Islamist Totalitarianism: The Fourth Totalitarianism

Christopher Hurtado —  May 20, 2011 — Leave a comment
Islamist Totalitarianism: The Fourth Totalitarianism | Christopher Hurtado


Polemicists and pundits frequently use terms such as “Fascislamism,” “Islamic totalitarianism,” “Islamist totalitarianism,” and “Islamo-fascism” when describing Islamism. But is there any truth in these polemics? Is Islamism fascist? Is it totalitarian?

What is Fascism?

Many define fascism, as does the New Oxford American Dictionary, as “an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government and social organization” or, in a more general sense, to refer to “extreme right wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice” The same dictionary also points out that “the term Fascism was first used of the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922-43),” and that “the regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also fascist” ().

What is Totalitarianism?

Totalitarianism can be defined variously in terms of its origin, characteristics, praxis, and effect. There are various theories of the origin of totalitarianism. According to scholarly research on totalitarianism, there are certain characteristics in common in all totalitarian regimes. The praxis of totalitarian regimes is varied. Nevertheless, upon close examinations, patterns of praxis emerge. Scholars of totalitarianism have variously described the effect of totalitarianism. Notwithstanding, they all agree on its basic nature.

Totalitarian movements and regimes

“the term ‘totalitarian’ was originally applied by critical observers to the Bolshevik and Italian Fascist regimes, and was thereafter extended to the Nazi regime and other communist regimes” (Bale ).

What is Islamism?

Islamism can be defined in terms of four essential characteristics: (1) the complete rejection of Western secular values; (2) an uncompromising refusal to accept “infidel” cultural, social, political, or economic influence over the Muslim world; (3) a marked hostility toward Muslims who do not share their beliefs and practices; and (4) adamancy regarding the establishment of an Islamic order or state governed according to their rigid and puritanical interpretation of Islamic law. (Bale )

Methodology and Thesis

This paper will examine the four aspects of totalitarianism outlined above vis-à-vis Islamism. In terms of the origin of totalitarianism, it will show that any one of the various theories might apply to Islamism. In terms of characteristics, it will show that Islamist movements and regimes include all of the characteristics identified with totalitarianism. In terms of praxis, it will show that Islamists share many, if not all, of the practices of totalitarian movements and regimes. In terms of effect, it will show that Islamism has the same net effect as totalitarianism. Ultimately, it will demonstrate that Islamism is, in fact, totalitarian. Thus, Islamism is the fourth totalitarianism.

The Origin of Totalitarianism

Perhaps the best-known theory on the origin of totalitarianism is German-American political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s. Arendt put forward her theory of the origin of totalitarianism in her 1951 book The Origins of Totalitarianism (originally entitled The Burden of Our Times). Other theories include those of preeminent 20th century Viennese philosopher of science Karl Popper in his 1945 two-volume work The Open Society and Its Enemies, preeminent 20th century Viennese economist and philosopher F.A. Hayek in his 1945 book The Road to Serfdom, and management consultant and “social ecologist” Peter F. Drucker’s 1939 book The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism (originally entitled The End of Economic Man: A Study of the New Totalitarianism).

Alienation as the Origin of Totalitarianism

According to Peter F. Drucker, alienation is the origin of totalitarianism. Drucker saw what he called “fascist totalitarianism” as a rejection of all previous ideologies and as lacking a positive ideology of its own. Thus, Drucker believed, the masses joined the “fascist” movement not because they believed the promises it made in place of a positive creed, but because they didn’t believe them. According to Drucker, Mussolini “wanted to claim that the deed is before the thought, and that revolution logically precedes the development of a new creed or of a new economic order.” Fascism’s main platform, argued Drucker, was negation (Drucker 12-13).

According to Drucker, “Fascism is the result of the collapse of Europe’s spiritual and social order” (Drucker 24). Capitalism and Marxism had failed, revealing to man that “society is governed not by rational and sensible, but by blind, irrational, and demonic forces” (Drucker 59). To make matters worse, religion failed to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of the “economic concept of society” (Drucker 85). Drucker argues that “the breakdown of democracy and its institutions was caused by the absence of an emotional attachment to its creed” (Drucker 121-122). Finally, “fascism seeks a society beyond socialism and capitalism” (Drucker 132) – a noneconomic military society (Drucker 142).

