Whittaker Chambers (April 1, 1901-July 9, 1961)
Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.
Playwright David Mamet recently acknowledged that he had been profoundly influenced by Communist apostate Whittaker Chambers’ 1952 anti-Communist memoir, “Witness.” Mamet described how reading Chambers’ opus inspired “the wrenching experience” of forcibly re-evaluating the way he thought, particularly his confessed Leftist herd co-dependence. Echoing the delusive herd mentality of the Left’s ad hominem attacks in the 1950s on Chambers–whose allegations of Communist conspiracism have been entirely vindicated with irrefragable documentation from the captured Soviet Venona cables–Congressman Peter King’s staid initial hearings March 10, 2011 on American Muslim radicalization engendered similarly apoplectic, and equally unwarranted condemnation, even before getting underway.
David Mamet’s invocation of “Witness,” and the repeated hysterical, if groundless objections to the second round of hearings by Rep. King’s Homeland Security Committee (i.e., June 15, 2011, on Muslim radicalization in US prisons), jointly, are fitting reminders that July 9, 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of Whittaker Chambers’ death July 9, 1961.
Chambers was born April 1, 1901 in Philadelphia, and spent his childhood on the south shore of Long Island, in (then rural) Lynbrook. Upon graduating High School, Chambers left home and worked as a construction laborer on the Washington DC subway system, before drifting to New Orleans, and then returning to attend Columbia University between 1920-1924. Under the tutelage of Columbia English Professor Mark Van Doren (before Van Doren became an internationally known literary critic and poet), Chambers tried his hand at poetry, even completing a book of poems entitled “Defeat in the Village,” before realizing, “I never could write poetry good enough to be worth writing.” This apprenticeship, however, helped teach Chambers “the difficult, humbling, exacting art of writing,” and he would go on to become an exceptionally gifted writer of prose. He joined the Communist Party in 1925, experiencing great success as a writer at The Daily Worker and as an editor at The New Masses, both communist-controlled publications. In 1932, Chambers was asked to join the underground movement of the Communist Party, and he served in the Fourth Section of Soviet Military Intelligence. Recognizing Chambers’ intellectual prowess, the underground placed him with the Ware Group (a collection of communist cells consisting of government officials and journalists) in Washington, D.C. It was here, among other promising New Deal civil servants, that he encountered Alger Hiss. Chambers and Hiss, along with their spouses, had actually become close friends before Chambers renounced Communism.
During late 1938, overwhelmed by the horrific actions of the Soviet Communist Party, in particular the Stalinist purges, and forced starvation of Ukrainian peasants, and having rejected Communism’s militant atheism, Chambers left the Communist movement. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 was a watershed event for Chambers, realizing that much of the confidential information about the U.S. that he had forwarded to the Soviet Union could now be passed to Germany. Thus Chambers, now an ex-Communist apostate, decided to divulge his prior activities for the Communist underground to the federal government. Shortly thereafter, Chambers was able to meet with the head of security at the State Department, A.A. Berle. Although Chambers revealed most of his activities, he withheld the facts of espionage conducted by his cell, largely to protect others, including, notably, Alger Hiss. Regardless, it was not until 1948–nine years later–that the information he provided to Berle was acted upon by the government. Chambers was subpoenaed at that time by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to corroborate the testimony of Elizabeth Bentley–the so-called “blonde spy queen”–who alleged that Soviet espionage was occurring within the U.S. government. Chambers corroborated Bentley’s allegations, supplemented them with his own, and confronted Alger Hiss on the first day of his testimony (eventually all twenty-one names that Chambers provided to HUAC were confirmed by subsequent Soviet archival research). In 1950, Hiss was convicted for perjury after two federal trials.
A naturally gifted linguist, particularly fluent in German, over the years Whittaker Chambers translated into English “Bambi,” “Dunant–the Story of the Red Cross,” and a number of children’s books. Chambers joined Time Magazine in 1939, initially as a book reviewer, later as a writer and editor. He wrote many of Time’s cover stories during his tenure, including profiles of historian Arnold Toynbee, vocalist Marian Anderson, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and Pope Pius XII. Chambers, based upon his experience as a Communist, and intuitive grasp of history, displayed a remarkably prescient understanding of the “Cold War” conflict as an editor and writer for Time’s foreign news section. He also contributed seven brilliant essays to Life Magazine’s 1947-1948 “Picture History of Western Civilization” series. Compelled to resign from Time during the tumultuous Hiss trials, Chambers eventually became an editor and writer on the staff of National Review, from the latter part of 1957 to the middle of 1959. Throughout most of his journalistic career, Chambers continued to operate a farm in Westminster, Maryland, maintaining a dairy herd, raising sheep and beef cattle, and producing various crops.
This essay will explore what can be gleaned from Chambers’ witness-martyrdom in the struggle against Communism, sacrificing himself “a little in advance to try to win for you that infinitesimal slightly better chance,” and applied to the modern threat of resurgent Islamic totalitarianism. First, Chambers’ own brief 1947 comparison of Communism and nascent Islam will be placed in the context of more extensive, independent contemporary characterizations (i.e., made from 1920-2001) by Western scholars and intellectuals who also juxtaposed these ideological systems. Next, I will address Chambers’ searing critique of Communism–as an intimately knowledgeable ex-Communist true believer–and his related criticism of the West’s embrace of Godless secular humanism, rejecting its Biblical roots, in particular the belief in a Judeo-Christian God. Then I will elucidate how Chambers’ understanding that faith in the Judeo-Christian God was conjoined to Biblical freedom, and the antithetical conception of modern atheistic totalitarianism–epitomized by Communism–relate to Islamic doctrine regarding “hurriyya,” Arabic for freedom, and the God of Islam, Allah. The essay will conclude with a discussion of what Chambers’ apostasy from Communism–and the shared insights of contemporary apostates from Islam–can teach the West.
From the time of Chambers’ break with the Communist Party in late 1938, till his death nearly 23 years later, Chambers was consumed by the West’s self-abnegation of its own institutions–rooted for two millennia in a belief in the Judeo-Christian God–and their threatened active destruction by the votaries of mass secular totalitarian movements, notably Fascism and Communism. His December, 1947 Time Magazine book review of Rebecca West’s “The Meaning of Treason,” a series of penetrating reports on the trials of British World War II traitors, opens with these observations:
When, in 1936, General Emilio Mola announced that he would capture Madrid because he had four columns outside the city and a fifth column of sympathizers within, the world pounced on the phrase with the eagerness of a man who has been groping for an important word. The world might better have been stunned as by a tocsin of calamity. For what Mola had done was to indicate the dimension of treason in our time.
Other ages have had their individual traitors–men who from faintheartedness or hope of gain sold out their causes. But in the 20th century, for the first time, men banded together by millions, in movements like fascism and communism, dedicated to the purpose of betraying the institutions they lived under. In the 20th century, treason became a vocation whose modern form was specifically the treason of ideas.
Modern man was challenged to choose between the traditions of a 2,000-year-old Christian civilization and the new totalitarian systems which, in the name of social progress, contended for the allegiance of man’s secular mind. The promise of the new ideas was as old as that serpentine whisper heard in the dawn of the Creation: “You shall become as gods”–for the first traitor was the first man.
The case of Dr. Alan Nunn May represented for Rebecca West the bottom of what Chambers characterizes as “a descent into the circles of a drab inferno.” Dr. May, a lecturer on physics at the University of London, was a longstanding Communist Party member. Ostensibly volunteering to serve his country, he became the senior member of the British atomic bomb project’s nuclear physics division during World War II. May took nefarious advantage of this position by transferring to Russia samples of uranium 233 and enriched uranium 235.
Chambers’ review of “The Meaning of Treason” also compared the violent fanaticism of the 20th century’s secular totalitarian systems adherents, to the votaries of Islam. The modern totalitarians expressed “new ideas” which were “violently avowed,” and
the hallmark of their advocates was a fanaticism unknown since the first flush of Islam.
Does Chambers’ passing comparison have doctrinal and historical validity, and does it comport with other serious modern assessments?
Communism as the 20th Century Islam
Jules Monnerot’s, 1949 “Sociologie du Communisme,” was translated into English and published as “Sociology and Psychology of Communism,” in 1953. Monnerot elaborated at length upon a brief, but remarkably prescient observation by Bertrand Russell from his “The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism,” published already in 1920. Russell compared emerging Bolshevism to Islam, noting their shared fanaticism, impervious to reason. Despite his vaunted anti-Christian polemics, Russell further maintained that Christianity and Buddhism each possessed a spiritualism that contrasted starkly with the unspiritual aims shared by Islam and Communism–global conquest of mankind, and its subjugation to a single ruling order.
