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The Domination of Ideologues

By April 12, 2007 No Comments

As the world is increasingly forced to confront the crisis in Islam, one constant refrain is heard: “Send for the Moderate Muslims”. The hope is that these – whoever they may be – can somehow confront the Jihadists, defeat their ideology and assert a kinder, gentler version of Islam that the rest of the World can tolerate. Don’t hold your breath.

There are indeed “Moderate Muslims”; kindly, gentle people who are good neighbours and make excellent friends. The author has the personal acquaintance of a half dozen whose integrity and humanity is most admirable. There are Muslim reformers of intellectual and physical courage, and who are lucid communicators with skilled analytical minds and strong passion. Again, the author has met reformers like Irshad Manji and real moderates like Tarek Fatah, and has the strongest respect and admiration for them. [1] However, against the Jihad, they may have all the influence of a snowball in a steel mill.

The reason? Jihadis use force and intimidation, lies and distortions, and form vast networks: Moderate Muslims – like moderate people in most societies — do not.

In the time of Nazi Germany, there were ‘moderate Germans’ – decent ordinary people of good will and harmless intent. Despite Stalin and Mao’s best efforts, the majority of the people living under their grip were as decent and kindly as anyone anywhere can hope to be. Hitler, Stalin and Mao, like most other demagogues, had moderate political opponents at one time or another who represented a viable alternative to the horrible ideologies these men represented – and all were crushed.

The Jihad arising out of both Sunni and Shia Islam is a violent ideological movement. If we remember anything out of our worst experiences in the 20th Century, it should be the power that ruthless ideological movements can exercise when they seek to control large numbers of other people.

Membership in the Nazi Party in Germany varied, but there were about 2 million people carried on the membership rolls of the party when Hitler took power in 1933. On the eve of the Second World War, Germany’s population had reached 79.5 million and at the height of its expansion (with the subsequent annexation of much territory from its neighbors), this figure had reached 116 million – all guided and controlled by one million activists. [2] By 1945, some 6.8 million people were listed as party members, although the active and ideologically committed members of the party probably never numbered more than one million.

As is often the case in countries dominated by a single party, a lot of people join for personal advantage or to protect their careers. Millions of Nazi Party members joined because that was the route into the civil service, for professional advancement, or a shelter from criticism – this doesn’t mitigate any of the crimes that can be levied against the Nazis, but is a simple statement of fact. The one million core Nazis, the activists and true believers, were enough to drive tens of millions of Germans down a dark path.

This happened because most people will seek to avoid antagonizing those who seem disturbing or frightening to them. Most people put their heads down, walk on the other side of the street, and try to stay out of trouble. As it was for millions of Germans, so it is now for tens of millions of Muslims.

The Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin was deadlier than Nazi Germany and piled up many more corpses — although they never quite matched the pace of killing set by the Germans once the latter finally established the physical mechanisms for mass murder. Like Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union was a totalitarian state established by ideologues belonging to one political party and millions of Soviet citizens flocked to join that party.

Of course, under Stalin, membership in the Communist Party was no protection as around 1.6 million Soviet communists were purged (with frequently fatal results) between 1934 and 1939 when membership fell from 3.5 million to 1.9 million. In the mid 1980s, there were about 19 million members of the CPSU (about 10% of the total population of the USSR). What is more important is the size of the party when it took power: By the end of the Russian Civil War in 1922 and the re-structuring of the Czars’ old empire as the USSR, there were only around 200,000 members of the Party – then known as the Russian Communist Party. These were enough to dominate a country of 150 million people. [3]

Each of these 200,000 ideologues was able to dominate 750 other people, and secure the establishment of the Soviet Union. The ratio of active supporters of the Jihad to other Muslims is much higher than this – perhaps one committed ideologue for every 25 other Muslims.

Almost as impressive as the Bolshevik triumph is the achievement of the Chinese Communist Party; which managed to overcome Mao’s brutality and ineptitude to survive (no mean feat) and then capture all China. [4] Again, against China’s teeming millions, the Communist Party was a tiny minority, but it prevailed.

This is the lesson that we must always remember: A ruthless minority with a lust for power can always dominate the majority unless sternly checked – and usually, the earlier they are halted, the better.

In the struggle between violent ideologues and peaceful moderates; the latter can only succeed as long as the rule of law in their society prevails, or if they are prepared to exercise occasional ruthlessness in their defence. Moreover, the rule of law needs political and popular willpower behind it to function. If this is weak or confused, the moderates are doomed. This, by the way, is as true for moderate Muslims as it is for all of the rest of us.

Ideologues use violence and intimidation to secure their positions; this is certainly true of the Jihadis. Moderates, by their very nature are not violent people. They can be and often are courageous, but this makes very little difference in the long run. Few ordinary people are willing to employ violence when it is necessary if any remote alternative seems available.

Jihadists in the Islamic world kill for a number of reasons: Providing an education to women, daring to question their world view, trying to exercise personal conscience – these have all been fatal in their presence. When their political fronts and supporters make use of human rights commissions and courts for law suits inside the West, these should be summarily dismissed as frivolous.

In a few Muslim nations and – for now — in the West the rule of law still endures, but the Jihadists constantly seek to sap its strength, test its resolve, and befuddle its principles. They constantly push for ‘alternatives’ and do what they can to bury police forces under new inhibitions and restrictions – this is why, for example, they encourage protests against ‘Racial Profiling’, or pounced to make such use of Canada’s Arar Inquiry. To be sure, these interventions are in the name of human rights and civil liberties – concepts that the Jihadists will immediately discard when they have no more use for them as cover.

At present, few Jihadis become active terrorists. When the political will behind the law weakens, watch how quickly many more of them start getting openly thuggish.

Ideologues lie with perfect abandon and demand that you believe them. The big lie of Joseph Goebbels or the inverted and distorted arguments of Soviet agitprop have their ready counterparts in today’s Jihadist fronts. Moderates in almost all human societies are no more capable of out-shouting ideologues than they are of brawling with them.

Jihadists, like Goebbels, will spin a lie a minute; and have a ready and glib patter of distortions and half-truths at their command. Moderates like to explain things and use reason. For most people, accepting the truth often requires far more wisdom from the listener than the liar demands of his audiences. Ideologues know that a lie can be easier to accept than the truth.

The other advantage of the Nazi and the Bolshevik over their more moderate competitors was organization. Communists were famed for tight party discipline and the German National Socialist Party was notorious for trying to pigeonhole all of German society. The modern Jihadist is a net-worker rather than a bureaucrat, which makes rigid control less likely, but gives the movement much more resilience. Moreover, they have established a series of world-wide interwoven networks, which makes it far harder to isolate them.

Moderates seldom organize anything more complicated than a political party, and Muslim moderates – coming as they do from dozens of different ethno-cultural groups — are even less likely to form a united front to fight the Jihad. They also show few signs so far of forming networks to oppose those of the Jihadists.

While we may not be able to keep moderates and reformers safe from Jihadists in the Arab world, we can protect them here.

The Jihadist, like the Nazi and the Soviet Communist, is an intimidating and violent bully. When he cannot turn to violence, he is a manipulative and deceitful activist. He is organized and ready to take advantage of any weakness wherever he spots it.

In the end, if there is to be an alternative to something ghastly involving the deaths of tens of millions of people (or even more), there has to be a robust response. Bullies are cowards at heart and liars are insecure. The purveyors of totalitarian ideas are invariably compensating for a personal sense of inferiority. These are the weaknesses of the Jihadist, as they are with all ideologues, and the keys to his defeat if we are resolute enough to use them.

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