Alienation as the Origin of Islamism

It is possible that alienation is the origin of Islamism. In the introduction to Milestones, on the opening page, Sayyid Qutb explains, “Democracy in the West has become infertile to such an extent that it is borrowing from the systems of the Eastern bloc…. It is the same with the Eastern bloc. …Marxism, in the beginning attracted … a large number of people…. But now [it] is defeated on the plane of thought” He then tells us why: “On the whole this theory conflicts with man’s nature and its needs.” Finally, he exclaims, “It is essential for mankind to have new leadership!” The West is devoid of the values necessary to guide human life and only Islam can provide them (Milestones 7-8).

Religion, or at least the clerics, also failed to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of economic society in Qutb’s Egypt, according to al-Banna. In “Toward the Light,” al-Banna argued that this failure should not divert Egypt from its religion (al-Banna 123-124). Of course, the religion al-Banna and Qutb spoke of was meant to be a new noneconomic militant Islamist society, akin to the fabled past one they imagined, replacing the spiritual and social order of the day. This new society represented a negation of all other ideologies. However, beyond this negation, it also claimed to be a positive ideology – one based on al-Banna and Qutb’s conception of the period of Islamic expansion under Muhammad and the rightly guided caliphs.

Socialism as the Origin of Totalitarianism

According to F.A. Hayek, socialism is the origin of totalitarianism. Collectivist, socialist ideology calls for state planning in place of a free market for the sake of ‘social justice’ and state planning, argues Hayek, leads to totalitarianism. Hayek is not arguing against socialist ideals per se, nor even planning per se. Rather, he is arguing against state planning on the grounds that, without a free market in which the people might express their choices, the state cannot know what the people want or need. Hayek argues against socialist ideologues who believe that, in a socialist society, planning will involve the people since the people would never agree due to personal preferences (Tormey 9-13).

Socialism as the Origin of Islamism

It is possible that socialism is the origin of Islamism. Sayyid Qutb declared in Milestones, “social justice can come to a society only after all affairs have been submitted to the laws of God and the society as a whole is willing to accept the just division of wealth prescribed by Him.” He then added that “The society should not be in such a condition that some are driven by greed while others are burning with envy … as is the case under systems which are based on any authority other than God’s” (Milestones 27).

Historicism as the Origin of Totalitarianism

According to Karl Popper, historicism is the origin of totalitarianism. For Popper, historicism is, “the doctrine that history is controlled by specific historical or evolutionary laws whose discovery would enable us to prophesy the destiny of man.” One of the oldest forms of historicism, says Popper, is the doctrine of the chosen. It is an attempt to explain history theistically. According to “the doctrine of the chosen people,” God is the author of the play being acted out on the “Historical Stage” and the people he has chosen will inherit the earth. According to Popper, there is no doubt that “the doctrine of the chosen people” originated in tribal societies. Popper equates tribalism with collectivism, given that in tribal society the individual is nothing without the tribe (The Open Society and Its Enemies 8-9).

Historicism as the Origin of Islamism

It is possible that historicism is the origin of Islamism. It is possible that the origin of Islamism lies in historicism. Islam emerged the tribal Arab society. As such, it is inherently collectivist. Just as pre-Islamic society emphasized the tribe over the individual, Islam emphasizes the ummah, or “the whole community of Muslims bound together by ties of religion” (New Oxford American Dictionary). “The doctrine of the chosen” also figures prominently in Islam, and is emphasized by Islamist thinkers. Muslim Brotherhood ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, wrote of the ummah in his Islamist tract, Milestones, “The people who are really chosen by God are the Muslim community which has gathered under God’s banner without regard to differences of races, nations, colors and countries” (Milestones 126). Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna (131) closes his letter to King Faruq et al. outlining his Islamist program “God is our sufficiency; He is enough; and peace to His chosen worshippers!”

Ideology as the Origin of Totalitarianism

According to Hannah Arendt, ideology is the origin of totalitarianism. Arendt agreed with Hayek on this point. However, she did not agree with Hayek that the origin of totalitarianism is socialist ideology, nor did she agree with Popper that the origin of totalitarianism is historicist ideology. For Arendt, the origin of totalitarianism is ideology per se (Tormey 39, 53). An ideology implies a view of the world as it should be intrinsically and constantly at odds with the world as it is. This dissonance leads to an attempt by the ideologue to dominate, resulting in totalitarianism (Tormey 56-57).