Bolshevism combines the characteristics of the French Revolution with those of the rise of Islam… Those who accept Bolshevism become impervious to scientific evidence, and commit intellectual suicide. Even if all the doctrines of Bolshevism were true, this would still be the case, since no unbiased examination of them is tolerated…Among religions, Bolshevism is to be reckoned with Mohammedanism [Islam] rather than with Christianity and Buddhism. Christianity and Buddhism are primarily personal religions, with mystical doctrines and a love of contemplation. Mohammedanism and Bolshevism are practical, social, unspiritual, concerned to win the empire of this world.
Monnerot made very explicit connections between pre-modern Islamic and 20th century Communist totalitarianism. The title of his first chapter dubbed Communism as “The Twentieth Century Islam.” He elucidates these two primary shared characteristics of Islam and Communism: “conversion”–followed by subversion–from within, and the fusion of “religion” and state.
…There is a resemblance between the use made of Marxism by the present masters of the totalitarian world and the conversion of nomadic barbarians…such as the Turkish mercenaries Mahmud of Ghazna [Ghazni; modern Afghanistan], [and the Turcomen of Asia Minor] Togrul Beg, and Alp Arslan to the universal religion[s] of the civilization[s] they threatened, namely…Like Stalin’s Marxism, their conversion [to Islam] gave them the pretext for disrupting civilization from within]; as converts they were able to attack in the name of the true Faith the very societies which had brought the Faith to them. In the same way the Marxist chiefs of totalitarian Russia attack Western society from within, attempting to destroy the social structure of European countries for the sake of the socialism to which these countries themselves gave birth…Communism takes the field both as a secular religion [emphasis in original] and as a universal State [emphasis in original]; it is therefore…comparable to Islam…Soviet Russia (to use the name it gives itself, although it is a mis-description of the regime) is not the first empire in which the temporal and public power goes hand in hand with a shadowy power which works outside the imperial frontiers to undermine the social structure of neighboring States.
Monnerot’s compendious analysis supplements these apposite examples from Islam’s enduring legacy of jihad–the exploits of Sunni Muslims Mahmud of Ghazni, Togrul Beg, Alp Arslan–with additional jihad campaigns waged by the Fatimids of Egypt, and the Shiite Persian Safavids, whose efforts featured collaboration by Sufis.
The Islamic East affords several examples of a like duality and duplicity. The Egyptian Fatimids, and later the Persian Safavids, were the animators and propagators, from the heart of their own States, of an active and organizing legend, an historical myth, calculated to make fanatics and obtain their total devotion, designed to create in neighboring States an underworld of ruthless gangsters. The eponymous ancestor of the Safavids was a saint from whom they magically derived the religious authority in whose name they operated. They were Shi’is of Arabian origin, and the militant order they founded was dedicated to propaganda and ‘nucleation’ throughout the whole of Persia and Asia Minor. It recruited ‘militants’ and ‘adherents’ and ‘sympathizers’. These were the Sufis.
Monnerot invokes another relevant historical example of Islam’s paradigmatic fusion of religion and state–the Ottoman Empire, and its brutal jihad enslavement and forced conversion to Islam of subjected Christian children for the slave soldier devshirme-janissary system.
Islam has provided the type of society in which the political and the sacred are indissolubly merged. The law of the Koran was religious, political, and civil all in one; and an infidel could be no more than a tributary. In history and in law he appeared as an object, but not as a participating subject; and the Ottoman Empire was interested in the children of infidels only because they could be recruited as janissaries.
Citing Stalin (circa 1949) as the contemporary personification, Monnerot elaborated on this totalitarian consolidation (“condensation”) of power shared by Islam and Communism, and the refusal of these universalist creeds to accept limits on their “frontiers.”
During the great period of Islamic conquests the State, in so far as it existed in our sense of the word, participated in the sacred doctrine of the prophet [Muhammad] and was its embodiment and life. The companions of the prophet, partakers in the revolutionary legitimacy, did not constitute a Church; nor do the secular religions inherent in 20th century absolutisms, but the power of the prophetic elite (which is what the party’s ‘summit’ is at the moment when the new State is created) is all the more absolute for being, as it were, a condensation of the power of the whole society. And the leader represents the extreme point of condensation.
As rulers, their sympathies were recognized by other sovereigns in the same way that Stalin, head of the State, is recognized by other heads of States, and rightly, as the leader of world communism. This merging of religion and politics was a major characteristic of the Islamic world in its victorious period. It allowed the head of a State to operate beyond his own frontiers in the capacity of the commander of the faithful (Amir-al-muminin); and in this way a Caliph was able to count upon docile instruments, or captive souls, wherever there were men who recognized his authority. The territorial frontiers which seemed to remove some of his subjects from his jurisdiction were nothing more than material obstacles; armed force might compel him to feign respect for the frontier, but propaganda and subterranean warfare could continue no less actively beyond it. Religions of this kind acknowledge no frontiers. Soviet Russia is merely the geographical center from which communist influence radiates; it is an ‘Islam’ on the march, and it regards its frontiers at any given moment as purely provisional and temporary. Communism, like victorious Islam, makes no distinction between politics and religion…
Monnerot further observes that to those who did not accept their ideology, or self-proclaimed “mission,” Communism–and Islam before it–were viewed as imperialistic religious fanaticisms.
To an educated European or American, unless he is himself a communist, it appears that communists are religious fanatics in the service of an expansionist empire which is striving for world dominion. But communists see it differently: for them communism is what ought to be, and the whole of history, the whole past of humanity, takes its meaning from this future event…Communism is a faith, and it has in Russia a sort of fatherland; but such a fatherland cannot be a country like any other. Russia is to communism what the Abbasid empire was to Islam. Communism…is a religious sect of world conquerors for whom Russia is simply the strongpoint from which the attack is launched.
Finally Monnerot (invoking Ernest Renan [d. 1892]) underscores how incoherent Western intellectual apologists for totalitarianism–whether Communist or Islamic–promote the advance of these destructive ideologies.
Renan’s saying, ‘the principle of mythology consists in giving life to words’, applies literally to these ‘isms.’ Thus ‘communism’ may possess a vitality, a prestige, and an authority which do not depend upon the actions of ‘communists’. One has heard ‘sympathizers’ in all sincerity reproaching communists for being unfaithful to communism, and one might conclude that these ‘intellectuals’ attribute priority and superiority, or in any case primacy, to ‘essence’ over ‘existence’. Thus communism is no longer the sum or epitome of the morals and behavior and beliefs and customs of communists, but a sort of self-subsistent entity which can be known by contemplation and in the light of which the behavior of communists can be judged; so that the intellectual whose good intentions place him, in his own eyes, upon a pedestal, can remonstrate, ‘Communists, what have you made of communism?'”
A half century later, the esteemed French scholar of Islam, and ex-Communist, Maxime Rodinson (d. 2004), re-affirmed the essential validity of Monnerot’s comparison. Rodinson, during a September 28, 2001 interview with Le Figaro, acknowledged that while still a Communist, he had taken umbrage with Monnerot’s assessment. But having long since renounced the Communist Party, Rodinson (circa September, 2001) conceded that there were “striking similarities” between Communism and Islam, noting that like Communism, contemporary “Islamic fundamentalism” promulgated
…an ideology that claims to explain everything, drawing on a vision of the world that is fiercely paranoid [and] conspiratorial.
Karl Wittfogel’s seminal 1957 analysis of pre-modern Eastern totalitarianism, Oriental Despotism — A Comparative Study of Total Power, contains insights on Islam that are especially illuminating, and ever-relevant to present-era tribulations deriving from the unreformed (and even unexamined) mandates of Islamic supremacism. Wittfogel’s views are of particular importance because like Chambers (and Rodinson, above, as well as Arthur Koestler, below), he had embraced and then abandoned the Communist movement. Indeed Chambers, an accomplished auto-didact linguist, and German to English translator, records in “Witness” he was briefly approached by a Communist party agent about his potential English translation of a study of Chinese agrarian problems Wittfogel had written in German.
Underpinning Islamic “absolutism,” Wittfogel notes, is the same Koranic injunction (Koran 4:59) — cited by Islamic legists from Mawardi (d. 1058) to Mawdudi (d. 1979) — as legitimizing the totalitarian caliphate system.
The Koran exhorts believers to obey not only Allah and his prophet, but also “those in authority amongst you.” In the absolutist states established by Mohammed’s followers, this passage was invoked to emphasize the importance of obedience in maintaining governmental authority.
