Hannah Arendt and "Islamic totalitarianism"

An interesting if flawed essay in the Forward marks the 100th anniversary of Hannah Arendt's birth by discussing whether she would have seen Islamism (presumably the Al Qaeda variety) as a form of totalitarianism. Reading it confirms, for me, the fundamental flaw in seeing Al Qaeda as in any way similar to Soviet or Chinese Communism or German or Italian fascism. It is, in my opinion, much more similar to European nihilistic terrorist groups of the 1970s. Except that Al Qaeda enjoyed serious backing by Pakistan's and Saudi Arabia's intelligence agencies, and previously the CIA.

There is certainly little evidence that non-violent Islamist groups are totalitarian in any way -- even if some of their practices are dubious and those governments run by Islamists have a generally poor human right record. Backwards and repressive, yes. Totalitarian? It would be a compliment.
1 Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.