The Left’s Converging Political Misjudgments: Communism and Radical Islam

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Other notable leftist sympathizers with radical Islam include George Galloway, (former Labor member of the British Parliament), Naomi Klein, and the late Edward Said. Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash are distinguished by their shared scorn for Ayaan Hirshi Ali, the Somali-born critic of Islam and former member of the Dutch parliament, who has been subject to numerous death threats. By contrast, they both think well of Tariq Ramadan, the well known Western spokesman of Islamist causes who pretends to be a moderate when addressing Western academic audiences. In his Murder in Amsterdam, Buruma postulated a moral equivalence between alleged Dutch racism and Muslim fundamentalism.

As to the recent responses to the potential rise in power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Bruce Riedel of the Brookings Institute in an op-ed advised “Don’t Fear Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood” and Shadi Hamid (also of Brookings) wrote that “Westerners should not lose sleep over the Brotherhood’s inclusion… A pragmatic organization at its core.” [12]

While not even the most bitterly alienated American leftists can easily glorify or fully justify the traditional, repressive and less than fully rational aspects of Islamic political culture (including Sharia law), a number of similarities may be found between their attitudes toward communist systems and those toward radical, political Islam. The appreciation of anti-Americanism and a broader anti-Westernism are not the only similarities. Many Western leftists and especially intellectuals among them have found the collectivism of both communist systems and of Islam appealing given their yearning for community and their rejection of capitalistic  competitiveness, as well as their apprehensions about social isolation in Western capitalist societies. They also find attractive the apparent sense of purpose permeating both communist and Islamic societies and movements. The most alienated among American and other Western intellectuals are also drawn to the fundamentalist Islamic rejection of modernity: they too reject many aspects of modernity, namely popular culture, consumerism, moral relativism and assorted social pathologies such as crime, alcoholism and drug addiction.

Authenticity, the unity of word and deed (or theory and practice), is also highly prized by leftist Western intellectuals and their followers and they find a great deal of it among militant Islamic radicals. Indisputably, suicide bombers act out their beliefs, they unite theory and practice, as communist revolutionaries used to a long time ago.

Nonetheless, Western leftist views of the relationship between theory and practice are not consistent, neither as regards communist systems of the past nor the religious-fundamentalist Islamic movements of the present. During the Cold War, leftist peace activists, as well as numerous academic specialists, used to argue that the Soviet Union was not a serious threat because its policies (including those flagrantly aggressive) were largely defensive and not motivated by ideology (by Marxism-Leninism). The West could “do business” with the Soviet Union (and other communist systems) because it no longer pursued a militant, messianic, expansionist policy and because theory ceased to matter, as Soviet leaders became increasingly pragmatic. They further suggested that peaceful coexistence was possible provided the West make a serious attempt to understand the grievances and insecurities of communist leaders – a view strikingly similar to current exhortations to engage Islamic movements and their leaders in a dialogue.

There is a further, striking similarity between the past dismissal of ideology as a force in the conduct of communist systems and the current denials that Islamic religious values and beliefs play a part in Islamic violence although suicide bombers regularly affirm their unshakeable belief in the generous other-wordly rewards that await them. They are confident that putting to death a sufficient number of American, British, Israeli, Indonesian, Iraqi or Spanish infidels – men, women, children and the old, will usher in a better world.

As in the old days, the Left insists that a better, non-judgmental approach will mollify Islamic extremists and radicals – as was hoped to be the case in regard to Communist leaders and ideologues. They believe that adopting conciliatory attitudes and policies will lead to peace, goodwill and rational discourse. It is difficult for critics of the United States and Western values to attribute irrationality to the enemies of their countries and social systems.

Ready attribution of moral equivalence is another similarity between attitudes toward communist systems and radical Islam. As may be recalled, during the Cold War, and especially following the 1960s, it was widely held by leftist intellectuals in the United States (and elsewhere) that there was little to choose between American or Soviet imperialism, between the two corrupt and oppressive super powers. More recently, American and Israeli policies have been equated with, and held responsible for, the violence of Islamic terrorists, who, in this perspective, had no choice but to engage in their campaigns of destruction and violence to draw attention to their grievances.