Wittfogel’s candor extends to these unapologetic observations contrasting Ottoman and Medieval Western European regulation of guilds, and the nature of Islamic religious “tolerance” — more aptly, non-Muslim dhimmitude under Islamic law:
In Ottoman Turkey officials inspected the markets and controlled the prices, weight, and measurements, thus fulfilling functions which in the burgher-controlled towns of Medieval Europe were usually the responsibility of the urban authorities. Furthermore, the state, which in most countries of feudal Europe collected few if any taxes from the urban centers of strongly developed guild power, was able in Turkey to tax the guilds and, as elsewhere in the Orient, to employ its fiscal agents the headmen of these corporations, who distributed the tax-quotas of their members and who were personally responsible for their payment.
[F]ollowers of these creeds [Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism] had to accept an inferior status both politically and socially, and they were prevented from spreading their ideas. The laws forbade conversion from Christianity to Judaism or vice versa; and penalties for apostasy from Islam were severe. Christians were not permitted to beat their wooden boards (these boards were used as bells) loudly, or sing in their churches with raised voices, or assemble in the presence of Muslims, or display their “idolatry,” “nor to invite to it, nor show a cross,” on their churches. No wonder that the religious minorities — who during the Turkish period were set apart in organizations called millet- vegetated rather than throve. The head of the millet was nominated by the millet but appointed by the sultan; once in office he was given just enough power to enable him to collect the taxes imposed on his community by the state.
Nearly three decades earlier, another ex-Communist, Arthur Koestler, writing in Die Vossische Zeitung (6/7/1928), had compared the Wahhabi ascendancy in Saudi Arabia to the revolutionary triumph of Bolshevism in Russia. Koestler contended that the “omnipotent Wahhabi brotherhoods of the Ikhwan,” with “iron support of the omnipotent party” were a source of danger and fear for the neighboring Arab states–just as Bolshevism was for the capitalist countries of Europe. He added,
What is new in this situation today, is that this danger no longer threatens, as previously, only from outside–from beyond the borders of the Arabian desert. Rather, the Wahhabis have begun to proselytize among the Muslims of neighboring countries–onsets of, so to speak, a “Wahhabi Internationale,” which are already becoming noticeable
Koestler befriended Chambers in 1950, and the two shared a great mutual admiration. (Koestler described Chambers in a 1953 letter to Andre Malraux as “one of the most outstanding, most maligned, and most sincere characters whom I have ever met,” the victim of “a bizarre and symbolic 20th century martyrdom.” Whittaker Chambers’ biographer Sam Tanenhaus, in turn, notes that Chambers’ summer 1959 Austrian visit with Arthur Koestler was “a culminating moment,” because Koestler was “the contemporary he esteemed most.”)
Lastly, Bernard Lewis, the doyen of living Western Islamic scholars, in his 1954 essay “Communism and Islam,” expounded upon on the quintessence of totalitarian Islam, and how it was antithetical in nature to Western democracy, while sharing important features of Communist totalitarianism — most notably, global domination via jihad:
I turn now from the accidental to the essential factors, to those deriving from the very nature of Islamic society, tradition, and thought. The first of these is the authoritarianism, perhaps we may even say the totalitarianism, of the Islamic political tradition. … Many attempts have been made to show that Islam and democracy are identical-attempts usually based on a misunderstanding of Islam or democracy or both. This sort of argument expresses a need of the up- rooted Muslim intellectual who is no longer satisfied with or capable of understanding traditional Islamic values, and who tries to justify, or rather, re-state, his inherited faith in terms of the fashionable ideology of the day. It is an example of the romantic and apologetic presentation of Islam that is a recognized phase in the reaction of Muslim thought to the impact of the West. … In point of fact, except for the early caliphate, when the anarchic individualism of tribal Arabia was still effective, the political history of Islam is one of almost unrelieved autocracy. … [I]t was authoritarian, often arbitrary, sometimes tyrannical. There are no parliaments or representative assemblies of any kind, no councils or communes, no chambers of nobility or estates, no municipalities in the history of Islam; nothing but the sovereign power, to which the subject owed complete and unwavering obedience as a religious duty imposed by the Holy Law. In the great days of classical Islam this duty was only owed to the lawfully appointed caliph, as God’s vicegerent on earth and head of the theocratic community, and then only for as long as he upheld the law; but with the decline of the caliphate and the growth of military dictatorship, Muslim jurists and theologians accommodated their teachings to the changed situation and extended the religious duty of obedience to any effective authority, however impious, however barbarous. For the last thousand years, the political thinking of Islam has been dominated by such maxims as “tyranny is better than anarchy” and “whose power is established, obedience to him is incumbent.”
Quite obviously, the Ulama [religious leaders] of Islam are very different from the Communist Party. Nevertheless, on closer examination, we find certain uncomfortable resemblances. Both groups profess a totalitarian doctrine, with complete and final answers to all questions on heaven and earth; the answers are different in every respect, alike only in their finality and completeness, and in the contrast they offer with the eternal questioning of Western man. Both groups offer to their members and followers the agreeable sensation of belonging to a community of believers, who are always right, as against an outer world of unbelievers, who are always wrong. Both offer an exhilarating feeling of mission, of purpose, of being engaged in a collective adventure to accelerate the historically inevitable victory of the true faith over the infidel evil-doers. The traditional Islamic division of the world into the House of Islam and the House of War, two necessarily opposed groups, of which- the first has the collective obligation of perpetual struggle against the second, also has obvious parallels in the Communist view of world affairs. There again, the content of belief is utterly different, but the aggressive fanaticism of the believer is the same. The humorist who summed up the Communist creed as “There is no God and Karl Marx is his Prophet” was laying his finger on a real affinity. The call to a Communist Jihad, a Holy War for the faith — a new faith, but against the self-same Western Christian enemy — might well strike a responsive note.
Lewis here reiterates Chambers’ more direct, experiential understanding, as a former Communist, of the secular totalitarian creed’s mandate for eternal warfare. And in Communism’s ceaseless war, like Islam’s unending jihad, apostates are deemed the worst enemies. Chambers provides this explanation in “Witness”:
Communism exists to wage war. Its existence implies, even in peace or truce, a state of war that engages every man, woman and child alive, but, above all, the ex-Communist…In that war which Communism insists on waging, and which therefore he [the ex-Communist] cannot evade, he has one specific contribution to make–his special knowledge of the enemy.
Chambers on Communism, Christianity, and Freedom
Whittaker Chambers wrote a trenchant essay for Time (“Communists: Dr. Crankley’s Children”) in February, 1948 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Chambers was particularly intrigued by the success of Marx’s ideas despite historical developments which disproved Dr. Crankley’s assumptions:
He assumed, for example, that the spectacular poverty of industrial workers of his day would spread and deepen. The capitalist philosophers, who predicted rising living standards, were right.
Adapting German philosopher G.F. Hegel’s “dialectical method,” and respect for the state, Marx saw history as class conflicts (“thesis and antithesis”) whose final “synthesis” would result in a classless society. The life and character of Marx, Chambers argued, contained the “ingredients”–pity, hate, desire for power–of Marxism’s emotional force. Reflecting the “morals” of Marx’s atheistic dialectic, Chambers notes, fronts and purges soon followed.
Marx created the first Communist front organization. When the revolutions of 1848 swept Europe, he organized a workers’ club in Paris whose agitators had instructions not to mention Communism, but to emphasize democracy. Later, Marx sent 300 agents into Germany with instructions to organize Communist cells but to appear as good, hard-working liberals. In 1848 Marx himself revived the old Rheinische Zeitung; its masthead now proclaimed it an “organ of democracy.” Admitted Marx: “It was in reality nothing but a plan of war against democracy.” Marx also conducted the first Party purges. He denounced anyone who disagreed with him as an “unscientific socialist.” The usual instrument of execution was slander, from stories that the accused had embezzled workers’ funds to rumors that he had gonorrhea.
Marx despised the slow progress of “sentimental socialism.” Eventually he began to speak
… more and more of the necessity of “capturing” the state (with its police power) rather than of “destroying” the state, as other socialists hoped to do. Toward the end of his life he wrote the words “dictatorship of the proletariat” to describe the post-revolutionary period which was to precede the classless society. That phrase had always been buried in Marx’s thought; he had in fact used it in conversation. Written down, it was to become an extension of his own tyrannical political methods, the excuse for the most pitiless tyranny the world has ever seen.