Ideology as the Origin of Islamism

It is possible that ideology is the origin of Islamism. Central to Islamism’s ideology is Sayyid Qutb’s theory of Jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic ignorance):

Islam cannot accept any mixing with Jahiliyyah…. Either Islam will remain, or Jahiliyyah: Islam cannot accept or agree to a situation which is half-Islam and half-Jahiliyyah…. the truth is one and cannot be divided; if it is not the truth, then it must be falsehood. The mixing and co-existence of the truth and falsehood is impossible. Command belongs to God, or otherwise to Jahiliyyah; God’s Shari’ah will prevail, or else people’s desires (Milestones 130).

After citing the Qur’an to back up his theory, Qutb adds, “The foremost duty of Islam in this world is to depose Jahiliyyah from the leadership of man, and to take the leadership into its own hands and enforce the particular way of life which is its permanent feature” (Milestones 131).

Characteristics of Totalitarianism

The earliest scholars to formally and systematically study and write about totalitarian systems identified a number of characteristics present in all of them. Most of the later scholars treating the subject surveyed have concurred on most, if not all, of these characteristics. Some of characteristics of totalitarian regimes not included as essential by some of the later scholars surveyed are generally accepted as being present in all modern nation-states and are thus also present in totalitarian regimes.

There are six characteristics of totalitarian systems in common in the characteristics of totalitarian systems listed by scholars surveyed on this topic: (1) a comprehensive utopian ideology for human life, (2) a single party often ruled by a single leader, (3) some form of state terrorism, (4) a media monopoly, (5) a monopoly on force, and (6) a centrally planned economy. The last two are generally accepted as being present in all modern nation-states and were therefore omitted by some of the scholars surveyed. One of the them, Linz, also failed to list the previous two in his definition of totalitarianism, but nevertheless treated them subsequently in his work on the subject.

Friedrich and Brzezinski

The earliest and best-known treatise on totalitarian systems, Friedrich and Brzezinski’s 1956 book, Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy, was the first among those surveyed to list common characteristics of totalitarian systems. Friedrich and Brzezinski listed all six of the above-mentioned characteristics: (1) “an ideology,” (2) “a single party typically led by one man,” (3) “a terroristic police,” (4) “a communications monopoly,” (5) “a weapons monopoly,” and (6) “a centrally directed economy” (Friedrich and Brzezinski 9).


In his 1979 book Totalitarianism, Curtis (7-9) listed the same six characteristics of totalitarianism as Friedrich and Brzezinski when compiling his own list of characteristics of totalitarian systems: (1) “an ideology,” (2) “a single party” and “an individual ruler,” (3) “The use of terror, … and the political police force,” (4) “Monopoly control of the media of communication,” (5) “Monopoly control over weapons and force,” and (6) “A central planned economy.” In addition to these six characteristics, Curtis listed six others, some corollary to the first six, others subsumed by them (Curtis 7-9).


In his 2000 book, Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, Linz (70) lists only the first two characteristics listed by Friedrich and Brzezinski: (1) “an … ideology,” and (2) “a single party.” However, Linz subsequently treats the other four. In some cases he sees them as necessary, but not sufficient. He recognizes the prevalence and significance of state terrorism in totalitarian systems, but does not include it in his definition because it also occurs in non-totalitarian regimes and because, he claims, one can conceive of a totalitarian regime without it. (Linz 101). He also acknowledges the unique nature of state terrorism in totalitarian regimes (Linz 102).

Linz does not mention a media monopoly explicitly in his definition of totalitarianism, but it is implicit in his treatment of mass mobilization: “Citizen participation in and activate mobilization for political and collective social tasks are encouraged, demanded, rewarded, channeled through a single party and many monopolistic secondary groups” (Linz 70). That he doesn’t mention the role of mass media control explicitly in his definition is also explained by his implication that mass media control is also present in non-totalitarians regimes (Linz 263, 265). In other words, he sees it as necessary, but not sufficient.

