Hussein Aboubakr Mansour, a Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and analyst focusing on Muslim antisemitism, Islamist ideology, and American universities, spoke to a January 29 Middle East Forum Podcast (video). The following summarizes his comments:
The populist Leftist support on U.S. university campuses for the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel might be seen as counterintuitive, given that the Left's progressive ideology touting women's and gay rights is "anathema" to global Islamist movements.
Explanations for this seemingly "bizarre" merger between the Left and Islamism have ranged from their shared animus of the West in a "marriage of convenience," to misguided Western Leftists who sympathize with Hamas in their "passion for the oppressed." In the latter case, these Leftists are Hamas's useful idiots, whose sympathies are being manipulated.
Although Leftist slogans parroted by marchers in pro-Hamas demonstrations use the "social justice, equality, [and] anti-racism" banner to corral followers, many of them know little about the conflict or the anti-Israel slogans that activist organizers incite adherents to chant (e.g., gullible students are largely ignorant of which river or sea when chanting "from the river to the sea").
Notwithstanding that there is some truth to these two explanations, there is a third reason for this "confluence of Western revolutionary thought of the Left and Islamist ideology." In the decades since the 1980s, the two political movements have become more aligned in their "intellectual structure" than is generally acknowledged. This is the key explanation for the Islamist-Leftist reaction to October 7.
Generally, statements issued by the Islamist movements differ depending upon whether they are broadcast in Arabic or English. Thus, Hamas's GoPro videos of its live-streamed atrocities were stamped with the Arabic propaganda phrase "the revolution of those who resist." Hamas's Arabic broadcasts merged the language of Islamic warfare and Jew-hatred with that of "revolutionary anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, [and] anti-Westernism."
However, its English broadcast statements and publications omit Islamic themes, relying instead on "anti-racist, anti-colonialism, and anti-imperialist" language. The disparity is often explained as a deception for Western consumption, but, crucially, Hamas was more influenced by "revolutionary ideologies" than traditional Islam's historical and political development.
Revolutionary ideologies were prevalent in the Middle East in the 1960s, 1970s, and during Hamas's formation in the 1980s, thereby producing a "hybrid" ideology of Islamic-Leftism. The dynamic of the "hybrid ideology of the Left and Islam" is also employed in strategies used by the mullahs in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The governance theory of Islamic jurisprudence used by Ayatollah Khamenei is "an Islamification of the rule of the intellectuals," which is the Marxist way of ruling epitomized by the Communist Party.
Robert Malley, the Obama/Biden administration's pro-Iran envoy until his security clearance was revoked last year, published a book in the mid-1990s that examined the Algerian liberation war against the French during the mid-1950s to early 1960s. He concluded that the Algerian uprising, rather than a jihad, was "just a new stage of the Third World Marxist revolution" with Islamic motifs. Today, the international Left has adapted this revolutionary framework in its "tangible" support for Hamas.
The international Left offers ideological support to Hamas through its indoctrination by joining with Islamists in a campaign to persuade Western politicians to pressure Israel for a ceasefire via massive and disruptive street demonstrations. Material support for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank is funded by international Leftist non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Despite efforts by the Israeli government and the U.S. Senate to stop funding that ultimately aids terrorism, the international Left pushback keeps the financial pipeline flowing.
The Left's "intellectual formation" is revealed in a 1967 essay written by Paul Sweezy, the founder of the Monthly Review, a Marxist publication that began circulating in the U.S. in the 1940s. Following Israel's Six-Day War in 1967, Sweezy wrote that the war with Israel was significant for the Communist movement because it defined "the struggle of the epoch" – the global struggle against capitalism and the "entire structure" of the U.S.
February 2024's Monthly Review "doubles down" on Sweezy's 1967 essay by stating that the Palestinians "are the forefront of the struggle against capitalism and the United States, and their struggle defines the struggle of everyone for freedom all over."
In the Left's broad-brush Marxist narrative, America is cast as the "oppressor" capitalist power that dominates the international order, and its support for Israel is an extension of its power structure. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a lightning rod for the Left's perceived core struggle "of all humanity against oppression." Within that framework, Hamas harnesses Leftists on behalf of the "oppressed" Palestinians. The Islamic-Leftist alliance synthesizes each movement's ideological belief that "basically the struggle against Israel means the end of oppression of everybody everywhere."
Unfortunately, there is no way to separate the Islamic-Leftist alliance from the new generation of U.S. Islamists because the ideologies have merged over time. Hamas and Hezbollah are products of modern movements embodying the "decomposed Marxism" of the 1960s that combined with destructive "elements from their own native cultures."
Historical facts have become "weaponized" in an effort to establish the legitimacy of a competing "historical narrative," and therefore historical theories are unable to solve the problem of Israel's security needs post-October 7. This can only be done through "concrete military measures" on the ground and subsequently by the actions of "politicians and diplomats."
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.