Chambers described Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov–Lenin–as the leader of that “most terrible in the Marxist brood…who inherited the cold, disciplined logic necessary for the pursuit of power.” Lenin made this pathognomonic comment on religion in a November 1913 letter:
Every religious idea of God, even flirting with the idea of God, is unutterable vileness…of the most dangerous kind. Millions of sins, filthy deeds acts of violence and physical contagions…are far less dangerous than the subtle, spiritual idea of God decked out in the smartest “ideological” costumes…Every defense or justification of God, even the most refined, the best intentioned, is a justification of reaction.
A Lenin dictum, Chambers observes, was: “The people themselves do not know what is good or bad for them.” Predictably, in 1917, he kidnapped the Russian state, and carnage ensued.
When the Russian people, without his help, snatched at democracy, he snatched it away from them. Like Father Marx, he knew what was best. He organized riots that weakened and, finally, a coup that overpowered the Kerensky government. He organized, as Marx had taught, a dictatorship of the proletariat (i.e., a disciplined little gang of power monopolists)…In his name…more men have been slaughtered than in Attila’s.
When Chambers broke with the Communist Party just before Christmas, 1938, he offered this litany of “political mistakes and crimes of the Communist Party” to his then collaborator in Soviet espionage, Alger Hiss, as justification:
…the Soviet Government’s deliberate murder by mass starvation of millions of peasants in the Ukraine and the Kuban [Southern Russia surrounding the Kuban River, on the Black Sea between the Don Steppe, Volga Delta, and the Caucasus]; the deliberate betrayal of the German working class to Hitler by the Communist Party’s refusal to cooperate with Social Democrats against the Nazis; the ugly fact that the German Communist Party had voted in the Reichstag with the Nazis against the Social Democrats; the deliberate betrayal of the Spanish Republican government, which the Soviet Government was only pretending to aid, while the Communists massacred their political enemies in the Spanish prisons. This gigantic ulcer of corruption and deceit had burst, I said, in the great Russian purge when Stalin had consolidated his power by massacring thousands of the best men and minds in the Communist Party on lying charges.
Chambers soon came to understand that even the internecine violence of the Stalinist purges was consistent with the horrific logic–and quintessential evil–of Communism:
The human horror of the Purge was too close for me to grasp clearly its historical meaning. I could not have said then, what I knew shortly afterwards, that, as Communists, Stalin and the Stalinists were absolutely justified in making the Purge. From the Communist viewpoint, Stalin could have taken no other course, so long as he believed he was right. The Purge, like the Communist-Nazi pact later on, was the true measure of Stalin as a revolutionary statesman. That was the horror of the Purge–that acting as a Communist, Stalin had acted rightly. In that fact lay the evidence that Communism is absolutely evil. The human horror was not evil, it was the sad consequence of evil. It was Communism that was evil, and the more truly a man acted in its spirit and interest, the more certainly he perpetuated evil.
Stalin, Chambers reiterates, simply personified worse evil–“the greatest of fascist forms”–Communism:
The point was not that Stalin is evil, but that Communism is more evil, and that, acting through his person, it found its supremely logical manifestations. The important point was not the character of Stalin, but the character of Communism, which, with an intuitive grasp that was at once the source of his strength and his mandate to power, Stalin was carrying to its inevitable development as the greatest of fascist forms.
Indeed, “despite occasional pious statements to the contrary,” Chambers explained, the Communist Party functioned as a terrorist organization.
Its disclaimers are for the record. But its record of kidnappings, assassinations, and murders makes the actions of the old Terror Brigade of the Socialist Revolutionary Party [the underground brigade of the Socialist Revolutionary Party which carried out political assassinations in the early 20th century] look merely romantic. No argument can reach the Communist Party unless it sees in it some self-serving advantage. It respects only force. Only terror terrifies it.
When Chambers, as an ex-Communist, met former Soviet spy General Walter Krivitsky, who by then had also renounced Communism (and was assassinated not long afterward), Krivitsky asked him, “Is the Soviet Government a fascist government?” Chambers, despite “…all the emotions that had ever bound me to Communism [which] rose in a final spasm to stop my mouth,” answered, “Yes–the Soviet government is a fascist government.” Krivitsky believed that an early turning point had occurred–the internal revolt during the Bolshevik Revolution by sailors from the Kronstadt naval base, “sons of peasants” embodying the Russian people’s “instinctive surge for freedom”–Communism then “morphing” by its brutal repression of the uprising, into a malevolent fascism.
When they [the sailors] saw that Communism meant terror and tyranny, they called for the overthrow of the Communist Government and for a time imperiled it. They were bloodily destroyed or sent into Siberian slavery by Communist troops led in person by the Commissar of War, Leon Trotsky, and by Marshall Tukhachevsky, one of whom was later assassinated, the other executed, by the regime they then saved.
But Chambers saw still deeper origins:
The fascist character of Communism was inherent in it from the beginning. Kronstadt changed the fate of millions of Russians. It changed nothing about Communism. It merely disclosed its character.
Chambers, in “Cold Friday“, a collection of writings composed after “Witness”, till a few weeks before his death, returns to the discussion of “the crux of Communism”–dialectical materialism–which he maintains the West fails to understand, at its peril.
This is the fact which absolutely sunders the mind of the Communist from the traditional mind of the West–which makes him in the mass a new breed in history. For our breeds, in this sense, are defined by the view we hold, unconsciously or not, of the world and its meaning, and the meaning of our lives in it. Obviously, a breed of men who hold that everything is in violent flux and change, moving by laws and in a pattern inherent in matter, and having nothing to do with God–obviously, that breed of men is different from the rest of mankind.
Unable or unwilling to perceive this profound difference, Chambers argues, the West engages in “puzzling,” if not “merely stupid” cultural exchanges with Communism, “which in the next breath it condemns as a barbaric and criminal force,” harboring the illusion that Communism and its votaries
…are about to undergo a change of mind (or heart) so that henceforth they will no longer act like Communists; they will be like us.
Chambers then elaborates what he believes is Communism’s “chief power in the West”–not Fifth Column subversion, as dangerous as that remains–but
…the power of Communism to manipulate responsive sections of the West to check, counteract, paralyze, or confuse the rest. Those responsive sections of the West were not Communist, and never had been. Most of the minds that composed them thought of themselves as sincerely anti-Communist. Communism manipulated them, not in terms of Communism, but in terms of the shared historical crisis–peace and social justice being two of the workable terms. They were free to denounce Communism and Communists (and also anti-Communists) after whatever flourishes their intellectual innocence or arrogance might choose. Communism asked no more. It cared nothing, at this point, about motives. It cared about results.
Chambers recognized the burgeoning of Communist power as being inexplicable
…except as Communism appeals to the divided mind of the West, making each of its advances exactly along the line of the West’s internal division, paralyzing each effort of the West to cope with it by touching some sympathetic nerve. The success of Communism…is never greater than the failure of all other faiths.
Through an involuntary process, borne of despair, Chambers ultimately rejected as illusions the Communist “mirage of Almighty Mind and its power to plan human salvation.” Chambers memorable description of this epiphany in “Witness” makes plain that from the outset his concerns extended beyond simply rejecting Communism.
What I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind–the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step…What I sensed without being able to phrase it was what has since been phrased with the simplicity of an axiom: “Man cannot organize the world for himself without God; without God man can only organize the world against man.” The gas ovens of Buchenwald and the Communist execution cellars exist first within our minds.
But even in the midst of this deeply religious experience, Chambers acknowledges his own indebtedness to reason–evident in the brilliant works he produced during the 23 years after renouncing Communism.
…[T]he torrent that swept through me in 1937 and the first months of 1938 swept my spirit clear to discern one truth: “Man without mysticism is a monster.” I do not mean, of course, that I denied the usefulness of reason and knowledge. What I grasped was that religion begins at the point where reason and knowledge are powerless and forever fail–the point at which man senses the mystery of his good and evil, his suffering and his destiny as a soul in search of God. Thus, in pain, I learned the distinction between wisdom and knowledge–knowledge, which however exalted, is seldom more than the making of careful measurements, and wisdom, which includes knowledge, but also includes man’s mystery.
Chambers cites a casual occurrence–focusing his gaze on the “delicate convolutions” of his young daughter’s ear–which in turn begot an “involuntary and unwanted” thought that led him, ultimately, away from Communism’s fanatical atheism, to a religious acceptance of belief in God.
…those intricate, perfect ears. The thought passed through my mind: “No those ears were not created by any chance coming together of atoms in nature (the Communist view). They could have been created only by immense design.”