In the final analysis, it is difficult to quantify the similarities between the two sets of attitudes and misperceptions discussed above. The leftist support for communist systems and ideologies probably greatly exceeded present day sympathy for radical Islam in the same circles. Communist systems – their ideology, slogans, and promises – were easier to idealize than present day Islamic fanaticism, dogmatic rigidity and murderous intolerance. What has been similar is the misperception and wishful misjudgment of both political entities because they meet certain needs and allowed leftist intellectuals to project upon them attributes they valued and could not find in their own society. Most importantly, they have been seen in a favorable light because they shared the hostility toward Western societies and traditions which has animated many leftist intellectuals for several generations.

Paul Hollander is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and associate of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. He is the author or editor of fourteen books, including Political Pilgrims.


[1]. John Tierney: “Social Scientist Sees Bias Within,” New York Times, February  8, 2011.

[2] Simon Romero: “In Venezuela, an American Has the President’s Ear,” New York Times, February 5, 2011]

[3] Tom Wolfe proposed  that indignation was an essential quality of the intellectual “that elevated him to a plateau of moral superiority.” [“In the Land of the  Rococo Marxists,” Hooking Up, New York, 2000, p.117.]

[4] Of course some Third World countries have also been communist and therefore all the more appealing, i.e. Cuba, China (under Mao), Vietnam, Nicaragua and others.

[5] Falk quoted in  New York Times, February 19, 1979.

[6] Http:/www.

[7] Wesley Young: “The Philosopher and the Ayatollah,” Boston Globe, June 12, 2005. See also James Miller: The Passion of Michel  Foucault, Cambridge, MA  2000.

[8] Hitchens in Slate, September 7, 2004.

[9] Zachary Hughes in CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting) , July 20, 2006.

[10] Finkelstein: “Islamophobia and Holocaust Denial” see his  ”official website” December 1, 2007.

[11] DiscovertheNetworks.Org cited,  indid=861; see also George Packer on Lynne Stewart  in New York Times Magazine, September 22, 2002.

[12] Quoted in David Flynn: “Brookings and the Brotherhood” Frontpage, February 19, 2011.

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  • Chezwick_Mac

    "Why do people on the Left, and especially intellectuals — often motivated by high ideals and good intentions — so often make poor political judgments…?"

    It's a mixture of arrogance and myopia. I'll take good ole common sense over the "vision" of an intellectual any day of the week.

  • HelgaMarie

    Good intentions….good intentions…hmmm…oh,yes…isn't that the stuff they use to pave the road to hell with?

    • Exspook1

      Hello there. I have read many of your postings and they are great. I love hearing from conservative Canadians. You folks have a beautiful country and have always…well…at least since the War of 1812…been a great friend and ally. I will never forget hearing an interview conducted in Januqry 2002 of Canadian soldiers in Tora Bora. When asked if they agreed with being sent to Afganistan all of the soldiers essentially said the same thing…..the terrorists hit New York but it could have been Ottawa or Monteral….we are in this fight together.

      The next time you see a Canadian soldier, sailor or airman, please tell them that many many Americans thank them for their support and sacrifices and care as much we we hear of one of them being wounder or killed as we do for our our soldier.

      God Bless you and your Nation.

      • HelgaMarie

        Thank you so much for your comments.You sound like a very caring and thoughtful person.I appreciate your admiration for our country and our soldiers and I feel the same way about your country and military.I love the U.S.and feel strongly that it is the greatest nation that has ever existed…oops,I can almost hear all liberals everywhere gagging…sorry,but it's a fact that I have no problem proclaiming.My own personal example of the greatness of the U.S….my grandmother was born in Germany in 1908 and was an ardent Nazi supporter…until she met an American Air Force member,fell in love and married him.She became a true and proud American citizen and is buried with her husband in Arlington National cemetery.
        I will pass on your message to any soldiers I know here and may God continue to bless your country and citizens.

