The fastest growing religion in the world today is Islam. Studies in demographics clearly show the trend, and the amount of Muslims around the world is projected to almost double by 2050 to 2,8 billion. But what is most impressive for the faith is the amount of young people that identify as Muslim - the median age (as of 2010) is 23, and there is an incredibly high amount of people in their early 20s and younger when compared to other Abrahamic faiths.
And yet, Islam seems to have a bit of an image problem - sabre rattling between extremist groups flying the flag of Islam and the rhetoric of hawkish populist politicians who oppose them have contributed to a phenomenon around the world the media has dubbed islamophobia. Through no fault of the overwhelming majority of Muslims numbering 1,6 billion around the globe, they are often lumped in with the extremism of groups affiliated with Daesh, al-Queda and others.
Daesh is truly the best distilled example of this type of organisation. But it is not their successes on the battlefield or their acts of terrorism around the world that make them so monumental, but their media wing, al-Amaq. They work tirelessly to broadcast updates, show us the brutal way they deal with “apostates”, traitors and POWs, and try their hardest to present life under Daesh’s yoke as normal. The only thing one needs to do to get live updates from them is to join their Telegram channel. It has never been this easy to interact with an organisation like Daesh, and this brings them power and prestige.
Also in the conflict-laden Syria, the state-run broadcaster SANA is fighting a PR war to the media wings of groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly called Jabhat al-Nusra). They show us video of battlefield situations, often in HD and filmed from drones flying overhead. When Jabhat al-Nusra rebranded, their leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani gave an interview with al-Jazeera, a worldwide Qatari news network.
Meanwhile, an influx of civilians fleeing not only the conflict in Syria but also poverty or otherwise unenviable situations in North Africa and Afghanistan have descended on Europe. The attitude of some politicians and their followers has been well documented, and probably can best be summed up by a Tweet Donald Trump’s official account posted:
It is with this backdrop that we can look into the previous century and the last existential philosophical threat faced by the populist and his ignorant slack-jawed followers: Marxist-Leninism, the brand of revolutions termed “Communist” in the West. The fear of Red influence pushed the United States into a dark time of McCarthyism. Additionally, sovereign governments like that of Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran, were overthrown - Mosaddegh’s offence was nationalising Iran’s oil out of British hands, which also doubled as a suspected manoeuvre to the left. In the global war against the ideology of Communism support for ruthless and corrupt regimes like that of Fulgencio Batista of Cuba became necessary.
Before the Cold War, it was Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union that became part of the coalition to face down the Axis powers in World War II. It was overwhelmingly Soviet blood that paid for the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany, but it could not have happened without the aid sent to the Soviet Union by Western powers. And after the grand enemy was defeated, the fact that the USSR had its own ambitions for what to do with the territory they conquered created the detente of the Cold War.
The parallel here is the Mujahadeen of Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion in the 80s. These groups were supported heavily by NATO powers for the express purpose of repelling the USSR and sending them back to their crumbling union. There was just the small problem that it was an alliance of convenience and not one of any long-standing value to either party - the values and goals of the Mujahadeen were not limited to repelling invaders from Afghanistan, but of creating a global Islamic movement, much like the Marxist-Leninists before sought to further the philosophy of global socialism.
The Mujahadeen’s vision of Islam was just as warped as the Marxist-Leninist’s view of Marxism. I am a socialist and a Post-Marxist (the “post” is for a modern approach to Marx’s work), but that does not blind me to the fact that many of the regimes cloaked in the pages of Das Kapital in the world brought nothing but suffering. I find Khmer Rouge’s crimes against humanity as detestable as the crimes of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s Daesh, and so does the entirety of the Muslim world save for a few individuals. It is the perception of the spectre of the monster-turned-strawman that drove the fear of Marxism in America during a large part of the last century, and it is the fear of the monster-turned-strawman of Islam that drives many to fear innocent Muslims. It doesn’t matter if the victims are non-believers or capitalist pigs: the populists of the hard right, whether they’re McCarthys or Wilders, will always find a way to spin the narrative to that same undesirable place.
And, if history has taught us anything, it is that they will always find a greater fool to buy their arguments.