While all ex-Communists would agree they renounced Communism to be free, for Chambers, freedom itself is a manifestation of divinity.
Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.
And when Chambers made his dramatic assertion to an inquisitorial panel of largely hostile journalists, during a live August 27, 1948 radio broadcast of Meet The Press, that, “Alger Hiss was a Communist and may still be one,” he recounts in “Witness”:
I like to believe that some who heard it, heard at the same instant, its inward meaning. That meaning was that God, Who is a God of Mercy, is also the God of Whom it is written: “The God Who made iron grow–He wanted no slaves.”
Chambers was convinced that man’s most worthy imperative was the ceaseless endeavor to know God.
[M]an is driven by the noblest of his intuitions–the sense of his mortal incompleteness–and by hard experience. For man’s occasional lapses from God-seeking inevitably result in intolerable shallowness of thought combined with incalculable mischief in action.
In this latter conviction, he shared Dostoevsky’s Weltanschauung, dramatized, as Chambers remarks, on a “titanic scale” as tragedy in “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Idiot”, and comedy in “The Possessed”.
Against liberalism’s social optimism (progress by reform) and the social optimism of the revolutionary left (progress by force), Dostoevsky asserted the eternal necessity of the soul to be itself. But he discerned that the moment man indulged his freedom to the point where he was also free from God, it led him into tragedy, evil and often the exact opposite of what he had intended. In human terms there was no solution for the problem of evil.
Chambers personal practice of religion was nonconformist and eclectic, true to his own assessment, characterized in a September, 1954 letter to William Buckley:
I stand within no religious orthodoxy. The temptation to orthodoxy is often strong, never more than in an age like this one, especially in a personal situation like mine. But it is not a temptation to which I have found it possible to yield.
Although baptized in an Episcopalian Church (i.e., the Cathedral of St. John the Divine) after abandoning Communism, Chambers worshipped as a Quaker, but rejected the Quaker’s pacifism. Nonconformism aside, the salient features of Chambers personal religiosity were his Christian pantheism, philosemitism and accompanying intolerance of racial bigotry, and, however brooding, hope.
Rebecca West’s June, 1952 Atlantic Monthly review of “Witness,” despite her obvious ambivalence about Chambers’ behaviors and beliefs, extolled the autobiography:
…so just and so massive in its resuscitation of the past…Chambers writes as writers by vocation try to write, and he makes the further discoveries about reality, pushing another half-inch below the surface, which writers hope to make when they write
Although expressly disinclined towards mystics and mysticism, West accurately represents the mystical tendencies in Chambers’ religious belief:
He now owns and works a large and productive farm in those parts [Westminster, Maryland], and his account of the sacrifices that he and his family have made to acquire that farm, and the joy they find in working it, reveals that he belongs to a certain well-recognized order of man. He believes that nature is an aspect of God, and that to grow crops and tend herds is a means of establishing communication with God…He is, in fact, a Christian mystic of the pantheist school…
“Witness” includes Chambers’ own beautifully evocative description of his “Christian pantheism,” captured in this lasting childhood recollection:
One day I wandered off alone and found myself before a high hedge that I had never seen before. It was so tall that I could not see over it and so thick that I could not see through it. But by lying flat against the ground, I wriggled between the provet stems. I stood up, on the other side, in a field covered from end to end, as high as my head, with thistles in full bloom. Clinging to the purple flowers, hovering over them, or twittering and dipping in flight, were dozens of goldfinches–little golden yellow birds with black, contrasting wings and caps. They did not pay the slightest attention to me, as if they had never seen a boy before. The sight was unexpected, the beauty was so absolute, that I thought I could not stand it and held to the hedge for support. Out loud, I said: “God.” It was a simple statement, not an exclamation, of which I would then have been incapable. At that moment, which I remembered through all the years of my life as one of its highest moments, I was closer than I would be again for almost forty years to the intuition that alone could give meaning to my life–the intuition that God and beauty are one.
Chambers’ December, 1946 Time cover essay on the nonpareil American black contralto, Marian Anderson, reveals how his Christian religious belief was philosemitic, and as a corollary, rejected the prevalent racial prejudice of that era.
At Salzburg, backdropped by magical mountains, where Austria’s great musical festivals were held before the war, and where he first heard Marian Anderson sing, Arturo Toscanini cried: “Yours is a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years.” Toscanini was hailing a great artist, but that voice was more than a magnificent personal talent. It was the religious voice of a whole religious people–probably the most God-obsessed (and man-despised) people since the ancient Hebrews. White Americans had withheld from Negro Americans practically everything but God. In return the Negroes had enriched American culture with an incomparable religious poetry and music, and its only truly great religious art–the spiritual. This religious and esthetic achievement of Negro Americans has found profound expression in Marian Anderson. She is not only the world’s greatest contralto and one of the very great voices of all time, she is also a dedicated character, devoutly simple, calm, religious. Manifest in the tranquil architecture of her face is her constant submission to the “Spirit, that dost prefer before all temples the upright heart and pure.”
Almost eleven years later, commenting on the Soviet Union’s cynical Middle Eastern policy of exploiting Arab Muslim hatred and paranoia, Chambers re-affirmed these sentiments in an October, 1957 essay for The National Review:
…Communism advances that disruptive master piece. We all know what it is, though no one likes to mention it. It is the State of Israel. At once, it becomes necessary to define our intentions clearly. A filthy anti-Semitism afflicts many minds in the West. Nothing is gained by denying it. So let us say flatly: in Christendom, no mind can claim to be civilized and, at the same time, be anti-Semitic, any more than an American mind can claim to be civilized and be anti-Negro. For all Christians, regardless of creed, the Vatican has defined the position once for all: “Spiritually, we are Semites.” Moreover, an immense compassion–mere goodwill is too genderless a term–before the spectacle of the Jewish tragedy in our century, must move our hourly understanding of what the State of Israel means in terms of hope fired by such suffering. Let us be quite sure we know this. For it is also necessary to look at Israel in terms of Middle East reality. Communism may lose friendly Egypt or Syria; it will look for purchasable pawns elsewhere. It is Israel, as an enemy, that Communism cannot afford to lose. [Chambers’ sobering assessment maintained only “…that the situation is hopeless…,” as he wrote in a November, 1957 letter to William Buckley. The letter also includes a sardonic reference to the enraged–and witless–reaction to this essay by pro-Arab ex-Communist Freda Utley: “Yet here is ben (sic, bint) Utli, frothing like a dervish…”]
Chambers’ relentless pursuit of truth in all matters, was prone to despairing conclusions. Yet his ultimate vision–imbued with religious faith–was one of hope. As a patient with chronic coronary artery disease (“angina”), Chambers sustained several non-fatal myocardial infarctions (“heart attacks”), prior to his July, 1961 death from a fatal heart attack. While recuperating from a November, 1952 heart attack in Baltimore’s St. Agnes Hospital, Chambers encountered a Passionist monk, Father Alan, whom he sensed was a kindred spirit. Seeking truth “greedily,” since “truth alone is felt to offer one austere, stripped hand-hold across a chasm,” Chambers decides to “cut through the careful irrelevancies of our talk,” query Father Alan, and gauge who he was.
I asked: “Father, what am I to answer those people who keep writing me that I was wrong to write in ‘Witness’ that I had left the winning side for the losing side? They say by calling the West the losing side, I have implied that evil can ultimately overcome good.” Father Alan studied his hands, which were lying in his lap. Then he glanced at me directly and asked: “Who says that the West deserves to be saved?”
Acknowledging the objections to such “unreasonably bleak” views, Chambers penultimate essay in “Cold Friday” sees hope–on his terms–in the mid-to late 1950s Eastern European revolts against Communist oppression.
In this age, hope is something that must be taken by the throat. That is to say, hope, to be durable and real, must begin with things exactly as they are, not as we suppose they were (even a few tranquillizing months ago), or as we wish they might be…The terms of hope are not to delude ourselves about this in order not to suffer in the shattering spins of fear that casts out hope…The deadly enemy of hope, its smiling murderer–is illusion…They [Eastern Europeans revolting against Communism] judge that hope for you (as it has been for them) can truly begin only when complacency has been eaten off as by an acid bath, consuming the temptation to illusion.
And Chambers concludes, appositely, with this stirring mystical vision of religious hope.
