Lafif Lakhdar

It is important to understand the political foe so that he may be handled with rationality. To understand the Islamic right wing we will need, among other things, to make a comparative study with racist right wings in the West, in Europe especially.

The psychological personality of extremist leaderships are characterized by a mental rigidity, which renders them incapable of placing themselves in others’ shoes, of interpreting them, and also comprehending them if necessary. It also renders them incapable of making the transition from an ethic of reckless conviction to an ethic of rational responsibility. Such a personality manifests itself in a similar form in both the Islamic far right and the racist far right, making allowances of course for differences which one may attribute to the cultural peculiarities of either.

What then are the common denominators they share?

Populism, for which read: demagogy. Both right wing phenomena appeal to the instincts of the people and their delusions about themselves and the world they live in, rather than using a discourse of the language of truth (which often conflicts with their prejudices and desires that are cut off from reality). Both movements consider it necessary to achieve overnight demands that are impossible to apply. The popularity of the Islamic far right and the racist far right derive from this cheap populism;

Revenge for narcissistic wounds

- An overriding desire for revenge: their many and deep narcissistic wounds – individual and collective – make them thirsty to drink blood from the skulls of their foes, and this makes their behavior and their wars and revolutions bloody affairs (Hitler and Khomeini, for example);

The inability to practice self-criticism: their mental rigidity, and the delirious ethics of conviction and paranoia, constitute mental obstacles to placing oneself under question, since the only ones who can do this are those who bid farewell to the possession of absolute truth and can demonstrate the humility of Malik ibn Anas:

Our correct view may be wrong, and their erroneous view may be true.

Extremism - since extremism is the inability to practice moderation (a midway point between two extremes) it constitutes one of the distinguishing features of the Islamic and the racist right; political truth in the view of both of these is not to be found in the middle, in negotiation and half-solutions, but in the extreme, for

If we are not in primacy over all others, it is better for us to die.[1]

Monolithic identity – in both phenomena they pare down to a partisan identity – to religion in the case of the Islamic right, or to ethnicity in the case of the racist right – despite the fact that identity is multifarious, variable, and subject to adjustment and change to accommodate new developments;

The delirious ethics of conviction and paranoia are mental obstacles

The excommunication of modernity – by the Islamic extreme right due to its constituting a break with the past of the ancestors or an imitation of the infidel of the ‘Abode of War’ – and by the racist extreme right for its constituting a break with the a Christian monarchical heritage;

A hostility to enlightenment philosophy since, for the Islamists, it is secular and for the racists it is the legitimizing mother of the French Revolution, the “fount of all corruption” from republicanism to secularism;

The rejection of equality: between men and women and Muslims and non-Muslims for the Islamists, and between white skin and dark skin for the racists (I have substituted white ‘skin’ for ‘race’ since race, biologically, is a myth, like the myth of Adam and Eve and Ham and Shem [2]);

The rejection of birth control since for Islamists it constitutes ‘modern infanticide’, while for the racists the licensing of it is nothing but a conspiracy to annihilate the white race – in either case this conspiracy is ‘directed by the Jews’;

The denial of any historical change in the name of the ‘permanent verities’ of a ‘Golden Age’ – the Orthodox Caliphate for the Islamists and the Divine Right of Kings for the racists. Both of these are inalterables that cannot recognize the changes wrought by history;

Modernity excommunicated

The rejection of democracy in that it constitutes rotation of government which, for the Islamists, contradicts the lifelong office of the Caliphate and, for the racists, royal succession;

- The consideration of all modern systems of government as ‘corrupt and corrupting’, incapable of reform and thus destined to fall victim – to an Islamic revolution according to the Islamists, and to a ethnic civil war according to the racists.

A blind belief in a ‘conspiracy’ – for the Islamists the conspirators are the inhabitants of the Abode of War and the Jews;  for the racists, they are the inhabitants of the Abode of Islam and the Jews;

Terror at the approaching ‘cultural onslaught’ hailing from the West according to the Islamists, or a coming ‘Arab onslaught’ through immigration according to the racists;  

A jihad, until Domesday come, to bring all humanity into ‘God’s religion’ and an enmity to the Abode of War (= Europe of yore, and the West today), and the prohibition and criminalisation of imitating it in its modern institutions, sciences and values: “even if it be in our interest to do so” as Ibn Taymiyya said, adding:

God will either bestow upon us benefits in this world or will grant us recompense in the Next!

The Islamic far right is not fully prepared for living in the world it finds itself in

Hence their need for jihad against the cultural attack, that is, the attack of modernity upon our societies through the flood of tourists and investors and sciences and arts and values and lifestyles which conflict with our customs. That is, those ‘innovations of modernity’ since “the worst of all things are those that are new”, as the Hadīth runs.[3] Similarly the need for “the restoration of the Caliphate and the comprehensive application of the Sharī‘a as a symbol of an Islamic society pure of any innovation - that is, a society uncontaminated by the impurities of history.

