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LAQUEUR, Walter. "Anarchism and Al Qaeda"

mercredi 28 janvier 2009, par ps

In a recent address, UCLA historian James Gelvin compares Al Qaeda with historical anarchism (1880-1920) and, like some other recent writers, finds great significance in their common features. Such exercises are seldom wholly in vain, but how helpful are they for a better understanding of at least one of the sides in the comparison ?

Gelvin dismisses the Islamofascism label as mere propaganda, and I do not think much of it either. But while comparisons between the jihadists on one hand and Nazi Germany and fascist Italy are indeed of little use, there are astonishing similarities between jihadists and some of the smaller fascist groups such as, for instance, the Romanian Legion of the Archangel Michael (also called the Iron Guard, Garda de Fier). This group, quite powerful at one time, was deeply religious in inspiration, populist and anti-capitalist in its politics, propagated a cult of death and suicide terrorism, and was second to none in denouncing corruption and the liberal West. If they still existed, they would be intensely anti-globalist. An in-depth study of the similarities between this group and the jihadists would be very illuminating and should be undertaken. [1]

In the same way, similarities between Al Qaeda and certain anarchist factions could be found. A leading anarchist about to be executed announced that “there are no innocents,” [2] just as the well-known Al Jazeera TV sheikh has done. Bakunin (and after him Nietzsche—not a card-carrying anarchist) declared that the passion for destruction was a creative passion. [3]

However, on the whole, such comparisons do not take us very far, for two reasons.


First, anarchism was anything but monolithic. There were basic differences not only between anarchists at various times and places but also within each group. Some believed in terrorism, others were pacifists. There were extremists among them but they were not a majority.

Second, anarchists were not “nihilists” (an unfortunate term made popular by Turgenev’s famous novel). They did not negate all values but deeply believed in freedom. Whatever the fundamental beliefs and aims of the jihadists (who are not nihilists either), the struggle for the realm of freedom on earth is not among them. In view of such a basic difference in outlook, how much new light can be shed by comparisons between them and the anarchists ?


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[1This is an incredible confusion : the Gardia de Fier were nationalistic, fascists and overtly religious, but certainly not anarchistic. One might as well say that because they were religious, they could be compared with Al Qaeda. (Ronald Creagh.)

[2What about Christians who say that everyone is born with the original sin ? R.C.

[3The passion for destruction did not refer to the killing of people. This assertion is again quite far-fetched. R.C.