Put out of your mind so far as you can–at least in the way that a judge instructs a jury to put out of its mind a scrap of testimony that it has, nevertheless, plainly heard–what weighs and presses on us. The political revolution which reaches out for us. The scientific revolution. Put out of your mind for a moment the thermonuclear fear, the rocketry and the terrors that lie beyond. Under this appalling, dwarfing mass that troubles us–troubles us all the more because most of it we see the way an animal’s eye sees us at night, as shapeless patches of the darker dark–under this leaning overhang lives man: people in our undifferentiated millions, bounded by our household cares and happinesses, the fathers and mothers of children, grandfathers and grandmothers of grandchildren in whom we see the continuation of a pulse that began with the Creation.
Hurriyya Versus Freedom and Allah Versus the Judeo-Christian God
Major twentieth century scholars of Islam who were devout Christians, such as Father Louis Gardet, and Sir Hamilton Gibb, shared Chambers’ fears of an irreligious West succumbing to Godless materialism, in particular Communism. Prone to Islamic apologetics, they viewed Allah-fearing Islam, and its pious Muslim votaries, as a potential bulwark against the spread of Communist totalitarianism in the Middle East, Asia and Africa–but with important caveats. The modern Jesuit apologist for Islam, Gardet, acknowledged that Islam’s conception of liberty, even “in the ideal Muslim polity,” was not,
…the liberty for which one dies, that gives life its value and engages the dignity of man made in the image of God.
Moreover, Hamilton Gibb admitted that Islam’s sacralized rejection of equality for non-Muslims aside,
Not even the theoretical equality of all Muslims, though supported by several texts of the Koran, is enough to prove its religious democracy.
Gibb added rather caustically,
The main argument advanced in favor of this claim–the existence of a shura, or consultative council, in the primitive caliphate–no more proves the democracy of Islam than it does of Hitler.
The Orientalist Gustave von Grunebaum, a contemporary of Gardet and Gibb, dutifully interpreted Islam from the perspective of a Westerner steeped in the best of his own civilization. He argued that there was indeed no alternative way of making the study of Islam meaningful for non-Muslims, professional scholars and educated non-specialists alike, than dispassionately measuring it by the most demanding and universally valid Western standards devised for assessing intellectual and ethical worth. Von Grunebaum provided this lucid and unapologetic warning of how the geostrategic paradigm of “Islam as a bulwark against Communism” would run amok, in his 1955 review of writings by the immensely popular Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Muhammad Al-Ghazzali .
We concern ourselves with the compatibility or otherwise of Islam with communism and regardless of the conclusion in which we acquiesce, we are apt to overlook the fact that the Muslim circles most emphatically opposed to communism are at the same time potentially if not actually the most formidable stronghold of hostility to the West. Ghazzali’s tirade against American Democracy with its warning “against the spreading American ways,” with its condemnation of “the domestic as well as foreign policy of America” as “actually a systematic violation of every virtue humanity has ever known” should make us aware that the Muslim “extremists” will be with the West not because of any recognized affinity but merely out of momentary political considerations. Ultimately, the self-conscious world of Islam would wish to consolidate into a power center strong enough to set itself up by the side of the Russian and the Western blocks, strong enough to determine for itself what its primary political concerns should be, and strong enough perhaps to be no longer compelled to westernize for the sake of survival. The hot-headed half-truths of Ghazzali must not delude us into considering absurd the aspiration of those who feel that for its revival Islam needs less rather than more gifts of the West.
Hurriyya, Arabic for “freedom,” and the uniquely Western concept of freedom are completely at odds. Hurriyya “freedom” — as Ibn Arabi (d. 1240) the lionized “Greatest Sufi Master”, expressed it — “being perfect slavery.” And this conception is not merely confined to the Sufis’ metaphorical understanding of the relationship between Allah the “master” and his human “slaves.”
The late American scholar of Islam, Franz Rosenthal (d. 2003) analyzed the larger context of hurriyya in Muslim society. He notes the historical absence of hurriyya as “…a fundamental political concept that could have served as a rallying cry for great causes.”
An individual Muslim
…was expected to consider subordination of his own freedom to the beliefs, morality and customs of the group as the only proper course of behavior…
Thus politically, Rosenthal concludes,
…the individual was not expected to exercise any free choice as to how he wished to be governed…In general, …governmental authority admitted of no participation of the individual as such, who therefore did not possess any real freedom vis-a-vis it.
Bernard Lewis, in his analysis of hurriyya for the venerated Brill Encyclopedia of Islam, discusses this concept in the latter phases of the Ottoman Empire, through the contemporary era. After highlighting a few “cautious” or “conservative” (Lewis’ characterization) reformers and their writings, Lewis maintains,
…there is still no idea that the subjects have any right to share in the formation or conduct of government–to political freedom, or citizenship, in the sense which underlies the development of political thought in the West. While conservative reformers talked of freedom under law, and some Muslim rulers even experimented with councils and assemblies government was in fact becoming more and not less arbitrary….
Lewis also makes the important point that Western colonialism ameliorated this chronic situation:
During the period of British and French domination, individual freedom was never much of an issue. Though often limited and sometimes suspended, it was on the whole more extensive and better protected than either before or after.
Lewis concludes with a stunning observation, when viewed in light of the present travails of the so-called “Arab Spring,” and throughout the Muslim world, delusively optimistic assessments notwithstanding:
In the final revulsion against the West, Western democracy too was rejected as a fraud and a delusion, of no value to Muslims.
Writing in 1979, Hava Lazarus-Yafeh noted (from her essay, “Three Remarks on Islam and Western Political Values”) that the traditional Arabic term to denote people or citizen, which is usually ‘abd (plural ibad), meaning “the slave or servant of God,” was antithetical to the Western democratic worldview. She further described the perverse phenomenon–borne of complete Western rejection–that nevertheless caused an “amalgamation” of Islamic and Western values in the warped political language of Islam’s contemporary theocrats–the Muslim Brotherhood, being a prime example–then, and now. Thus,
When calling for an Islamic totalitarian Republic, wherein the ulama hoped to restore God’s will in history, they used Western concepts of democracy, liberty, equality etc.,…All of these contemporary religious leaders in Islam were raised and nourished by the literary activity of the Modernists who consciously blurred the differences between East and West. Hence we may understand the unintelligible phenomenon of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, talking about Islamic democracy and freedom while cultivating a vision of an Islamic State, which is certainly a far cry from any Western democracy.
Lazarus-Yafeh’s analysis includes this frank Muslim Brotherhood December, 1976 articulation (from the Brotherhood publication Al-Dawa) of their timeless vision of Islamic democracy and freedom:
We demand an Islamic nation, living a true Islamic life in politics, society, economics, education, culture and every other sphere of life. Islamic law does not restrict itself to the cutting of hands or flogging criminals. To neglect prayer is also a criminal act, and to eat in public during Ramadan is a criminal act and so is the refraining from giving alms, taking interest, drinking, selling or transporting wine, opening public entertainment places and accepting taxes from these places, broadcasting (secular) songs on the radio and showing cheap exotic movies on the television, letting women dress indecently, and print heretic ideas in books and newspapers…We shall not be deceived any more. The Muslim people have a clear goal and will not settle for less than complete victory.
This is the context in which to understand the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s use of the term “Hurriyya” (Horeya) in a brief late February, 2011 announcement describing the new political party it has created:
Egypt’s largest political opposition the Muslim Brotherhood, has confirmed that it is preparing to establish a political party calling it the Freedom and Justice Party, or Horeya and Adala.”
As former Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef recently told the NY Times (in a statement published 6/20/11):
Our preliminary platform will be shown through the Freedom and Justice Party. But our full platform will not be disclosed until we are in complete control and take the presidency as well.
The 1976 Muslim Brotherhood statement quoted by Lazarus-Yafeh, above, articulates that “full platform.”
Ultimately, hurriyya is but a requisite extension of Allah’s dominion, antithetical to the Western conception of freedom derived from belief in the Judeo-Christian God.
William Gifford Palgrave (d. 1888), journeyed through the Arabian peninsula from 1862-63, disguised as a Muslim physician, recording his detailed observations in a renowned travelogue. Palgrave, who developed an intimate understanding of Islam, in both theory and practice, has provided us with a timeless, clear-eyed characterization of Allah, elucidating the origins of the irreconcilable difference between hurriyya, and Western freedom.