        • Exspook1

          My wife's father is much like your grandmother. He is from Korea and joined the communist party. Before the war started he went north from Seoul to North Korea. Given his education and family name they made him a Commissar. He was assigned to a North Korean regiment and the regimental commander could not give an order unless my father in law approved and (literally) said it was politically correct. They were in combat for several months and pulled back to Inchon to rest when MacArthur landed with 45,000 Marines. My father in-law was wounded. Commissars at the time wore civilian clothes. He was treated by marine corpsmen and got to see the Americans up close. He spoke English and became a translator. I will spare you the details but he was eventually spotted as a Red and escaped to Japan. He became very successful in business and wrote a book that was a best seller in Korea and Japan that called Communism a false religion. He too says that the US is great country and has done more for the world than any other nation in history.

          May God bless us all. We are in a very long and difficult fight….difficult only because liberals fail to see the truth.

          • HelgaMarie

            Your father-in-laws' story is another testament to the greatness of the U.S.
            I am a proud Canadian but if I couldn't be there would be no second thoughts…I'd be honoured to be an American…I kind of like to think I am each February when I spend the month in Florida!
            I agree thoroughly that we are in for a hard fight….liberalism has a serious blind spot when it comes to the truth.Whether it's American or Canadian,liberalism is such a childish way of seeing things complete with temper tantrums when they don't get their way.

          • Exspook1

            If you ever decide to move south permanently we would love to have you.

            I took my oldest daughter, a sophomore in college, to see Atlas Shrugged last night. We spent about 2 hours after the movie discussing the economy, politics, world events, my fomrer work at the CIA after law school, etc. She is a business major with a concentration in international business. She had a 3.92 GPA in high school and now in college she has a 3.9 GPA. I joked with her that it would be fair to the students who did not put in her marathon study sessions to share her grades with them…say shave off hers to 3.0 to help the needy….her response was a firm "Never, I worked for those grades." I have great hopes for her. I do not own a railroad or a business…..but if comrade obama and the libs do not destroy this nation I have believe my daughter will someday achieve great things…..and that is the dream and the magic of America.

          • HelgaMarie

            Well,it's so nice to know that I already have a welcoming committee awaiting my arrival to America!
            You are clearly very proud of your daughter.I would expect great things from her as well being that she obviously has her head on right.I have a niece like that.She's in university too and already an outstanding student.She's also very conservative and often tells me how all the libs at the school look down on her.It's a grim environment where nothing but political correctness matters so much so that she feels it's best to not speak her true thoughts.So much for the "open-mindedness" that liberals like to brag about.I will never figure these people out.The left like to continually carry on about how awful the U.S. is or even Canada and yet where is it the rest of the world wants to come to?How awful can we possibly be if everyone else wants to be a part of us?
            We have a federal election on May 2 and all the liberal attack ads carry on about how dire our situation is with the present conservative government in charge…this is craziness….our country has remained remarkably stable the past few years while so many other nations are in financial turmoil.I guess when you're on the left the truth is just a waste of time.

          • Exspook1

            The left and truth are two diametrically opposed concepts.

            I attended a Catholic University in the early 1970's where political correctness simply did not exist. There was open thought. Students could even challenge priests on the concept of God, salvation, the Trinity, etc. The school was based on an open and free exchange of ideas.

            My MBA program was void of political correctness. I was in the Air Force in North Dakota. The service paid the University of North Dakota to set up a graduate program on base. All of the students were missile launch officers (Minuteman III nukes) and B-52 crews. The professors had all been successful business people before joining academia.

            I hit political correctness at Stanford Law School. I was amazed at how the libs attempted to silence conservatives. I had debated libs since high school, but this was different. They were out to silence us and treat us as pin heads for supporting conservative ideals. I was not one to be silenced and have the grades to prove it from several super lib professors who controlled non-PC thought with low grades.

