What Explains the Radical Left/Militant Islam Alignment?
From 1789 on, a defining characteristic of the Left has been hostility to religion, especially in its institutionalized forms. This goes together with a commitment to such Enlightenment values as liberty, belief in reason, and equality, including equality among the races and between the sexes. Thus the last thing one would expect from the Left is an alignment with militant Islam given the latter’s philosophically unsophisticated religiosity bordering on rank superstition, its totalitarian moralism, and its opposition to gender equality.
So why does the radical Left takes the side of militant Islam against the USA? The values of the progressive creed are antithetic to those of the Islamists, and it is quite clear that if the Islamists got everything they wanted, namely, the imposition of Islamic law on the entire world, our dear progressives would soon find themselves headless. I don’t imagine that people like Eric Alterman long to live under Sharia, where ‘getting stoned’ would have more than metaphorical meaning. So what explains this bizarre alignment?
1. One point of similarity between radical leftists and Islamists is that both are totalitarians. As David Horowitz writes in Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (Regnery, 2004) , "Both movements are totalitarian in their desire to extend the revolutionary law into the sphere of private life, and both are exactling in the justice they administer and the loyalty they demand." (p. 124)
2. Horowitz points to another similarity when he writes, "The radical Islamist believes that by conquering nations and instituting sharia, he can redeem the world for Allah. The socialist’s faith is in using state power and violent means to eliminate private property and thereby usher in the millenium." (129)
Perhaps we could say that the utopianism of the Left is a quasi-religion with a sort of secular eschatology. The leftist dreams of an eschaton ushered in by human effort alone, a millenial state that could be described as pie-in-the-future as opposed to pie-in-the-sky. When this millenial state is achieved, religion in its traditional form will disappear. Its narcotic satisfactions will no longer be in demand. Religion is the "sigh of the oppressed creature," (Marx) a sigh that arises within a contingent socioeconomic arrangement that can be overturned. When it is overturned, religion will disappear.
3. This allows us to explain why the secular radical does not take seriously the religious pathology of radical Islam. "The secular radical believes that religion itself is merely an expression of real-world misery, for which capitalist property is ultimately responsible." (129) The overthrow of capitalist America will eliminate the need for religion. This "will liberate Islamic fanatics from the need to be Islamic and fanatic." (130)
Building on Horowitz’s point, I would say the leftist in his naivete fails to grasp that religion, however we finally resolve the question of its validty or lack thereof, is deeply rooted in human nature. As Schopenhauer liked to point out, man is a metaphysical animal, and religion is one form the metaphysical urge takes. As such, religion is not a merely contingent expression of a contingent misery produced by a contingent state of society. On the contrary, as grounded in human nature, religion answers to a misery essential to the human predicament as such, a predicament the amelioration of which cannot be brought about by any merely human effort, whether individual or collective. Whether or not religion can deliver what it promises, it answers to real and ineradicable human needs for meaning and purpose.
In their dangerous naivete, leftists thinks that they can use radical Islam to help destroy the capitalist USA, and, once that is accomplished, radical Islam will ‘wither away.’ But they will ‘wither away’ before Islamo-fanaticism does. They think they can use genuine fascist theocracy to defeat the ‘fascist theocracy’ of the USA. They are deluding themselves.
Residing in their utopian Wolkenskukuheim, radical leftists are wrong about religion, wrong about human nature, wrong about the terrorist threat, wrong about the ‘fascist theocracy’ of Bush & Co., wrong about economics; in short, they are wrong about reality.