Criticism of the Islamic far right via the weapon of thought, and any other non-violent means, takes two forms: analysis of the hidden dangers lurking within it, and reform of Islam through cleansing it of the jurisprudence of al-walā’ wal-barā’ [4]; that is, identifying the ideology’s attempt to legitimize jihadist violence and preventing Islam from closing itself off from everything new in thought and life, by fertilizing it with religious rationalism.

Indeed, our approach to understanding the phenomena of the world in which we live should always be rational: we should approach the two basic texts, the Qur’ān and the Hadīth, through comparative religious studies, and we should approach current political events through the humanities. We should first dispense with the prevailing sterile rhetoric, and secondly we should understand, through comparative religious studies and the humanities, our history as it happened in history and understand reality as it is now. Such approaches can guarantee the objectivity and analytical rigour that are so necessary for our comprehending phenomena.

Jihad against the cultural attack of the West

Why is there such a tiresome twin track in the way we understand the past and the present, and in particular the thread that links them? It is because by failing to apply the theoretical results made from the study of our past to daily events it is depriving them of the power to provide answers and explanations.

The slogan of the far right: “The only thing appropriate for the latest member of this Nation is that which was appropriate for the first” (that is, applying the process of enjoining and the forbidding things in accordance with the doctrine of al-walā’ wal-barā’ in our relations with our own societies and others), is in itself is a program that scoffs at history’s variables and imperatives. For sure, the party of al-walā’ wal-barā’, the party of Hadīth, has successfully put paid to philosophical, scholastic, religious rationalism by excommunicating the ‘interloper sciences’ – basically the logic and the philosophy of the Greeks. This is because the trend of history at the time, in the 11th-12th centuries, strove militantly for closure, while the opposing rationalist trend was placed in the position of having to mount a desperate defence.

The Arab Islamic élite of the 19th century was still captive to jihadist logic

But the equation is different today: the basic historical trend is towards renewing modernity in modern states, and introducing modernity into pre-modern states. Today this trend is carried by the communications revolution into the nooks and crannies of every society, not just as some outer casing to be overlaid upon it, but as the result of a positive request from societies eager to join the club of modernity. The Arab Islamic élite of the 19th century was still captive to jihadist logic, and aspired to imitate Europe in the manufacture of arms and the organisation of armies to catch up with it militarily. Contemporary generations and élites, on the other hand, aspire to catch up with globalised European modernity, with its institutions, sciences and values, values of freedom and the Rights of Man.

This in itself is a great mental leap which it will have to take sooner or later. Even the youth of the Islamic far right and the least mentally rigid elements in its leadership have become more and more open to the spirit of modernity – to the rich cross-fertilisation between cultures and religions. Lifestyles which until very recently appeared in conflict now appear to complement each other. Cultural cross-fertilization today strikes at the very heart of the purity obsession that overwhelms the leaderships of both the Islamic and western extreme right – a purity of faith for the former, and a purity of ‘race’ for the latter, and the purity of language for either. Comparative religion and the humanities today lie in wait for them, spreading impurity and hybridization into all matters mundane and religious.

The antidote to the extreme right’s closing in on itself is the communications revolution which today constitutes the basic activator of the open society. This revolution works for the independent individual who aspires to be master of his own fate in his daily life, and for the individual who doggedly rejects the authoritarian regimes which he never chose freely.

Monolithic identity

The uprising against leaderships of authoritarian states is also in step with the first signs of an uprising of the rank and file of the Muslim Brotherhood against their own authoritarian leadership. Questioning them is now no longer forbidden and criticising them is no longer an act of disbelief. Following in the footsteps of the youths of the Al-Wasat party, which split from the Brotherhood, there appeared in their midst new modernist political trends demanding the separation of religion and politics, and demanding their right to criticise openly the brainwashing of a leadership that is out of synch with the clock of the globalised world they are living in.

The Islamic far right is not fully prepared for living in the world it finds itself in and by encasing itself in its monolithic identity cannot fathom how to communicate with a world whose identity is all one of pluralism, hybridisation and blending.

The far right considers innovation a heresy. Yet the world it lives in creates and invents something new every second in art, literature, science, poetry, politics and religion. In short, the Islamic far right is living outside of its world – that is, outside of history. And he who lives outside history will be pushed to its margin.


[1] A citation from the medieval Arab poet Abu Firas al-Hamdani. (Ed.)

[2] Ham and Shem:  According to Genesis 10, Noah had three sons: Ham the forefather of the southern ‘Hamitic’ peoples, Shem the forefather of the ‘Semitic’ middle peoples and Japheth the forefather of the ‘Japhetic’ northern peoples of Eurasia. The terms Semite and Hamite have fallen into disuse for their being associated with race theories. (Ed.)

[3] One of several Hadīths that outlaw innovation. The text is given in al-Shātibī’s Kitāb al-I‘tisām: “The Prophet addressed the people, praising God as was meet, and said: He whom God guides aright none other may lead stray, and he whom God causes to err none other may guide aright, the finest discourse is God’s Book, and the finest guidance is Muhammad’s guidance, the worst of all things are those that are new, since all that is new is heretical innovation”. (Ed.)

[4] See Glossary.