The last two characteristics omitted by Linz, a monopoly on force and a centrally planned economy, are generally accepted as being present in all modern nation-states and are thus necessary, but not sufficient as well. Linz (100) himself points out that a monopoly on the use of force is one of the defining characteristics of the modern state. As for a centrally planned economy, according to Linz, one of the critiques of the concept of totalitarianism includes the issue of economic decision-making, based on theories of convergence between the Soviet Union and the United States. According to these theories, economic decision-making, among other things, aren’t that different in totalitarian and non-totalitarian advanced industrial societies (Linz 134).


Bale (82-83) lists the first four characteristics listed by Friedrich and Brzezinski (9) in his definition: (1) “an … ideology,” (2) “single party-run states,” (3) “systematic application of state terrorism,” and (4) “centralisation [sic] of control over the flow of all information.” Like Linz, Bale does not mention a monopoly on force and a centrally planned economy. Nevertheless, as noted above, these are generally accepted as being present in all modern nation-states and are necessary, but not sufficient to totalitarian systems.

Table 1

Characteristics of Totalitarian Systems

Friedrich and Brzezinski (9) Curtis (7-9) Linz (70-72) Bale (82-83)
“an ideology” “an … ideology” “an … ideology” “an … ideology”
“a single party typically led by one man” “A … one–party system;” “an individual ruler” “a single party” “single party-run states”
“a terroristic police” “The use of terror, … and the political police force” State terrorism may be as necessary, but it is not sufficient. “systematic application of state terrorism”
“a communications monopoly” “Monopoly control of the media of communication” A media monopoly may be seen necessary, but it is not sufficient. “centralisation of control over the flow of all information”
“a weapons monopoly” “Monopoly control over weapons and force” A monopoly on force may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. A monopoly on force may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.
“a centrally directed economy” “A central planned economy” A centrally planned economy may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. A centrally planned economy may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Islamist Movements and Regimes

Islamist movements present all six of the above-outlined characteristics of totalitarianism. This is easily demonstrated by examining the writings of Islamist thinkers. For purposes of illustration, a comparison will be drawn between the characteristics of totalitarianism outlined above and the ideology of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The ideology relevant to this comparison will be drawn from Hassan al-Banna’s 1947 letter to King Faruq, “Toward the Light,” and Sayyid Qutb’s 1964 tract Milestones and his 1965 tract Islam: The Religion of the Future.

The first characteristic of totalitarianism, a comprehensive utopian ideology for human life, is explicit in “Toward the Light:”

…the difference between the sentiments which the Islamic ideology fosters, and the sentiments fostered by [nationalist] slogans and ideologies, is the sentiments of the Muslim seeks to rise to communion with God, while the sentiments of the non-Muslim do not go beyond the literal import of the words. Furthermore, in creating these sentiments, Islam defined their goal, made it a stringent duty to keep to it, and proclaimed that it was not a matter of extreme chauvinism or false pride, but of leading the world to its welfare (al-Banna 109).

It is equally clear in Milestones: “To understand the dynamism of Islam with clarity and depth, it is necessary to remember that Islam is a way of life for man prescribed by God. It is not a man-made system, nor an ideology of a group of people, nor a way of life peculiar to a given race” (Milestones 74).

The second characteristic of totalitarianism, a single party often ruled by a single leader, is again explicit in “Toward the Light.” Al-Banna’s first “Political, judicial, and administrative” goal is to put “an end to party rivalry, and a channeling of the political forces of the nation into a common front and a single phalanx” (al-Banna 126). In Milestones, Qutb issues the call for a Leninist-like vanguard party of Islamists to establish God’s sovereignty:

It is therefore necessary that Islam’s theoretical foundation – belief – materialize in the form of an organized and active group from the very beginning. It is necessary that this group separate itself from the jahili [pre-Islamic ignorance] society, becoming independent and distinct from the active and organized jahili society whose aim is to block Islam. The center of this new group should be a new leadership, the leadership which first came in the person of the Prophet – peace be on him – himself, and after him was delegated to those who strove for bringing people back to God’s sovereignty, His authority and His laws (Milestones 47).

The third characteristic of totalitarianism, some form of state terrorism, would clearly be necessary in order to actualize al-Banna’s social goals as outlined in “Toward the Light.” Among these goals are:

(1) Conditioning the people to respect public morality, and the issuance of directives fortified by the aegis of the law on this subject; the imposition of severe penalties for moral offences.

