Even calling it a pipe dream would be an overstatement. The possibility of the return of Socialism in the Muslim world is as unreal as it is unworkable. The reasons for this are myriad:
Socialism is based on a fundamentally different philosophy to that of Islam, the faith professed by the overwhelming majority of the people in the Arab lands. While Muslims live their life in submission to the One True God, the untenable Socialist dogma holds that matter is eternal, thereby rejecting the existence of a creator. According to Karl Marx religion is the opium of the masses. Try explaining that to the Salafi sheikh. I wonder if he would still invoke God’s blessings on your socialist comrade.
Socialist values (or the utter absence of them) stand in stark contrast to the Islamic social and family values. The dissolution of the family structure claiming that it is the product of bourgeois societies, turning women into public property, legalising same sex marriage and other similar obnoxious practices are a far cry from the social fabric of the Islamic society where interaction between men and women is based on modesty and mutual respect, and where the preservation of the family unit is of the highest priority. Try explaining to the Niqabi woman the kind of society that you envisage for her. I wonder if she would still shower your red flag with kisses.
The cause that the Socialists strive for is very different to the cause that Muslims strive and sacrifice for. The Socialists view everything from the lens of class struggle and they try to explain the occupation of Palestine and other Muslim lands, and the uprisings from the same perspective. But for Muslims, their struggle against the Imperialists and their stooges in the Muslim lands is essentially linked to their faith. The war on terror is merely an euphemism for ‘the war on Islam’ and its aim is to curb the rise of political Islam and delay the inevitable re-establishment of the Caliphate. Therefore Muslims are well aware that this is not merely a war between the rich and the poor. Rather this is a struggle between truth and falsehood. While Socialists struggle to overthrow the bourgeoisie and establish a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, Muslims struggle to establish the system of life laid down by their Creator. Similarly, Muslims don’t want to free Palestine merely to free the Palestinian proletariat from bourgeois oppression. Rather Muslims desire to free Palestine because it is a Muslim land, it is the land of the Prophets, and its people are an inseparable part of the global Islamic ummah (nation). Therefore, dialectical materialism, class struggle, dictatorship of the proletariat are but terms that are alien to the Muslim vocabulary.
On top of the fundamental differences between the Islamic and the Socialist outlook on life, historically Muslims have not had a great time under Socialist regimes. The brutal persecution of Muslims by Socialist governments in Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia are all too well known. Yet, Muslims in these regions continue to hold on to Islam as their religion. And this speaks volumes about Socialism’s utter failure to win over Muslims, both intellectually and through the use of brute force. Even localised versions of the Socialist ideology, such as Ba’athism, along with its corollaries, such as Arab nationalism, Pan-Arabism, etc., have only brought oppression and misery to the Muslims. The prospect of going back to those horrifying days under Socialism will be as haunting to them as the return of Ben Ali, Mubarak or Gaddafi’s reign.
It is true that some Islamic movements have not lived up to the expectations of their supporters. But this does not mean disaffected Muslims are going to give up Islam and embrace Socialism. Rather such experience is only going to strengthen their resolve and provide more clarity to their vision as to which paths to follow and which ones to reject. This will disillusion them, not of Islam, rather of the myth that real change is possible through inclusion and participation within a political system imposed by foreign powers. This will lead Muslims to delve into the the primary Islamic sources to derive their path to revival and to chart their own way forward. And lessons from the life of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) is a guiding light in this regard.
The dedication of Socialist workers is indeed impressive and their opposition to the exploitative Capitalist system is indeed commendable. But the alternative they propose is merely reactionary rather than rational (as is expected of an ideology that premises itself on the notion that society evolves due to inherent contradictions within itself). In contrast, Islam provides the most satisfactory solution to the most fundamental human problems by providing a rational outlook on life and thereupon constructing values, criteria, concepts, laws and systems that address all aspects of human life. Therefore, I invite anyone who sincerely yearns for a positive change and wish for the best for humanity to explore Islam with an open mind.
Shafiul Huq writes from Melbourne, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org