A new player in the culture war: the Islamo-Right
Published in UnHerd.
Two reports have recently been published which paint contrasting pictures of Islamism’s place in the culture war. The first, Islamism and The Left, by Policy Exchange, describes the well-known convergence of radical Leftist and Muslim activism which has surged through causes such as Palestinian liberation and Black Lives Matter. As the report acknowledges, so-called Islamo-Leftism has a long history, but has found a new lease of life in identity politics where the Left’s fervent desire to ‘represent’ minorities naturally accommodates Muslims and, to some extent, their condemnation of western imperialism and colonialism.
But the second report, Islamogram, by The Institute for Strategic Dialogue, tells another story; namely, the growing connection between Islamic extremism and the online far Right, as signified through Islamified wojak memes and other adoptions of (non-Muslim) dissident, anti-liberal subcultures amongst millennial and Gen-Zs. Not only do they share memetic templates with these subcultures — where Islam is ‘based’ and Salafis or Taliban fighters are ‘chads’ — but they also share ideological ones. Especially following the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the two have converged over their mutual antipathy towards globalism, liberalism and the moral ‘degeneracy’ of the West; despite their differences, they have begun to ally in their revolts against the modern world and its dominant progressive ideologies.
This Islamo-Rightist allegiance might at first seem far more uncanny than the Islamo-Leftist one. Not only do white nationalists make putting an end to Muslim immigration their key policy, but many subsets of the far Right are vehemently anti-religion, expressing a particular contempt towards the Abrahamic faiths which they — as per Julius Evola — consider to be ‘decadent’ and inferior to ethno-nationalist paganism (or, in other cases, flat-out rationalist atheism). That the two communities actually interact with each other in the real world is therefore unlikely; it is an allegiance that remains limited to the depths of encrypted platforms such as Telegram.
Islamo-Leftism, on the other hand, has long pronounced itself in the public square to a much larger – and louder — degree. And yet, the Islamo-Leftist allegiance is just as riddled with incongruences. Though Islamic revolutionary movements have historically found sympathy in Marxist uprisings against the liberal capitalist order and vice versa, the philosophical and theological fissures between the two run deep. Not only did Marx oppose religion himself, but his doctrine of historical materialism struggles to accommodate the concept of Divine revelation so integral to Islam as a faith. The same is true of the most recent mutations of Leftist thought which subvert all absolute moral truths, hierarchies and gender relations, with many these being of positive or even sacred value to Muslims.
Neither the far Right or the far Left do sufficient justice to Islam or the experiences of Muslims. So, why are both allegiances on the rise? Ultimately, there is a serious lack of genuine representation — that is, of Muslim values and not just identities — in political institutions or the public square; a predicament shared by many Christians. Both the mainstream Left and Right have largely abandoned faith, meaning those holding socially conservative religious values either have to conceal them within the secular Left or resort to the furthest reaches of the Right.
Since, thanks to the shifting of the Overton window, defending traditional values is effectively now considered a far Right position, those wishing to do so sometimes gravitate to the actual far Right. These environments only amplify conspiratorial suspicions towards the liberal order, intensifying an us-versus-them mindset and posing real risks of separatism and violence. Like many Christians, this leaves Muslims torn between either outsourcing their social justice efforts to secular ideologies like Marxism, or taking them to extremes in the style of the far Right, the hate-filled nature of which is also at odds with both their ethics and experiences.
We must identify, as the reports do, the risks posed when Islam enters either extreme of the culture war; but we must also recognise what this reveals about the wider predicament for religious individuals in a world where authentic representation of their values is scarce.