For some time, an argument has been made that the liberal left, in refusing to examine the problems of Islam, has betrayed its Enlightenment roots. That is, while secular, feminist, and protective of free speech in dealing with its Western peers, the liberal left has been accused of abandoning its heritage in its quest for political correctness regarding Muslims.
In truth, however, the left has a distinguished background of courting Islam as a weapon against Western capitalism. Its most representative figures from the past did so frankly, as the following rehearsal of their statements demonstrates.
Karl Marx supported the Ottoman empire, then accused of atrocities against Christians and non-Turkish Muslims. In 1853, as the Crimean War pitting Russia against Turkey began, Marx wrote,
It is not to be denied that Turkey, the weak state, has shown more true courage, as well as more wise statesmanship, than either of her powerful allies [Britain and France] . . . we may justly attribute the delays and hesitation shown in the manoeuvres of Omer Pasha [Latas] to the paralyzing and temporizing influence of Lord Redcliffe and M. [Edmond] de la Cour, [British and French ambassadors to Turkey] over the Divan [the Ottoman court]. At the moment when [Omer Pasha Latas] was opening the campaign, they procured orders to be sent to him to delay the beginning of hostilities. . . . If there be a general war, it will not be the fault of Turkey, but next to Russia, of France and England. They might have prevented it infallibly, but they did not.
Omer Pasha Latas was a brutal and corrupt Ottoman functionary hated especially by Balkan Muslims.
Thus was a pattern established: defend Muslim autocrats, blame the West.
Lenin was so excited by the defeat of Russia by Japan in 1904, the failed Russian revolution of 1905, the 1906 constitutional revolution in Persia, and the 1908 Young Turk revolution in the Ottoman empire, that he wrote,
in Persia Russian counter revolution played and continues to play what amounts to a decisive role, while in Turkey the revolution was at once confronted with a counter-revolutionary coalition of the powers, Russia at their head. True, the general tone of the European press and of the diplomatic statements would appear to contradict this. If we are to believe these statements and the semi-official press, there is universal “sympathy” with regenerated Turkey, a universal desire to see her constitutional regime strengthened and developed, general praise for the “moderation” of the bourgeois Young Turks. All these fine words, however, are typical of the base bourgeois hypocrisy of Europe’s “present-day” reactionary governments and present-day reactionary bourgeoisie.
Once again: Muslims as manipulated victims, the West at fault, and, repudiation of Western sympathy for modernization of Muslim societies.
After the Bolshevik Revolution, Muslims under Russian rule were granted a special status. The Communist International held the 1920 Baku Congress of Peoples of the East in which Muslim delegates called for struggle against the West with Russian support. There, a Bolshevik intellectual, Karl Radek, declared,
We appeal, comrades, to the warlike feelings which once inspired the peoples of the East when these peoples, led by their great conquerors, advanced upon Europe. We know, comrades, that our enemies will say that we are appealing to the memory of Genghis Khan and to the memory of the great conquering Caliphs of Islam . . . when the capitalists of Europe say that a new wave of barbarism threatens . . . we answer them: Long live the Red East, which together with the workers of Europe will create a new civilization under the banner of Communism!
These declarations shouldn’t surprise us. When anti-imperialism is the concept and purpose that defines a movement, it will naturally find allies in radical Islam, which presents itself precisely as a creation of colonial oppression.
Stephen Schwartz is Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP).