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December 30, 2003

The Salafi ~ Communist analogy taken further

Today, everyone notes that Islamist parties rarely have majority support in any Islamic country (though plural majorities can be found in places like Turkey, and by evolutionary, not revolutionary, Islamists). If you look at the history of Communism, you see that like Islam, Communist parties rarely had broad-based popular support. Rather, a hard core (the "vanguard") transformed whole societies by mobilizing from above. This explains the paradox that the success of Communist take-overs occurred in societies like China, Russia or Vietnam, rather than advanced capitalist nations as Marx had predicted, because these societies had relatively quiescent majorities.

International Communism became a great threat after it found a bastion in the Soviet Union, where Democratic-Centralism (Marxist-Leninism) harnessed Communist ideology to nationalism. The same process can be seen in China, Vietnam or North Korea. It is nationalism that acts as the true driver of Communism, not international utopianism. In nations where Communists have not taken over the society, but still have a presence, like India (and democratic success!), the movement is riven by schism.

So the great threat I see is this: a nation we do not expect to turn Salafi is conquered by a Muslim vanguard nurtured abroad. A nation large enough to serve as a bastion and suppress the natural tendency to schism because of charismatic leaders. Today I think most people look to Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, or perhaps Egypt. I don't think that will happen for a variety of reasons (it would be hard to Pakistan for instance to be a bastion when it has to spend most of its government income to deter the Indian "threat"). I think Indonesia is the perfect candidate. 200+ million people (180 million nominal Muslims, but a hard-core of motivated orthodox Muslims on the order of 25-75 million), distant enough from other large powers to serve as a remote base, and rich in natural resources.

Posted by razib at 02:57 PM