The Totalitarians Within

Stalinism, Islam and history's lessons for today.

David Horowitz's 1989 essay “Carl Bernstein’s Communist Problem & Mine,” which was reprinted at Front Page recently, not only makes points about the true nature of the Communist faith that are vital to remember.  The essay also, by extension, underscores important truths about the nature of all totalitarian faiths – including Islam.

In the essay, Horowitz wrote about his upbringing in “a colony of Jewish Communists” in an otherwise ordinary Queens neighborhood.  These Communists, he explained, “lived two lives.”  They postured as law-abiding middle-class liberals, but were really secret agents taking orders from Moscow.  What brought meaning to their lives was the hope and belief that someday they would be called upon by the Party to “go underground” and “take the lead in the revolutionary struggle” to overthrow American democracy.

Horowitz knows about this colony because he grew up in it.  But you could've lived amidst these families for decades and not known.  You could've thought of them as your best friends.

For a decade or so after World War II, there was a general awareness that some Americans did indeed have covert totalitarian loyalties.  To most Americans, such a thing did not then seem inconceivable.  The war was fresh in their memories.  GIs had fought millions of people who were true believers in totalitarian ideology.  Most Americans had no illusions about what Stalin and his followers stood for.  The media weren't hesitant to use phrases like “Free World” and “Iron Curtain.”  If anyone did doubt the existence of Communist networks in the U.S., the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee provided proof.

HUAC had its critics, of course.  One of them was Arthur Miller, whose 1952 play The Crucible introduced the idea that the HUAC hearings were a “witch hunt,” rooted in irrational hysteria, of the sort that had taken place in colonial Salem.  Miller's play would become a staple of high-school curricula – and the premise that postwar concern about American Communism had, at root, been irrational and hysterical, would become the received wisdom of post-Sixties America.  Even after it became established that Miller himself, at the very least, had strong Communist ties and sympathies, the post-Sixties cultural elite held him up, perversely, as a champion of liberal values.

When it came to American Communists, the Sixties revolution turned everything upside down.  Beginning in the 1970s, a spate of movies, documentaries, books, and other works depicted McCarthy and his ilk as the very personification of evil and made heroes of the men and women who'd been blacklisted in Hollywood.  All of the Hollywood Ten, it turned out, had indeed been Stalinists, but that didn't matter.  It was almost as if Stalinism were a race, and the Hollywood Ten had been the victims of something akin to racism.

The main topic of Horowitz's essay is Carl Bernstein's 1989 book Loyalties, a paean to Bernstein's dad, who, it turned out, had been a Stalinist agent just like the ones Horowitz grew up around.  The old man, in fact, had used his connections to get Carl his first newspaper job.  Bernstein and his Washington Post colleague Bob Woodward were, of course, two of the major cultural heroes of post-Sixties America; the received wisdom was that they'd saved American democracy by bringing down Nixon.  Bernstein's declaration of loyalty to – and profound admiration for – his Communist dad didn't shake his reputation one bit.  On the contrary, the national climate, when it came to these matters, had transformed so dramatically by 1989 that the major newspaper book reviews, as Horowitz notes, chided Bernstein “for not justifying his parents’ Communist politics enough” (my emphasis).  The plain fact that American Stalinists were enemies of freedom and agents of a murderous totalitarian regime had been dropped down the memory hole.  The reigning idea now was that they were basically liberals, only more so – idealists who were driven, essentially, by a heightened dedication to democratic values.

All this has living relevance for us today, as we deal with Islam in the West.  After 9/11, it seemed for a brief moment as if that atrocity might inaugurate a long-overdue process of education about the true totalitarian nature of Islamic ideology – that Americans might finally be clued into the fact that the terrorists' actions were entirely in line with the dictates of their faith.  Instead, just as the post-Sixties leftist establishment had whitewashed Stalinism, so, in the wake of 9/11, people in power – the mainstream media, political leaders, even military and police officials – did their best to whitewash Islam.

Never mind the centrality to Islam of the doctrine of jihad, which underlies all acts of Islamic terrorism, and which explains why the much touted “silent majority” of staunchly pro-freedom, anti-terrorist Muslims has never materialized.  No, Americans were told over and over that Islam is a religion of peace, that the overwhelming majority of American imams preach brotherhood and tolerance, that Muslim terrorists are traitors to their faith, and that fervent Muslim belief is not inconsistent in any way with a love of freedom.

Carl Bernstein, in his book, characterized the postwar investigations of American Stalinists as a fascist “Reign of Terror” – all the while deep-sixing the actual terror that was being practiced by the regime to which those Stalinists had pledged their loyalty.  Such was the topsy-turvy post-Sixties take on these matters.  In the same way, ever since 9/11, Muslim leaders and their friends in the cultural elite have painted a picture of an America, and indeed an entire Western world, in which Muslims are daily terrorized by the non-Muslim majority – a picture which, of course, in these days when Jews are fleeing Europe to escape Muslim bullying, is entirely the opposite of the truth.

The facts about Islam – just like the facts about Stalinism – are crystal clear.  And yet when you try to explain those facts to some people, they react as if...well, as if you'd told them their nice, ordinary, next-door neighbors were secret agents taking orders from the Kremlin.

As with Stalinism, what makes the truth about Islam so difficult for so many people to swallow is precisely the fact that it is so extreme.  Who could believe that millions of people living in a free country would really want to live under a law that punishes the victims of rapes and prescribes death for apostates?  Like the reality of Stalinist ideology, the reality of Islamic theology is so thoroughly monstrous, and so thoroughly foreign to most Americans' sensibilities, that many Americans find it beyond imagining that people living next door to them might actually live by – and be prepared to die for – such beliefs.

One thing that today's American jihadists have in common with the American Stalinists of yesteryear is that they've discovered the remarkable usefulness, in their struggle to manipulate Western minds, of the word peace.  One of the Kremlin's favorite stratagems, back in the day, was to invite manipulable authors and intellectuals from the Free World (among them Arthur Miller) to “peace conferences” and “peace councils,” the word peace being employed to convince these dupes that the Soviet Union stood for peaceful coexistence and that the Cold War was the fault of the warmongering West.  The idea was that these useful idiots would return home and make use of their cultural influence to help shape the views of the general public – who, in the fullness of time (for Stalinists, like jihadists, were patient people), would vote to put their government in the hands of other fools whose policies would render the West more susceptible to Soviet conquest.

Since 9/11, jihadists and their allies have employed the word peace in much the same way.  It's remarkable how quickly the absurd notion of Islam as a “religion of peace” spread around the Western world – and how hard it's been to dislodge.

David Horowitz's 1989 essay provides a very useful reminder that for the kind of person to whom the horror of totalitarianism is self-evident, it can be well-nigh impossible to accept that one's neighbors, friends, and relatives – people who seem perfectly nice, reasonable, and intelligent – might in fact be devoted to totalitarianism heart and soul.  It was one of the strengths of Stalinism, in its war with the West, and is one of the strengths of Islam, in its war with the West, that human beings who are happy to be free cannot easily conceive of free individuals whose lives are utterly devoted to the replacement of liberty with utter submission to a barbarous faith.

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