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Why Islam is the new Marxism

By Tanveer Ahmed - posted Wednesday, 23 August 2006

The central conflict in the war on ideas lies in what we think is the underlying stuff of man and therefore how we think societies should be organised. Regardless of what ideology has ruled human affairs, they have all provided answers to this question. This is true in religion as it is in politics.

As the conflict in the Middle East continues to rage, and images stifle the quest for truth, the secular influences of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah are not obvious to the neutral observer. Nor is their attraction to the young Muslim in the Sydney street or the professional living in Indonesia clear.

As Paul Kelly writes in The Australian on August 9: “The core problem seems to be the attraction of the Islamist movement.”


The 20th century saw the demise of communism, despite its attraction to millions of people who felt poor or downtrodden. It was exposed as a totalitarian system which stifled the aspirations of man. But its stain is spreading within the casing of Islamic fundamentalism.

This does not seem obvious, especially considering bin Laden himself was instrumental in defeating the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan over two decades ago.

Furthermore, the Iranian revolution was in part a reaction to the perceived Godlessness of communism knocking at its doorstep. This was mimicked to a lesser degree throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to Jordan.

But the old Marxists are now rearing their influence in many of the Islamic political parties which are rapidly rising in popularity, in response to inept, autocratic Arab governments.

Arab governments have closed off opportunity to such an extent that secular forces such as communism or liberalism have minimal outlets. Furthermore, the Arab socialism of the 1970s, represented by the likes of Anwar Sadat, is seen to have been a failure.

One of the few places for a political voice is at the mosque and through religion. Religion provides the cloak for what is essentially politics.


As a result, political Islam is on the rise throughout the Arab world. The first municipal election in Saudi Arabia delivered wins for Islamic parties and of course there was the election of Hamas by the Palestinians. Many of the leaders representing political Islam have previous ties to Arab socialism.

This is particularly true in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood won a fifth of the vote in elections last year. The veteran foreign correspondent, Mary Ann Weaver, writes in her book A Portrait of Egypt: “A number of my former professors from the American University of Cairo were Marxists twenty years ago - fairly adamant, fairly doctrinaire Marxists. They are now equally adamant, equally doctrinaire Islamists.”

The developments in Egypt are potent for it has long been a leader in the region.

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First published in The Australian on August 11, 2006.

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About the Author

Dr Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatrist, author and local councillor. His first book is a migration memoir called The Exotic Rissole. He is a former SBS journalist, Fairfax columnist and writes for a wide range of local and international publications.
He was elected to Canada Bay Council in 2012. He practises in western Sydney and rural NSW.

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