprinskii). He was a Crimean Tatar.
He published his treatise Tercüman, which addressed a range of issues from – the economy to religious institutions. Gaspirali was a proponent of a rapid Islamic renewal that was being spearheaded due to the political and cultural dynamics between the West and Islamic states. It was under his leadership that Jadid schools were set up throughout Central Asia (Andijan/1897 and Samarkand and Tokmak/1898).
Around the time of the Bolshevik revolution, the Muslim leadership had a tug of war around the alignment to shari‘a.
Their main concern, we are told, was to defend themselves against accusations that their proposals for land reform were not contrary to Islamic law, or shari‘a, in fact that they were truer Muslims than their traditionalist opponents: ‘At the Peasant Congress of August 1917 the shari‘a was treated as the supreme authority, as specific quotations from it were presented stating that the land belongs to those who cultivate it. The shariatists were beaten with the shari‘a of the socialist groups and the land-hungry peasants’.8 In Turkestan, the Jadids who set up the autonomous state of Khokand in December 1917 used rhetoric of a fundamentalist kind, calling for a ‘return to shari‘a’.9 In Bukhara the Young Bukharans were initially unable to overthrow the theocratic rule of the emir, backed as he was by the majority of the population.10 Their policies after they finally came to power in 1920 were distinctly moderate. According to Article 26 of the 1921 constitution of the People’s Republic of Bukhara, ‘no law can be in contradiction with the fundamental principles of Islam’.11 (Source)
Strangely, while the Bolshevik program was strongly atheistic, atheism was not really a pre-condition for the party membership.
Interestingly, many people do not realize that Karl Marx’s famous quote on religion being the opium of people, was prefixed with how religion can be used to express the suffering of a group of people.
Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. [Source: K. Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843)]
So, when the leftists use only the partial quote, they do so with an agenda because they necessarily hide the first part. At best, Marx’s take on religion in that famous quote was ambivalent.
Complexities of separation of church and state
The fact is that Islam did not produce any active opposition to communism in the Soviet Union. Actually, many Communist Party members, at least within Central Asia, openly kept their Islamic identities without repercussions. The Soviet atheism was more directed to the church and not Islam.
Lenin was firm that communist propaganda should include “militancy and irreconcilability towards all forms of idealism and religion.” This Militant Atheism then became the core of all communist groups.
To break the hegemony of church (which was seen as an agent of the Czars) in Russia, the Communists pushed for separation between church and state, such that atheistic idealism may take center stage as the central ideology. Communist militant atheism was to be installed as the new “religion”.
Even though the church did have a separation with the state – due to power legitimacy battles between the two – throughout Europe, there was a symbiotic existence as well. The political elites and the church were linked inextricably in the “old order”. The Bolshevik revolution was against the old political order, and the church was caught in its cross-hairs.
This meant that the churches were up in arms against the Communists throughout Europe.
The Islamists, without a central power center (unlike Christianity), depended on “flexibility” (taqqiya?) and did not oppose communism. That is why the Soviet policies did not create any jihad movement in the “The East” (Central Asian) states.
Lenin and Communist Party provide protection to Islamists after revolution
Lenin openly admired the revolt by Muslims against imperialism and likened the Islamic heroes as stalwarts of human struggle against oppression. A sentiment that Karl Marx also betrayed in his famous (but misquoted) ‘opium of the masses’ lines.
In 1917, Bolsheviks made the following announcement for the Muslims in former Russian Empire.
To all toiling Moslems of Russia and the East, whose mosques and prayer-houses have been destroyed, whose beliefs have been trampled on by the czars and the oppressors of Russia. Your beliefs and customs, your national and cultural institutions are declared henceforth free and inviolable. Organize your national life freely and without hindrance. This is your right. Know that your rights… are protected by the entire might of the revolution and its organs… Support this revolution and its government. Source: “I am an Atheist and a Muslim” by Paul Froese
On the one side, the Bolsheviks were de-constructing the Russian Orthodox Church, and on the other side were providing state protection to the Islamists.
Islamists and their play between Political power and Religion
There are needs of political power for every group that seeks ascendancy in any society. The actions of that group, if it is cohesive, are dictated by those needs.
In 1917, the Bolshevik Communists were seeking to overthrow the Czar and his political allies – the Church being the main one. One without the other would have not been governable, so ascendancy demanded that both the power centers – Czar and the Church – were destroyed.
The Islamists, however, chose a low profile. And, characterized their struggle and victimhood in the anti-Western narrative. That was playing right to the gallery of the political leadership in the Communist Party. To increase their allies, both for the internal “class struggle” and the anti-Western/Imperialist struggle, the Communists chose to give Islamists a pass. Actually, they even provided state protection to their right to religion within a fanatically atheistic state!
Thus started the close and inexplicable relationship between Islamism and Communism.
Cut to the 1980s Afghanistan occupation and counter-attack by the US on the Soviets by using the Jehadis.
This was a time when the Islamists turned the paradigm that was created by Lenin and his party upside down. The Americans used the Religion side of the equation to instigate a political about-turn. They used the religious sentiments of the people to push them into political opposition to an empire that had given Islamists a safe haven for so long. Islamists had suddenly turned against the Soviets. And, all this was orchestrated by the poster-boys of Western Imperialism – the Americans and the British.
Islamist machine has two ends – Religion and Political Power. Global Powers, at different times, have used one of these levers to push the machine in a certain direction. Use the ability to get political power to subdue religion, or use religion to subdue political power.
It must however be understood that there is a dichotomy here between those who have actively aligned with Communists (educated and Secularised Muslims with strong religious identities nonetheless) and Capitalists (fanatic and radical Islamists).
In the present times, the wheel has turned a full circle again. China and Russia have yet again aligned with the Islamists. And, they have done an even more comprehensive work. They have aligned with the radical Jehadis as well to hit the Western powers.
They – Communist, China, and Russia – were already the puppeteers of the educated/Communist/Secularized Islamists. Now, they have extended their hand to the jihadis and brought both strains of Islamism into their camps.
Communist regimes have in some sense become the one-stop-shop for the Islamist groups – atheist-pretending and Jehadists. The only catch is that they want to ensure that their pill for the world (and their adversaries) has to be made ineffective in their own societies. So, China and Russia will kill, maim, imprison, and subjugate the Muslims within their countries, while they unleash the Jihadi terror outside. They meanwhile use the moderate Islamists to provide cover fire.
The Islamists – of all hues – can pretend to look the other way because unlike the Jews, Christians, the Hindus etc, the Communists do not neatly fall into the theological enemies’ list within Islamic literature.
And, we argue that since the power centers for both, the Islamist-Communists and Islamist-Jihadis – are in the hands of the same masters today, we are seeing far more cohesion and coming together of the two extremes within the Islamist circles.
Flexible ideologies and groups adapt
If you see the constant play for ideological or political dominance, both Islamists and Communists have used agility and flexibility to adapt over time. When political power was needed, they went all out for that while religion took a back seat. When it so demanded that religious identity be played up, the political alliances were altered.
Ability to change, adapt and alter alliances have been the key for both Islamists and Communists. By not having a central power center (like a Caliphate), the Islamist groups have ensured that they remain amorphous, decentralized yet connected in the quest for political ascendancy and social power through the Islamic ideology. That unique ability is something that the Communists have tried to copy from the Islamists.