According to Joseph McCarthy’s “Enemies from Within” speech, communist nations are to be understood in explicit contrast to Western countries and are to be taken as entirely irreconcilable with a Western, democratic mode of life. McCarthy insists that such nations are essentially morally incommensurable with the West, something that is first of all indicated the central organization of industry and in the rule of the single party “police state” that McCarthy identifies as being a product of Lenin’s Russia (1950). Along with this moral contempt for private property, individual freedom and democratic process, McCarthy also characterises communist nations as being fundamentally atheist and, crucially, as violently opposed to so-called Christian values. According to what McCarthy claims are his own readings of Marx, such an opposition is inflexible and entirely a product of rigid communist ideology. In this sense,McCarthy insists that the situation of the Cold War is one that necessarily follows from the inflexibility of the Soveit Union, something that can be summed up in quote from Stalin that there could be no hope for a peaceful communist revolution within a traditional Christian society.
Throughout his speech, the communist world is presented as the necessary moral enemy of democratic America, a “fact” that is given a further degree of agency by the relative increase in size of the populations brought under the banner of the Soviet Union following the end of the Second World War. Importantly, while McCarthy may be correct in the notion that communist ideology is incommensurable with a capitalist society, his readings of Marx and Lenin, together with his understanding of the moral imperative facing America at the time are essentially spurious. This is especially the case if one considers the actual ideological differences between a communist society grounded, at least hypothetically, on an equal access to goods and resources and a capitalist society founded on the belief that the profit motive is the most effective way of guaranteeing both social cohesion and individual freedom. There is no necessary moral element to a communist critique of the contradictions of American capitalism, and McCarthy’s attempt to impose a moral imperative on his listeners is purely rhetorical.
One clear way in which McCarthy’s rhetoric may be taken as a precursor for anti-Islam rhetoric is in his insistence that the world is split into two entirely opposed and completely incommensurable camps, and that a moral imperative exists to ensure that the camp which represents “freedom” and “christian values” emerges victorious. Commentators on the state of the world following 9/11 frequently make reference to Sam Huntington’s thesis regarding the so-called “clash of civilizations,” in which Huntington claimed that Islam was fundamentally opposed to Western values and that any hope of integrating the religion into democratic structures was essentially naive (Brooks, 2011). Like McCarthy’s rhetoric, those who invoked Huntington frequently homogenised members of the religion into one mass of individuals, something that ignored very real differences both between different countries in the Islamic world, and different branches of Islam itself. Also, like McCarthy, anti-Islam rhetoric tended to draw attention to the perceived violent aspects of the religion, painting Muslims as people who were both opposed to the moral structures of the West and who themselves existed in a state of moral decrepitude. Again, although such an assumption ignored both real differences in the Muslim world, it was nonetheless prevalent and widely accepted that Islam encouraged a fundamentally underdeveloped, violent mode of life.
Despite this however, it is misleading to perform unreflective comparisons of Cold War era communism and contemporary attitudes towards Islam. One of the most important reasons for this is that, while during the Cold War it at least made sense to speak of a Soviet Union in which the majority of communist territories were encapsulated, there is no modern equivalent in relations to Islam. As such, in this situation to speak of a “Muslim World” at all is already to engage in a process of falsification.
- Brooks, David. (2011). Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations Revisited. The New York Times. Web. Accessed 24th Feb, 2019.
- McCarthy, Joseph M. (1950). Speech of Joseph McCarthy, Wheeling, West Virginia, February 9, 1950. Web. Accessed 24th February, 2019.