            I wish your niece well. I feel sorry for kids today. My daughter is fearful of expressing conservative ideas but she is starting to open up. She sees the foolishness of the left and how they are factually inaccurate.

            Good luck with your election. The libs of course will spread lies and fear…they always do. I have not read about voter fraud in Canada so I naively assume your elections are fair. In the US, the libs have largely destroyed the integrity of the electoral process. Voter fraud is rampant in the US. Federal and State lib judges have ruled that to require voters show a drivers license to prove one's identity has a chilling effect on voting…I guess it scares away deceased democrats who continue to vote for at least 20 to 30 yrs after they die… there is an idea…maybe libs are zombies.

            Take care and have a nice evening.

          • HelgaMarie

            The only good thing about libs trying to silence the right is that it is a certain indicator that they have no idea how to combat the right legitimately…if you can't come up with any snappy comebacks to the truth may as well go to plan B and just shut the other side up….a cowardly method but if that's the best they've got it all the more assures us that we do have a firm grip on reality.
            We don't really have any issues with voter fraud here but the one thing that is a concern is that if the Conservatives don't win a majority,the 3 left-wing parties can form a coalition and go yammering to the Governor General about some non-confidence thing and next thing you know,the 3 Stooges are running the show.The top stooge would be Michael Ignatieff who would be,beyond a doubt,our creepiest PM ever…a man who has spent more time in England and the U.S. than in Canada and who once said,"The only thing he missed about Canada was Algonquin Park"….nice guy.Well,let's hope for the best as well as for you folks next year!

          • Exspook1

            Helga Marie,

            I will do a little reading on Mr. Ignatieff. The libs here and in Canada seem to be letting their real trolls out in public. The true face of liberalism is being shown.

            Hmmm….Ignatieff has spent time in England, but was he born in Canada? Here in the US we really are not too sure about our Dear Leader because he refuses to show his birth certificate…..and no school records.

            Take care. It is refreshing to know that this world still has voices of reason. I do not want to be melodramatic, but with everything going on…the mideast going up in flames, radical moslems on the rise, libs popping up every where….the riots in London……it is comforting to contact a fellow conservative like you in another country. There are lots of us….even in Europe. When you look at the polls and statistics there are still many conservatives in the UK, France, Holland, Italy…..etc. There are a lot more of us than the libs like to admit…..stay safe and thank you for your comments.

          • HelgaMarie

            It's been very nice having these quick messages back and forth with a fellow rational person! I too believe there are many more of us out there than anyone realizes but since we are not needy and always desiring attention like many libs, we generally keep a low profile.The immediate future and the long range as well,promise to be very interesting.All the best to you and thanks for your comments as well!

  • Steve Chavez

    Until there is an open and frank discussion and analysis of our own COMMUNIST PARTY USA (CPUSA), which is the ROOT CULT hiding underground, only exposing the visible branches, and little leaves like Chomsky, is a waste of time! What is needed is a "Communist Party USA Awareness Month (not a week!)!

    For over twenty years of studying the CPUSA, and their fronts, tactics and motives, they, and their closet members, are the real power behind many of today's protests/Wisconsin/50 states and movements! This Circle of Communists can pull the strings of their puppets in Congress and the White House at any time! Since they are professional protesters, they are the most visible, until the Tea Party, and in front of the MSM cameras which are also run by their Circle of Communists! Their media gets their word out but silences all opposition or makes them out to be the extremists!


  • waterwillows

    There is also the evident fact that a number of people find evil attractive. They think of evil as being the stronger, more satisifying road in life. It appears to do much more for their ego than any good can do.
    Their 'high and lofty' ideals are usually just a mask for viewing evil as the best bee-line to obtain certain results. In this twisted viewpoint they think of the carnage, destruction and dehumanization mayhem as vital and necessary. It is somewhat like the doctor who finds the patient gets in the way of the cure.
    Very few of these people are what I would call people persons. We're too unimportant for them compared to the objectives. We don't really understand the 'good' they wish to impose on us. We need to be micro-managed for our own best interests and they proceed to all that they can to be this 'manager'.
    But worst of all…..they are a people devoured by evil and deceived greatly.