(3) An end to prostitution, both clandestine and overt: and the recognition of fornication as a crime, whatever the circumstances, as a detestable crime whose perpetrator must be flogged.

(6) A campaign against ostentation in dress and loose behavior; the instruction of women in what is proper, with particular strictness as regards female teachers, pupils, physicians, and students, and all those in similar categories.

(8) Segregation of male and female students; private meetings between men and women, unless permitted within the permitted degrees [of relationship], to be counted as a crime for which both will be censured.

(10) The closure of morally undesirable ballrooms and dance-halls, and the prohibition of dancing and other such pastimes.

(15) The supervision of summer vacation areas so as to do away with the wholesale confusion and license that nullify the basic aims of vacationing.

(19) Due consideration for the claims of the moral censorship, and punishment of all who are proved to have infringed any Islamic doctrine or attacked it, such as breaking the fast of Ramadan, willful neglect of prayers, insulting the faith, or any such act.

(27) An end to the foreign spirit in our homes with regard to language, manners, dress, governesses, nurses, etc.; all these to be Egyptianized, especially in upper class homes (al-Banna 127-129).

Milestones looks beyond the police-state implementation stage of Islamism implied in “Toward the Light” to the actualization of and Islamist Utopia via a backward glance at the historically dubious past Islamic state under Muhammad:

Morals were elevated, hearts and souls were purified, and with the exception of a very few cases, there was no occasion even to enforce the limits and punishments which God has prescribed; for now conscience was the law-enforcer, and the pleasure of God, the hope of divine reward, and the fear of God’s anger took the place of police and punishments (Milestones 30).

And how is this possible? According to Milestones: “All this was possible because those who established this religion in the form of a state, a system and laws and regulations had first established it in their hearts and lives in the form of faith, character, worship and human relationships” (Milestones 30). While this state of affairs obtaining without state terrorism is dubious, it would be in line with the effect of totalitarianism, which will be discussed in detail below, if it did.

The fourth characteristic of totalitarianism, a media monopoly, is explicit in Al-Banna’s social goals in “Toward the Light.” They include:

(11) The surveillance of theatres and cinemas, and a rigorous selection of plays and films.

(12) The expurgation of songs, and a rigorous selection and censorship of them.

(13) The careful selection of lectures, songs, and subjects to be broadcast to the nation; the use of radio broadcasting for the education of the nation in a virtuous and moral way.

(14) The confiscation of provocative stories and books that implant the seeds of skepticism in an insidious manner, and newspapers which strive to disseminate immorality and capitalize indecently on lustful desires.

(28) To give journalism a proper orientation, and to encourage authors and writers to undertake Islamic, Eastern subjects (al-Banna 127-129).

In Milestones, after pointing out that he has already discussed “the sovereignty of God in relation to … matters of morals, human relationships, and values and standards which prevail in a society,” which he emphasizes “are all based on the beliefs and concepts prevalent in the society and are derived from the same Divine source from which beliefs are derived,” Qutb turns to “the Divine source for guidance in the spheres of science and art.” He cites his brother, Muhammad Qutb’s, The Principles of Islamic Art: “all artistic efforts are but a reflection of a man’s concepts, beliefs and intuitions; they reflect whatever pictures of life and the world are found in a man’s intuition. All these affairs are not only governed by the Islamic concepts, but, in fact, this concept is a motivating power for a Muslim’s creativity” (Milestones 108).

Qutb then tells us “the question of art and literary thought and its relationship to Divine guidance requires a detailed discussion.” He begins by telling us “A Muslim cannot go to any source other than God for guidance in matters of faith, in the concept of life, acts of worship, morals and human affairs, values and standards, principles of economics and political affairs and interpretation of historical processes.” Thus, he must go to a pious Muslim. Finally, he tells us “If a proper atmosphere is not provided under which these sciences and arts develop in a Muslim society, the whole society will be considered sinful (Milestones 109).

Totalitarian Effect

No matter the origin of totalitarianism, the characteristics of totalitarians systems, or the praxis of totalitarian systems, the net effect of totalitarianism is the same: Totalitarianism aims to control all aspects of human life, obliterating the distinction between public and private life. Totalitarianism aims to control not only the actions of the people, as does authoritarianism, but their very thoughts. Totalitarianism is not content with mere obedience; it demands credence. Totalitarianism aims to politicize all aspects of human life and thus aims to control the very being of humans.