The sole power, the sole motor, movement, energy and deed is God (i.e., Allah); the rest is downright inertia and mere instrumentality, from the highest archangel down to the simplest atom of creation. Hence in this one sentence, ‘La ilaha illa Allah’ [‘There is no god but God’], is summed up a system, for want of a better name, I may be permitted to call the Pantheism of Force, or of Act, thus exclusively assigned to God, who absorbs it all, exercises it all, and to Whom alone it can be ascribed, whether for preserving or for destroying, for relative evil or for equally relative good. I say relative because it is clear in such a theology no place is left for absolute good or evil, reason or extravagance; all is abridged in the autocratical will of the one great Agent…
…One might at first sight think that this tremendous Autocrat, this uncontrolled and unsympathizing Power would be far above anything like passions, desires, or inclinations. Yet such is not the case, for He has with respect to His creatures one main feeling and source of action, namely, jealousy of them, lest they should perchance attribute to themselves something of what is His alone, and thus encroach on His all-engrossing kingdom. Hence He is ever more ready to punish than reward, to inflict pain than to bestow pleasure, to ruin than to build. It is His singular satisfaction to make created beings continually feel that they are nothing else than His slaves, His tools, and contemptible tools also, that thus they may the better acknowledge His superiority, and know His power above their power, His cunning above their cunning, His will above their will, His pride above their pride; or rather, that there is no power, cunning, will or pride save His own. But He Himself, sterile in His inaccessible height, neither loving nor enjoying aught save His own and self-measured decree, without son, companion or counselor, is no less barren for Himself than for His creatures; and His own barrenness and lone egoism in Himself is the cause and rule of His indifferent and unregarding despotism around.
…In fact, every phrase of the preceding sentences, every touch in this odious portrait has been taken to the best of my ability, word for word, or at least meaning for meaning, from ‘the Book’ [the Koran], the truest mirror of the mind and scope of its writer. And that such was in reality Mahomet’s mind and idea is fully confirmed by the witness-tongue of contemporary tradition.[i.e., Islam’s other foundational texts, especially the canonical hadith, as well as the most esteemed Koranic commentaries] Of this we have authentic examples: the Saheeh [the two most important canonical hadith collections by Muslim and Bukhari], the [Koranic] commentaries of Beidhawi, the Mishkat-el-Misabih [another caonical hadith collection] and fifty similar works afford ample testimony on this point.
James Freeman Clarke (d. 1888), America’s first, and arguably still one of her greatest scholars of comparative religion, expounded upon Palgrave’s analysis of Allah in his 1871 treatise, “Ten Great Religions–An Essay in Comparative Theology.” Clarke sees in Islam’s conception of Allah–“that which makes of God pure will…divorced from reason and love”–a regression from the Judeo-Christian God.
Comparing Islam to Judaism, Clarke observes,
Goodness does not consist in obedience to divine will, but in conformity to the divine character. This is the doctrine of the Old Testament and one of its noblest characteristics…Mohammedanism is a relapse [from Judaism]…for it makes God only an arbitrary sovereign whose will is to be obeyed without any reference to its moral character.
Moreover, Clarke notes, Islam’s Allah was
…abstracted from matter, and so not to be represented by pictures and images; God withdrawn out of the world, and above all–in total separation.
In contrast, Judaism conceptualized God as being
… with man, by his repeated miraculous coming down in prophets, judges, kings; also with his people, the Jews, mysteriously present in their tabernacle and temple.
Christianity, Clarke maintains, added the notion of the God “in us all,” a strong pantheistic tendency, likely derived from the converted Greeks and Romans, and distinctly evident in Whittaker Chambers’ theology.
The New Testament is full of this kind of pantheism,–God in man, as well as God with man. Jesus made the step forward from God with man to God in man,–“I in them, thou in me.” The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is this idea, of God who is not only will and power, not only wisdom and law, but also love; of a God who desires communion and intercourse with his children, so coming and dwelling in them. Mohammed teaches a God above us; Moses teaches a God above us, and yet with us; Jesus teaches God above us, God with us, and God in us.
Clarke concludes that Islam’s alternate “central idea concerning God”–its conception of Allah–has not been salutary for Muslim societies.
Its governments are not governments…It makes life barren and empty. It encourages a savage pride and cruelty. It makes men tyrants or slaves, women puppets, religion the submission to an infinite despotism.
This uniform tendency towards a steely authoritarianism in Islamic states has long been understood.
Jacob Burckhardt (d. 1897), an iconic figure in the annals of Western historiography, believed it was the solemn duty of Western civilization’s heirs to study and acknowledge their own unique cultural inheritance. Moreover, while Burckhardt affirmed the irreducible nature of freedom, and upheld equality before the law, he decried the notion–a pervasive, rigidly enforced dogma at present–that all ways of life, opinions, and beliefs were of equal value. Burckhardt argued that this conceptual reductio ad absurdum would destroy Western culture, heralding a return to barbarism. And contra the Western legacy–epitomized by freedom–Burckhardt referred to Islam as a despotic, or in 20th century parlance, totalitarian ideology.
All religions are exclusive, but Islam is quite notably so, and immediately it developed into a state which seemed to be all of a piece with the religion. The Koran is its spiritual and secular book of law. Its statutes embrace all areas of life…and remain set and rigid; the very narrow Arab mind imposes this nature on many nationalities and thus remolds them for all time (a profound, extensive spiritual bondage!) This is the power of Islam in itself. At the same time, the form of the world empire as well as of the states gradually detaching themselves from it cannot be anything but a despotic monarchy. The very reason and excuse for existence, the holy war, and the possible world conquest, do not brook any other form.
The strongest proof of real, extremely despotic power in Islam is the fact that it has been able to invalidate, in such large measure, the entire history (customs, religion, previous way of looking at things, earlier imagination) of the peoples converted to it. It accomplished this only by instilling into them a new religious arrogance which was stronger than everything and induced them to be ashamed [emphasis in original] of their past.
Perhaps the initial reference to Islam as a totalitarian system, specifically (Burckhardt had used the most comparable 19th century term, “despotism”), was made in 1937 by Charles R. Watson, the Cairo-born first head of the American University at Cairo. Watson noted,
In the case of the Mohammedan world, religion has seemingly affected every detail of life with its prescriptions and requirements…[N]o other religion, as it conquered new territory, has so completely and quickly wiped out even the culture of the conquered people and imposed upon their total life new ways and customs, often a new language, as has the Mohammedan religion.
Islam can truly be described as totalitarian. By a million roots, penetrating every phase of life, all of them with religious significance, it is able to maintain its hold upon the life of the Moslem peoples.
Subsequently, in 1950, G.H. Bousquet, one of the pre-eminent 20th century scholars of the Sharia (Islamic, or Mohammedan Law), described Islam as “as a doubly totalitarian system,” which, via the timeless institution of jihad war,
…claimed to impose itself on the whole world and it claimed also, by the divinely appointed Mohammedan law…to regulate down to the smallest details the whole life of the Islamic community and of every individual believer.
What Apostates from Communism and Islam Can Teach the West
According to polling data released April 24, 2007 the preponderance of Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia, share the goal of re-establishing an Islamic Caliphate. A rigorously conducted face-to-face University of Maryland/ WorldPublicOpinion.org interview survey of 4384 Muslims conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007-1000 Moroccans, 1000 Egyptians, 1243 Pakistanis, and 1141 Indonesians, revealed that 65.2% of those interviewed–almost 2/3, hardly a “fringe minority”–desired this outcome (i.e., “To unify all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate.” The internal validity of these data about the present longing for a Caliphate is strongly suggested by a concordant result: 65.5% of this Muslim sample approved the proposition “To require a strict application of Sharia law in every Islamic country.”
Publication June 7, 2011 of the landmark “Sharia and Violence in American Mosques” study provides irrefragable evidence that 81% of this nationally representative sample of US mosques–consistent with mainstream Islamic doctrine, practice, and sentiment since the founding of the Muslim creed–are inculcating jihadism with the goal of implementing Sharia here in America. These mosque data represent another manifestation of institutional American Islam’s jihadism expressed clandestinely 20 years ago in a Muslim Brotherhood statement dated May 22, 1991, written by an acolyte of Brotherhood “Spiritual Leader” Yusuf al-Qaradawi. Entitled “An Explanatory Memorandum On the General Strategic Goal for the Group In North America,” the document–uncovered during the Holy Land Foundation trial–is indeed self-explanatory.
The Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and “sabotaging” its miserable house by their hands and by the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God’s religion is made victorious over all other religions.
Whittaker Chambers offered these insights from “Witness” that explain how American Muslims could rationalize such seditious behaviors–consistent with Islamic doctrine–and why this phenomenon remains largely incomprehensible to non-Muslim Americans, despite its existential threat to them.