  • Steve Chavez

    The COMMUNIST PARTY USA supports DICTATOR FIDEL CASTRO, now for fifty years, the world's longest, and if the people of Cuba rose up against him and he resorted to the same tactics as Gaddafi and mowed down the protestors, our CPUSA would support their hero against "the counter-revolutionaires!" They supported the Communist takeover of Central America! They support the Communist Zapatistas and meddle, and encouraged, teacher protests in Oaxaca! They supported Manuel Zelaya of Honduras! They support FARC! They support Hugo Chavez! "No War on Iran!" "The terrorists are the real freedom fighters!" "We support the troops when they kill their officers!" "Overthrow of the United States through force if necessary!" They support Hamas, Hezbollah, and every enemy of the United States!

    They want our downfall as REVENGE for the United States, and the world, cheering at the Fall of the Wall, the Iron Curtain, and the country they loved more than their own, the Soviet Union! KNOW THY ENEMY WITHIN! Go to and If it sounds like you are reading Democrat Party talking points, it's not a coincidence!

  • Stephen_Brady

    "Even a highly oppressive theocracy such as the one established in Iran earned the sympathy and support of prominent American intellectuals such as Richard Falk (of Princeton University) who in 1979 thought that Ayatollah Khomeini was “defamed” by the American news media and believed that he created “a new model of popular revolution based, for the most part, on non-violent tactics;” in his view, Iran was going to “provide us with a desperately needed model of human governance.”

    If the ignorance of Porfessor Falk wasn't so sad, it would be hilarious. "Non-violent tactics"? What planet did he live on?

    Of course, the answer is plain and obvious. If a person hates America, he is "good", and should be supported. That's what they're actually saying to us, right?

  • Patrick Henry

    Moral relativism is a mask for anti-capitalism. It leads to moral confusion, appeasement, apologies and support for our enemies. The anti-capitalist mentality is rooted in a deep hatred of individualism. The prefer that the masses be unified to serve the needs of the collective, whether that's the tribe, the clan, the monarchy, the fatherland, or the people.

    To reject individualism is to reject the idea that humans are capable of rational thought and can know what's in their own interest. If we are not rational, we are like beasts that must be herded into a collective solution for our own good. Of course there are a few who must be our masters, our government planners. This desire to rule over others, to force people against their will, is at the root of violence and evil. The only antedote is individualism: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a purpose for living, not to serve the collective and the elites.

  • Guest

    The soft intellectuals that support radicalism do so out of hate for the capitalist system which they perceive to have historically ignored them and denigrated their worth. The liberal arts professoriate was, and to some extent, remains a fifth wheel in the American creative dynamic exemplified by the calloused hands of Industrial Revolution and Westward Expansion. This perceived intellectual insult continues to fester in the halls of academe. So Professors of English swim with the Marxists the way that the Remora swim with sharks: the former get shelter and scraps left by the deadly proficiency of the former. Not complicated.

  • MKS

    Leftist Progressivism and Radical Islam unite in their desire to eliminate the Judaeo-Christian wordlview and ethic, and are willing to support one another until this is accomplished. Each desires to dominate the world, and supposes that – once the support for Judaeo-Christian thought is gone – it will also be able to conquer its temporary ally.

  • Guest

    Oops! Last sentence should read "…scraps left by the deadly proficiency of the LATTER.

  • Morty62

    As a person who still holds to many left-wing beliefs but who could not reconcile my admiration for Western culture with Islam's unmitigated hatred of it, I can say that this analysis is right on the money. People on the left do not hate America, as right-wing pundits constantly assert. Instead, they feel that a certain phoniness and corruption has set in that is eroding our democracy from the inside out: empty commercialism, greed, obsessions with digital games and celebrity culture etc … So it's easy to understand how the totally un-ironic lifestyle promoted by Islam holds a certain appeal for disaffected Lefties. That said, I think they are dead wrong and both pity and despise them for acting as apologists and facilitators for a cultural gestalt that is so … well … reactionary. Also, there is just no way, considering the absolutely toxic acrimony that has grown between the right and left in recent years, that anyone on the the left is going to agree with someone like Newt Gingrich or Glenn Beck, even if, on this subject, they are correct.

