Islam and Communism: Kindred Opponents of Freedom

Shimmer Analysis
8 min readFeb 10, 2024


In many ways, the role communism played in the Cold War has since been assumed by Islam. In both cases, the free world is confronted by an implacable, totalitarian ideology. In both cases, the aim of world domination is an inextricable feature of said ideology. Thankfully, our understanding of the Islamic threat can be advanced by comparing this new menace to that of communism. The similarities and differences between these two hostile doctrines can clarify the essence of each and provide some indication as to how the new enemy can be overcome.

The Similarities

Both the belief systems in question are properly described as totalitarian. Thus, political scientist Martin Slann argues that Islam is akin to fascism and communism, since “both, like Islam, provide [a] totalitarian ideology that does not tolerate compromise or negotiation […] except where it is temporarily advantageous.” Of course, any such comparison invites the accusation that one is equating normal Islam with Islamic radicalism. However, this objection falls flat because Islam is inherently radical. “Moderate Muslims in America,” writes religious scholar Robert M. Price, “are good Americans precisely insofar as they take Islam less seriously.”

There are more points of resemblance between Islam and communism than one might expect. In his classic Suicide of the West, James Burnham, himself a former communist, remarks that “communists divide the world into ‘the zone of peace’ and ‘the zone of war’,” with durable peace reserved for “the region that is already subject to communist rule.”¹ An analogous division occurs in Islam with the distinction between the “House of Islam” and the “House of War.” It seems that a sort of convergent evolution has endowed these two radical creeds with some strikingly similar traits. This should not surprise us — ideologies pursuing the same ends will naturally resort to the same tools.

Even the term “Cold War” was, it seems, first anticipated by fourteenth-century Spaniard Don Juan Manuel’s description of hostilities between Christians and Muslims. Again, the parallel is unsurprising. When an ideological group is inherently committed to conquering everyone else, a logical result is for it to subjugate as many outsiders as it can before running up against its limits. At that point, it will settle into an uneasy balance with surrounding groups, a balance marked by enmity and occasional hostilities.

Likely a picture of Don Juan Manuel. Author unknown. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

The fact that Islam is a revolutionary ideology like communism makes the phrase “traditionalist Islam” generally a misnomer. Orthodox Marxists may hold to a particularly conservative version of communism, but one would hardly call them “traditionalist” on that basis. That term is more properly applied to Burkean conservatism, which values tradition as such rather than idolizing one set of prescriptions for social organization and despising all others.

Communism Is Superior

Despite their similarities, the two belief systems differ in their fundamental moral attitudes. Stunningly, Islam manages to make communism look good. Communism may have created atrocities everywhere it was applied, but it was born out of deeply civilized traditions of thought and contains at least an ostensible concern for rational policymaking and for improving people’s lives. That there is a genuinely humanistic element in the communist tradition is suggested by the fact that Marxism has generally caught on in societies which suffered from oppression and poverty, where people were desperate to remedy those ills. In contrast, oil-rich Arab countries which have little grounds for complaint are among the most theocratic in the Muslim world.

The view that left-wing authoritarianism has a genuine humanistic component is bolstered by reasearch which shows a link between high compassion and support for political correctness. For instance, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman summarizes a study by Christine Brophy which shows such a correlation. Kaufman duly notes that having high compassion is not always a positive. Still, compassion is generally, and rightly, regarded as a moral sentiment.

On the other hand, Islamism and the immense body of Islamic tradition which inspires it appeal to mankind’s basest instincts. The attractiveness of present-day Muslim militancy, notes Price, is rooted in resentment against liberal Western culture and “humiliation” caused by the greater success of “Christian and secular powers.” Jamie Glazov and Miranda Devine have identified sexual frustration as a major cause of Muslim radicalism. Even jihadist suicide terrorism is a good deal less heroic than commonly assumed. A recent study by Simon Varaine indicates that, rather than sacrificing themselves out of idealism, suicide terrorists tend to be driven by “common suicidal tendencies.” Their self-destruction stems from misery, not bravery.

The intellectual gulf between these two totalitarian worldviews finds further confirmation in their respective propaganda. Journalist Larisa Epatko has compiled a sample of Soviet posters which underscores this contrast. As Epatko observes, the posters denounce greed and laziness, augur plentiful harvests, encourage literacy, exercise, and enlistment in the Red Army, appeal to people’s devotion to their country and boast of the USSR’s space exploration. As this selection illustrates, standard themes of Soviet propaganda were moralizing messages about civic duty and promises of prosperity and technological progress.

In contrast, Islamic propaganda tends to target base passions in ways which one could never imagine seeing in Soviet media. Egyptian-German intellectual Hamed Abdel-Samad notes that the Qur’an promises admission into paradise to those who fight for Islam. The Islamic image of paradise, he writes, “seems to have been plucked straight from the feverish dreams of desert-dwelling males,” complete with “virgins whose satin robes barely conceal buxom breasts.”²

Obviously, one of these two ideologies is far more civilized than the other. Given this discrepancy, it is hardly surprising that communism can boast of a much more impressive track record, including in military affairs. As a random example, Gérard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin explain that efforts at insurgency in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War were marred by the insurgents’ own ineffectiveness; however, “the Tajik forces under the command of Ahmed Shah Massoud, drawing on Leninist-Maoist organizational tactics, were an exception.”³ In an earlier book, Abdel-Samad argues that one factor driving the decline of Islamic civilization is misogyny, which leads to underutilization of female talent.⁴ This is a microcosm of how an ideology’s built-in deficiencies can forever weaken it, and differences in attitudes toward women may be one reason why communist groups have tended to have the upper hand over Islamist ones. Afghanistan may be cited as a counter-example, but the Afghan communist government was remarkably successful given how overwhelmingly the country’s population opposed it. It is worth recalling that the regime actually outlasted the USSR, only collapsing in 1992.