In “Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism,” professor of psychoanalysis Robert Waelder (188), who studied the psychological aspects of totalitarianism, defined it as “a system in which power is not subject to any of the limitations or restrictions which are characteristic for Western civilization, and in which the government is not only the lawmaker, law administrator and judge but also the keeper of the individual’s conscious.” The “limitations or restrictions which are characteristic for Western civilization,” to which Waelder is referring here are “the division between temporal and spiritual power,” for, as Waelder points out, “temporal power can command obedience of our actions, spiritual power claims authority over our minds.” Waelder makes a distinction between a characteristic Western government, which may prohibit the purchase of alcoholic beverages by law and punish its subjects for violating this legal prohibition, but which does not required of its subjects a belief in teetotalism, and a totalitarian government that does require such a belief (Waelder 187).

Islamism rejects the Western division between temporal and spiritual power. In “Islam: The Religion of the Future,” Qutb strikes at the very heart of the Western separation of church and state calling it a “hideous schizophrenia.” “It is not natural for religion to be segregated from life in this world,” writes Qutb. “Nor is it in its nature to be immured in a restricted corner of human life and labeled ‘a personal affair,’” he continues.” He then adds, “A revealed religion can never single out a narrow sector of human life and subject it to God, or be content with negativity, while other sectors and positive actions are subjected to other gods” (Islam 34). The causes of this “hideous schizophrenia,” according to Qutb, were Christianity’s loss of “the Divine legislative principles which administered the secular affairs of life” (Islam 37) and “the unfortunate struggle between reason and religion, a pathology which is reflected in … [Western] life” (Islam 60).


In this 1968 book, Totalitarian Rule: Its Nature and Characteristics, German professor of political science Hans Buchheim writes that “totalitarian rule is the demand for unlimited control over the world and hence social life, translated into political action.” He goes on to argue that “its organization and methods are distinguishing marks of the second order.” He then notes that it is not these methods in and of themselves that characterize totalitarian regimes, but the fact that they “serve to make the subject more accessible to the regime.” He also points out that totalitarianism is “a form of government … with the methods of modern social engineering” and that this is evident in the role that planning plays into totalitarianism. Totalitarian government does not plan in order to rule more effectively; rather, it must be despotic in order to carry out through the encompassing plan of constructing a new society” (Buchheim 21). In other words, totalitarianism politicizes social life and employs planning as a means to a utopian end.

Islamism translates social life into political life and employs comprehensive planning as a means to achieve a utopian end. Hassan al-Banna’s “Toward the Light” carefully lays out a comprehensive plan for hope, national greatness, the armed forces, public health, science, morality, economics, public institutions, dealing with non-Muslim minorities and foreigners, and East-West relations, includes detailed lists of political, judicial, administrative, social, educational, and economic goals. Qutb explains in Milestones that Islam “proceeds according to a plan, which has a few stages, and every stage has its new resources, as we have described earlier” (Milestones 57) and that “Conflict begins when man deviates from the truth which is hidden in the depths of his own nature, under the influence of his desires, and when he follows laws based on his own opinions instead of following God’s commandments” (Milestones 91).


In his 1995 book, Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War, professor of history Abbott Gleason, noting his father’s “serviceable, workaday version of [totalitarianism],” remarks that “The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany … were dictatorships of a new and terrible kind, violent, ideologically inspired, endlessly aggressive, and possessed of extraordinary new technological means to dominate their helpless subjects utterly. They obliterated the distinctions between public and private, which even the most brutal of older dictatorships had respected” (Gleason 3-4). The important distinctions made by Gleason, between authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorships, are ideology, technology, and totality. That is, totalitarian dictatorships are ideologically driven to some end, use technological means toward that end, and that end is a total transformation of all aspects of human life, both public and private.

