Ex-Marxist discovers primacy of ideology

John LloydIn his latest contribution to the Guardian‘s Comment is Free, John Lloyd repeats the tired old argument that the basic cause of terrorism by extremist Islamist groups is not Western imperialism but the ideology of Islamism. Citing Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s view that “the driver of Muslim intolerance is Islam itself”, Lloyd writes: “I am with Hirsi Ali on this.”

Lloyd’s profound knowledge of Islamism is revealed in the following passage: “This ideology has been fashioned in the past few decades, by such figures as the Pakistani Abu Ala Mawdudi and the Egyptians Hasan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The first of these was the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, the next two were executed at different times by the Egyptian authorities…”

Mawdudi was in fact the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami; it was Hasan al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood. The latter was assassinated, not executed. He died in 1949 and Sayyid Qutb in 1966, so it’s difficult to see how they were able to fashion Islamist ideology “in the past few decades”. But apart, from that, Lloyd’s summary of Islamist history is scrupulously accurate!

Furthermore, anyone who argues for the primacy of religious ideology in determining political action should try explaining the role of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Formally the most pacifistic of religions, Buddhism has provided the ideology for acts of extreme anti-Tamil violence by Sinhalese chauvinists going back to the 1950s. The reason, as any Marxist would tell you, is that it is material conditions and social relations that are primary and ideologies, religious or otherwise, are adapted to serve the needs of particular social forces. You might have thought that a former supporter of the British and Irish Communist Organisation would know that.