“A sceptre is haunting Europe-the sceptre of communism,” wrote Karl Marx in 1848, that is 162 years ago, in his Communist Manifesto. Eighteen years later, his Das Kapital was published, appropriately enough first in Czarist Russia, and then in England. These two books laid the foundation of the scourge called communism, which spread like an evil weed almost all over the world for the next century and half until it imploded in Soviet Russia-where the Manifesto was first published-in 1991.
There is another sceptre that is now haunting the world-that is what people say-Islam. Unlike Marxism, with which it has strong similarities, it has existed for a millennium and half, and is now spreading around the world. The West thinks it could be as dangerous as communism and could disrupt the carefully laid political and economic architecture by Westerners. And they are keeping their fingers crossed.
The Westerners are as panicky about the rise of Islam as they were about Marxism. Marx was certainly very forceful about his new philosophy or religion. In his Manifesto, he wrote:
The communists consider it superfluous to conceal their opinions and their intentions. They openly declare that their aims can only be achieved by the violent overthrow of the whole contemporary social order. Let the governing classes tremble before the communist revolution. The workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have the whole world to gain. Workers of their world, unite!
The movement was also helped by the collapse of the European revolutions of 1848-49. The world seemed to be ripe for Marx’s ideas, which apparently, according to him, had a “scientific” basis. This was the era of Charles Darwin and others, and science was all the rage. Marx sat in the British Museum, not far from the University College where I studied later, and marshalled all his figures for his “scientific” analysis. Marx and his followers argued in “scientific” terms that appealed to the people at large and also the elite, which is always fascinated by pseudo-scientific treatises, just as today it is fascinated by pseudo-secular arguments.
The so-called Islamic revolution, launched by bin Laden and others is also acquiring violent and terroristic overtones. In fact, nobody would take it seriously but for the terror it is spreading around the world. In fact, Islam is making headlines mainly because of the Islamic terrorists who have adopted terror as their principal weapon of aggression. Why terror? Nobody knows for sure. Do Muslims think that their theology and the kind of society they wish to impose on the world is intrinsically so unattractive that it can be forced on an unwilling world only by force? This is also what the Marxists thought, though they were more sophisticated in their approach. Men like Joseph Stalin were essentially gangsters, but there were others, like Trotsky, who were more like college professors and accomplished debaters. But ultimately, they had to fall back on terror to impose their will-hence the concentration camps in Soviet Russia and the so-called cultural revolution in Mao’s China. The Islamists are doing the same, because terror is the only weapon they are used to.
The initial reaction to the apparent rise of Islam has been total panic. Western intellectuals and writers do not know how to respond to it. It was the same in the case of Marx. Newspapers like New York Times and The Economist, which are basically anti-Hindu, are writing incessantly about Islam and the new Islamic wave, as if it was some kind of latest fashion launched in Fifth Avenue. The tone is one of calculated respect, and bending over backwards to be on its right side. There is a man called Cohen, apparently a Jew, who writes so respectfully about the mullahs that I wouldn’t be surprised if he grew a beard and joined them in Tora Bora in Afghanistan where Osama bin Laden is spending his last days.
There are at least three or four stories about Islam in every issue of The Economist, including long reviews of books on and about Islam, the approach being that the latest violent manifestation of Islam was a perfectly reasonable idea and deserved space, if not support, from Western publications.
Their attitude to communism and communists was not all that different. The Economist had many communists and so-called follow-travellers including Kim Philby, the communist spy, on its staff. It never exposed them and printed their dispatches as if it was God’s truth. During the last World War, when the Allies, that is, America and Britain, along with others, fought on the same side as Soviet Russia, British journals, including The Economist and New Statesman, which was a Bible for socialists, went out of their way to praise Stalin & Co, which meant, in effect, the communists, though they knew by that time that Soviet forces were rounding up Polish and other officers and shooting them cold blood, in case they create trouble later on.
Even after the war, there was a large section of the so-called intelligentsia in most democracies, including Britain and the United States, which not only looked kindly on communists and communism but was prepared to break bread with them. They were later known as fellow-travellers. We had them in India too, for Nehru himself was a fellow-travellers, just as he was a Muslim by instinct. The fellow-travellers, who included not only politicians and writers, but also economists, scientists, teachers and editors, went out of their way to support communists and open the doors for them in their establishment. They included men like Harold Laski (Krishna Menon’s friend and teacher; Menon himself was a fellow-traveller) and Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman weekly and a friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, also a fellow-traveller. In the US, there was J Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the making of the atomic bomb, while romancing fellow-travelling beauties from Broadway.
Things have changed now, for communism has gone up in smoke and is not fashionable anymore, except perhaps in Kolkata, which has a tremendous fascination for discarded ideas. The fellow-travellers of yesterday have become pseudo-secularists of today, at least in India. People who used to go ga-ga over Marx now applaud Muslims and Islam in India. There is an old socialist weekly published from Mumbai which has become so rabidly Muslim that one suspects it is being edited by a mullah.
The biggest pseudo-secularist would have been Nehru himself, had he been alive today. There are many others. These are the very same people who believe that they will be able to clear the path for pseudo-secularists, which means Muslims, only by destroying Hindus, who stand between them and their new pseudo-secular world.
Hence, their cultivated antipathy towards Hindus who saw the Nehru game long ago and refused to yield to him and his acolytes. They are the biggest enemies of this country and its integrity as a nation, just as the communists were the biggest enemies of the countries which they took over and destroyed. Soviet Russia would have been as powerful as America is today, and as prosperous, had it not fallen into the clutches of men fed on 19th century ideology of a man who never met a worker in his life, never fed his family properly, and spent his whole life in the smoky rooms of the British Museum, while the British themselves, who built the museum, went on to build the biggest empire this world has ever seen, though the empire did not last long, and fell to pieces, as empires do when they are built on the sweat and muscle of the downtrodden, as did the Russian empire.
Marxism died because history was against it. And history is one thing you cannot fight with. Marx’s so-called scientific approach turned out to be totally baseless and all his predictions came to nought. He had said that the industrial revolution would sound the death-knell of nations and would destroy society. Instead, it was the Soviet Union that was destroyed, along with all its satellites, while the countries that went through the industrial revolution-while Marx sat in the Museum and scribbled his magnum opus-prospered beyond anybody’s imagination.
My hunch is that Islam, or those who speak for Islam, will also go the same way as Marx, but unlike Marx, it will not disappear altogether. Just as ideologies evolve, religions also evolve, provided you go along with the evolution, not use them to force your way through the world. Capitalism has survived but empires based on capitalism have vanished. There is no place for empires in this new borderless world, even if you use terror to further their growth. Soviet Russia would still be on the map, had not Lenin, Stalin & Co, used terror to push it down unwilling throats. I should like my Islamic friends to study the history of Marxism-and its rise and fall-lest they too meet the same fate.