Islamism’s totalitarian ideology embraces technology in its quest for Utopia. In the words of al-Banna (115), “Just as nations need power, so do they need the science with which will buttress this power and direct it in the best possible manner, providing them with all their requirements in the way of inventions and discoveries. Islam does not reject science; indeed, it makes it as obligatory as the acquisition of power, and gives it its support.” In Milestones, Qutb embraces the use of technology in the context of “the system of life prescribed by God” and “for the benefit of all mankind,” so long as one uses technology “as a God-fearing person and as a representative of God.” He goes on to explain that “only then does man become completely civilized and the society reach the height of civilization.” For Qutb, technology without Islam is as dross (Milestones 99-100).


In “Islamism and Totalitarianism,” Director of the Monterey Terrorism Research and Education Program and an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of International Policy and Management at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Dr. Jeffrey M. Bale, in agreement with Gleason, remarked that “the essence of totalitarianism does not lie in the specific form taken by the Bolshevik or Nazi states, but rather in the obsessive desire of political extremists of whatever type to exert extraordinary levels of control over both the outward behaviour [sic] and the inner thoughts of those they claim to represent or someday hope to rule over” (Bale 81).

Islamism claims to represent and someday hopes to rule over the entire world. “All of humanity are tormented, wretched, worried and confused” and “in dire need of some sweet portion of the waters of True Islam to wash from them the filth of misery and to lead them to happiness,” declared al-Banna (107). Quoting his own writings in his Qur’anic exegesis, In the Shade of the Qur’an, Qutb explains, “Islam is revealed to be a practical way of life for all mankind,” (Milestones 68). Later, explaining the “defeated mentality” of those who have adopted “the Western concept of ‘religion,’ which is merely a term for ‘belief’ in the heart, having no relation to the practical affairs of life” he reiterates that “Islam is the way of life ordained for all mankind … and orders practical life in all its daily details,” proclaimed Qutb (Milestones 76).


Any of the theories on the origin of totalitarianism serves equally well to explain the origin of Islamism. Islamist movements and regimes share all of the characteristics of totalitarian movements and regimes. While the praxis of Islamist and totalitarian movements and regimes varies somewhat from movement to movement and from regime to regime, close examination reveals parallels between the two types. In short, Islamism fits the totalitarian pattern. Islamism is, indeed, the fourth totalitarianism. Recognizing it as such is the first step to understanding its true nature and intent. Its nature is anti-Western and its intent is to obliterate the distinction between the temporal, or politics, and the spiritual, or religion, and to impose its rigid, puritanical interpretation of Islam as the one and only version of both.

Works Cited

Bale, Jeffrey M. “Islamism and Totalitarianism.”Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions. 10.2 (2009): 73-96. Print.
al-Banna, Hassan. Five Tracts of Hasan al-Banna (1906-1909): A Selection from the Majmu’at Rasa’il al-Imam al-Shahid Hasan al-Banna’. Trans. Charles Wendell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978. Print.
Buchheim, Hans. Totalitarian Rule; Its Nature and Characteristics. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1968. Print.
Curtis, Michael. Totalitarianism. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1979. Print.
Friedrich, Carl J., and Zbigniew K. Vrzezinski. Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy. 2nd. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965. Print.
Gleason, Abbott. Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1995. Print.
Linz, Juan José. Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000. Print.
Popper, Karl. The Open Society and Its Enemies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971. Print.
Qutb, Sayyid. Islam: The Religion of the Future. Riyadh, International Islamic Publishing House, 1998. Print.
Qutb, Seyyid. Milestones. Damascus: Dar al-Ilm, 2007. Print.
Tormey, Simon. Making Sense of Tyranny: Interpretations of Totalitarianism. Manchester, UK: Manchester Univ Press, 1995. Print.
Waelder, Robert. “Authoritarianism and Totalitarianism.” Psychoanalysis and Culture. Ed. George B. Wilbur and Warner Muensterberger. New York: International Universities Press, 1951. Print.

Christopher Hurtado

Posts Twitter Facebook

Christopher Hurtado is President and CEO of Linguistic Solutions and Adjunct Instructor of Philosophy and Political Science at Utah Valley University. He holds a BA in Middle East Studies/Arabic and Philosophy and an MA in Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies. He coauthored Vacation Spanish: A Survival Guide for Mexico, the Caribbean, Central & South America. He is married to children’s book author and homeschool mom, Alysia Gonzalez. Together they have nine children. They are active in their church and in their community.

No Comments

Be the first to start the conversation.

Leave a Reply

Text formatting is available via select HTML. <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>