These historical realities are encouraging. They indicate that when a society is inspired by a Western tradition, even one like communism, such drive can more than suffice to stand up to Islamic fanaticism. The battle is not the enemy’s to win, but ours to lose.

Islam Is Harder to Ditch

One notable difference between Islam and communism is that the former is much more deeply ingrained in the societies where it is prevalent. Today, communism is hardly a viable political force in any democratized country of the former Communist Bloc. Islam, by contrast, is much stickier, unlikely to be rejected by any society within a generation or two. This is only to be expected given that this belief system serves as a religion rather than merely as an ideology. It is also often felt to be an element of ancestral identity. Since Islamic dominance has such deep cultural and historic underpinnings, its reversal must also come through gradual historic shifts rooted in ancient cultural features. Present-day Iran offers perhaps the best example of how such a process can work. As this author has outlined elsewhere, Iran’s extensive pre-Islamic history and long tradition of nationalism provide a helpful counterweight to its imported religion. These elements have helped to create a sitation in which most Iranians are no longer Muslim.

A microcosm of this dynamic is the influence of the Book of Kings or Shahnama on Iranian national consciousness. As Jaan Puhvel writes in Comparative Mythology, this literary masterwork reflects an array of pre-Islamic, Indo-European motifs. “In the midst of Islamic overlay and the Arabic impact,” notes Puhvel, “the epic has contributed vastly to the preservation of linguistic purity, national consciousness, and native culture.”⁵

Against this backdrop, a collapse of the Iranian regime is all the more desirable. If a population of millions of free Iranians emerged which could give voice to its first-hand experiences with Islam, and if the picture of a whole nation which had recoiled from that doctrine presented itself to the world, Islam’s image would suffer a heavy blow. The event would also entail benefits specific to Western discourse. Perhaps such a display would finally get it through to even the most gullible of Western audiences that the phrase “Islamophobia is racism” is balderdash. After all, are the Middle Easterners who abhor Islam racist against themselves? The spectacle of arge-scale Iranian secularization would make this flaw in the woke worldview impossible to ignore.

The Kurds are another group whose distinctive heritage can present a challenge to Islam. According to journalist Peri-Khan Aqrawi-Whitcomb, Kurdish culture shows an inclination to secularism which has deep historical roots. “Most Kurds are indeed self-identifying Muslims,” the author writes, but they are willing to defend secularism “until the bitter end.” A central theme in Aqrawi-Whitcomb’s analysis is that ethnicity is foundational to Kurdish identity and can offset the importance of religion. Moreover, the Kurdish people’s extensive pre-Islamic history puts life under the Muslim creed into perspective, underscoring the fact that Islam is not the only way. If real, these dynamics mirror nationalism’s role in Iran.

Just like Iranian secularism, Kurdish secularism may augur major changes to the role of religion in the Middle East. Columnist and think-tanker Burak Bekdil has argued that power in Turkey will likely shift to Kurdish voters in the future. Turkish Kurds exhibit substantially higher birthrates than the country’s ethnic Turks, who are by now reproducing below the raplacement level. This, contends Bekdil, bodes ill for the ruling Islamist AKP. As mentioned in a briefing by Nigel Walker, Julie Gill, and John Curtis, the chief Kurdish political parties in Turkey are “the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and its affiliate the Democratic Regions Party (DBP),” two groups which are leftist and egalitarian in outlook. By “most estimates,” Kurds now constitute 15 to 20 percent of the population of Turkey, according to Minority Rights Group International.


Faith is a deeply rooted aspect of personal and group identity. Consequently, a religion’s failure to produce positive results rarely discredits it to the same deree as it would a seular ideology. To unseat a religion, it therefore makes sense to emphasize other facets of its adherents’ identity which conflict with the religion. One such facet is ethnicity. Opponents of Islam would do well to emphasize the ideology’s inextricably Arabic nature. In this vein, political scientist Martin Slann adduces several ethnicist elements in Islamic doctrine. In The Sword of the Prophet, Serge Trifkovic describes the long history of Arab racism towards, and enslavement of, other groups, all underpinned by religious justifications.⁶ Such efforts are worth pursuing further. After all, as Hugh Fitzgerald relates, clashes between Berbers and Arabs have slackened Islam’s grip on the former group. A rise in national cosciousness in the Middle East and elsewhere could yet spell Islam’s decline.


1Burnham, James. 1964. Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism. New York: The John Day Company. P.227.

2Abdel-Samad, Hamed. 2016. Islamic Fascism. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books. P.105.

3Chaliand, Gérard, and Arnaud Blin. 2016 (second edition). “From 1968 to Radical Islam.” In The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to ISIS, edited by Gérard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin, 221–254. Oakland: University of California Press. P.222.

4Abdel-Samad, Hamed. 2010. Der Untergang der islamischen Welt: Eine Prognose. Munich: Droemer Knaur. P.21.

5Puhvel, Jaan. 1988 (second printing). Comparative Mythology. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press. P.125.

6Trifkovic, Serge. 2002. The Sword of the Prophet: Islam: History, Theology, Impact On the World. Boston: Regina Orthodox Press. Pp.171–180.