What went on in the minds of those Americans…that made it possible to betray their country? Did none of them suffer a crisis of conscience? The question presupposes that whoever asks it has still failed to grasp that Communists mean exactly what they have been saying for a hundred years: they regard any government that is not Communist, including their own, merely as the political machine of a class whose power they have organized expressly to overthrow by all means, including violence. Therefore the problem of espionage never presents itself to them as problem of conscience, but a problem of operations…
The failure to understand that fact is part of the total failure of the West to grasp the nature of its enemy, what he wants, what he means to do and how he will go about doing it. It is part of the failure of the West to understand that it is at grips with an enemy having no moral viewpoint in common with itself, that two irreconcilable viewpoints and standards of judgment, two irreconcilable moralities, proceeding from two irreconcilable readings of man’s fate and future are involved, and hence their conflict is irrepressible.
Chambers pellucid formulation of the Communist threat–whether covert or overt–was rooted in his thorough doctrinal and experiential understanding of Communism. Elsewhere in “Witness” he states,
No one knows so well as the ex-Communist the character of the conflict, and of the enemy…For no other has seen so deeply into the total nature of the evil with which Communism threatens mankind.
But for all his ambivalence–at times, verging on despair–about the trajectory of Western civilization, Chambers was motivated by a burning desire to preserve what he loved about the West, and its institutions. Chambers’ ongoing, deep affection for the civilization of the West was perhaps most evident in his celebratory, luminous seven part essay series, “The History of Western Culture,” published in Life Magazine between April, 1947 and June, 1948. His opening essay on the Middle Ages, while acknowledging that “life for the mass of medieval men was hard and often brutal,” also recounts how medieval man
…was the creator of arts and master of a craftsmanship that has never since been equaled. He wove Europe’s most superb tapestries. He made stained glass of a beauty that modern man has failed to imitate. His book-making excelled anything that 20th century book designers and manufacturers have done. His hymns, like Adam of St. Victor’s hymns to the Virgin, are still unexcelled. The universities, a medieval creation that the classical world had never known, have come down to us in the same form. In countless ways modern man is the heir of the Middle Ages.
In the last centuries of the Middle Ages medieval mind burst into creativity in its three ultimate glories: the Gothic cathedrals, the philosophy of Aquinas, the poetry of Dante.
Not unexpectedly, Chambers sees medieval man’s “supreme craving” as one for light, ultimately directed, in hope, toward God.
Light had been the supreme craving of medieval man–light after historical darkness, light in ignorance, light in human despair, light as God. It was given to Dante to see this light in Heaven: “O supreme Light, Who liftest Thyself so high above mortal thought, lend me again a little of that which Thou didst seem; and give my tongue such power that it may leave even a single spark of Thy glory to all men to come.” Medieval man could do no more. And as he looked back, in the evening of the Middle Ages, at the darkness from which he had come and the heights which he had achieved, he could say with Dante, climbing out of the pit of hell: “And thus we emerged again to see the stars.”
Ever skeptical of rationalist excesses, Chambers’ essay “The Age of Enlightenment,” opens with a humorous anecdote that parodies the “supremacy” of reason.
Mademoiselle de Coigny kept a corpse in her couch. The Age of Reason was dawning in France–it was the 18th Century–and there were otherwise just not enough minutes in those days of wonderful Enlightenment for mademoiselle to pursue, like other dedicated bluestockings, the fascinating study of anatomy. But with corpse handy and her scalpel as keen as M. de Voltaire’s wickedly witty mind, she could, while rattling over the Paris cobbles, slice and eviscerate in daily officiation at the new faith whose deity was reason, whose ritual was science and whose high priests were the philosophes, the new order of literary skeptics.
Yet Chambers also pays unequivocal tribute to the living legacy of the Enlightenment’s vision–Western freedoms, including those embodied in America’s Bill of Rights.
The vision of the Enlightenment was freedom–freedom from superstition, freedom from intolerance, freedom to know (for knowledge was held to be the ultimate power), freedom from the arbitrary authority of church or state, freedom to trade or work without vestigial feudal restrictions. This vision was embodied in the American Bill of Rights (for 18th century America was also part of the Enlightenment)…
Mirroring the ex-Communist apostate, Chambers, vis a vis Communism, Ibn Warraq, the contemporary Muslim apostate, combines a highly informed, profound appreciation for his adopted Western civilization, with a deep understanding of the doctrinal and historical threat Islam poses to the West.
Warraq’s books and essays have critically examined Islam’s origins, tenets, and history. His scholarly 2003 analysis of apostasy in Islam–illustrated by extensive, poignant testimonies from modern Muslim apostates–remains a landmark work documenting this unresolved global human rights tragedy. More recently. Warraq produced an expansive, breathtaking overview of the West’s contributions to art, literature, and philosophy, which was combined with a sound debunking of post-modern, anti-Western charlatanism, epitomized by the sorry “oeuvre” of Edward Said. During a debate with the duplicitous Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Tariq Ramadan, Warraq offered this passionate defense of the West:
In the West we are free to think what we want, to read what we want, to practice our religion, to live the lives of out choosing. The notion of human rights, and freedom were, I believe, there at the dawn of Western civilization, as ideals at least, and further developed during the Enlightenment…It was the West that took steps to abolish slavery; the calls for the abolition of slavery did not resonate even in black Africa, where the rival African tribes took black prisoners in the West. By contrast, stoning to death someone for adultery is a clear violation of the human rights of the individuals concerned; punishments. Laws concerning inheritance, and the rights of women prescribed by the Sharia, Islamic law, also flagrantly violate the rights of individuals. Under Islamic law, women are not free to marry men whom they wish, homosexuals are killed, apostates are to be executed. The Koran is not a rights-respecting documenting. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness defines succinctly the attractiveness and superiority of Western civilization. We are free, in the West, to choose; we have real choice to pursue our desires; we are free to set the goals and contents of our own lives; the West is made up of individuals who are free to decide what meaning to give to their lives. In short, the glory of the West is that life is an open book, while under Islam, life is a closed book. Everything has been decided for you: God [Allah] and the Holy Law set limits on the possible agenda of your life. In many non-Western countries, especially Islamic ones, we are not free to read what we want; in Saudi Arabia, Muslims are not free to convert to Christianity and Christians are not free to practice their faith–all clear violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…A [Western] culture that gave the world the spiritual creations of the classical music of Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Schubert; the paintings of Michelangelo and Raphael, and Da Vinci and Rembrandt, does not need lessons from societies whose idea of spirituality is a heaven peopled with female virgins for the use of men, whose idea of heaven resembles a cosmic brothel.
While Chambers defense of the West hinged on deep religious faith, he respected, within severe limits, the Enlightenment legacy of reason, particularly its role in shaping American freedom. Conversely, Ibn Warraq, although profoundly skeptical of “revelation,” pays homage to Judeo-Christian religious ethics (from the forthcoming “Why the West is Best“):
Judeo-Christianity introduced the ethical concepts of love, compassion, and forgiveness, expressing a new sensibility, a new responsiveness to human suffering , and a refusal to accept the normalcy of evil. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount [Matt.5-7] exhorts each person to take responsibility and assume all consequences for human suffering, even though he is not the original cause. Christian love demands each individual to go the extra mile for the neighbor, a timely reminder that we are responsible for bearing the cares of the world, that we have a debt to acquit, and must act accordingly to fight evil on behalf of all humans for as long as suffering exists. Our humanity lies in our responsibility for others
Whittaker Chambers ex-Communist colleague Arthur Koestler, famously told Richard Crossman, editor of “The God That Failed,” an anthology of essays written by apostates from Communism,
You hate our Cassandra cries, and resent us as allies–but, when all is said, we ex-Communists are the only people on your side who know what it is all about.
Crossman added this germane observation to the anthology’s introduction, after studying the diverse experiences of the ex-Communist contributors:
Silone [Ignacio Silone, author and former head the Italian Communist Party underground] was joking when he said to Togliatti [a close friend of Silone, and former secretary of the Italian Communist Party] that the final battle would be between the Communists and ex-Communists.. But no one who has not wrestled with Communism as a philosophy and Communists as political opponents can really understand the values of Western democracy. The Devil once lived in Heaven, and those who have not met him are unlikely to recognize an angel when they see one.
Ibn Warraq synthesized and updated these observations to highlight their urgent relevance to Islam’s resurgent modern jihad against the West. Barring the very dubious prospect that “a reformed, tolerant, liberal kind of Islam” emerges imminently, he warned
[P]erhaps the final battle will be between Islam and Western democracy. And these former Muslims, to echo Koestler’s words, on the side of Western democracy are the only one’s who know what it’s all about, and we would do well to listen to their Cassandra cries.
We ignore Warraq’s plea–repeated by legions of Muslim apostates–at our existential peril.