  • USMCSniper

    Caroline Glick has it right:

    "Two important things happened during Qaradawi’s appearance in Cairo. First, his handlers refused to allow Google’s Egyptian Internet revolutionary Wael Ghonim to join the cleric on the dais. For anyone willing to notice, Qaradawi’s message in spurning Ghonim was indisputable. As far as the jihadists are concerned, Ghonim and his fellow Internet activists are the present day equivalent of Lenin’s useful idiots.

    They did their job of convincing credulous Western liberals that the overthrow of Mubarak was all about sweetness and light. And now they are no longer needed.

    The second message was Qaradawi’s call to destroy Israel. With millions of adoring fans crying out “Amen,” and “Allahu Akhbar,” Qaradawi called for a Muslim conquest of Jerusalem – that is, for the destruction of Israel. As a first step, he demanded that the Egyptian military open the Egyptian border with Gaza.

    • WilliamJamesWard

      Caroline Glick always has it right, her track record is 100%……….William

      • AL__

        Caroline Glick is cool.

  • Wesley69

    The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The Left may view Islam as intolerant and backwards, but it is hostile to American libertry & freedom. The Left feels that Muslim Extremism can be used against Conservative America, that they can control it to achieve their objective of a Communist society. It is like the story of the scorpion and the turtle. The Left is the turtle.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    I believe that evil begets evil and that the intellectuals (barf) see that
    it would be a quicker road for Communism to take in and Islamist
    state, one of totalitarianism for them to gain dominance. Capatalists
    give to much to individuals and the addiction of freedom spoils the
    populace and diverges the thinking of all individuals. To make the point
    it is easier to control people thinking one way, subvert and take over
    but they may be in for a surprise as the Mullahs are crafty, not gullible
    as Catholic Bishops and South American leaders. It is difficult looking
    into a cesspool and differentiate,leftist intellectualism leads to mental

  • Kirk

    This is a pretty thin excuse to bash human intellect. What does left or right in America have to do with what's happening in other people's countries? What are we supposed to do? Do we mount World War Three and declare against the Muslim religion? Do we occupy Egypt? And Yemen? And every other Muslim country in the world? What then? Do we imprison all these billions of Muslims? Who's going to feed them in jail? What is the point of this article? There's no solution offered. There's no plan for action. Prescott Bush, grandfather to George W. Bush ran the Union Bank for Hitler. Look it up. Does that make Prescott Bush a leftist intellectual? Wrong side of history, indeed. Is being intellectual automatically a defecit? Should we stop educating our children before they become intellectuals? Shut down all universities now before this plague spreads. This stuff is pathetic.

  • PAthena

    The so-called Left which supports tyrannies everywhere, is Anti-American, etc. is really motivated by the lust for power. The United States, "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal" (Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address) is opposed to such lust for tyrannical power.

  • ajag23

    I really enjoyed Prof. Hollander's excellent analysis of the American left. I would only add the Law Schools to his list of left-controlled departments at American Universities. A recent article in "Commentary", March 2011, by Walter Olson describes the shocking uniformity at these Law Schools: Democrats outnumber Republicans by 28 to 1, by 23 to 1 at Columbia, and Harvard is said to have gone 30 years without hiring a single Republican.

  • joel

    I do not believe that the "heart of darkness" has been reached in the above article. The naturalistic/secular/scientific'godless intellectual seeks to destroy the Judaic-Christian ethic because they see it as the creator of capitalism. This ethic alone values the individual as communism and islam do not. If we are not unique creations of God,we cannot claim individuality. Dostoevsky said it best:"Without God everything is permitted".