The terrorist attacks in France demonstrate that militant jihadism inspired by the Islamic State (ISIL) is rebounding on Europe and other countries are vulnerable to further atrocities. ISIL reversals in Syria will encourage its leaders to hit back at European states that support the counter-insurgency campaign and this will include Europe’s East.
Over 18,000 Islamist recruits have flocked to the ISIL rebellion during the past year, with an estimated 3,000 from Europe, including several Balkan states. Many will return with renewed passion and experience in anti-civilian combat. This global movement increasingly resembles its communist counterpart during the 1960s and 1970s, as jihadism and Bolshevism have much in common in their ideology, structure, and goals.
Young people joining the armed jihad are not necessarily poor and uneducated but often middle class and idealistic, much like the Marxist radicals in earlier decades. Jihadism is similar to millenarian communism when young middle class rebels in the West jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon believing the false prophecies of its founders. And some were recruited to support foreign “anti-imperialist” wars.
Marxism-Leninism was not as secular as its advocates claimed, but was based on unproven dogmas that demanded revolutionary actions. It had its sacred scriptures, its own cosmology with the supreme deity of Karl Marx and his prophet on earth, Lenin, its apostles and emirs, such as Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, and Castro, its communist party priesthood and imams, and its elaborate rituals and sacred symbols.
Jihadism and Bolshevism possess simplistic ideologies. “Unbelievers and apostates” now take the place of “capitalists and imperialists.” Both espouse an egalitarian and universalistic ethos across ethnic boundaries: whether the dictatorship of the proletariat or Sharia law imposed by a self-appointed vanguard. Islamist ideologists similarly to their Leninist predecessors emphasize the important role of the enlightened vanguard in organizing, mobilizing, and educating Muslims on the correct path to paradise.
Jihadist ideology has wide appeal because of its disregard for social hierarchies and establishment parties. It criticizes the conformist Muslim leadership and fills an ideological, social, and political vacuum. It convinces converts that they are following the original teachings of the Koran and not to recognize any of the Islamic schools that interpret Prophet Mohammad’s words.
Religious righteousness, much like class struggle, provides a unifying bond enabling insurgents to recruit outside their national communities and campaign for the creation of a broad regional structure styled as a Muslim Caliphate instead of a Communist utopia. It offers a sense of solidarity and community and a recipe for creating an allegedly just social order to replace failing state institutions.
Just like communism, militant jihadism also has a darker side intent on eliminating infidels or “enemies of the people.” Everyone is under suspicion of betraying the religious revolution and abandoning the sacred ideology. Both movements involve radical social engineering in captured countries to create an earthly paradise that in reality are totalitarian police states. With a rising Muslim population in Europe, the pool of recruits for religious utopianism and revolutionary violence is likely to grow. This in turn will embolden Europe’s anti-immigrant and Islamophobic nationalists to challenge the liberal EU project, reminiscent of how Bolshevism and fascism spurred each other in an earlier epoch.
Europe's Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.
Photo: "British fighters of the International Freedom Battalion's 0161 Antifa Manchester Crew in Rojava" under CC BY 4.0.