Soviet Marxism did not spring from an Orthodox monastery. It was one of the finest flowers of the European Enlightenment. Equally, the USSR was nothing if not an Enlightenment regime. The Soviet state was the vehicle of a westernising project from start to finish. The Cold War was a family quarrel among western ideologies, in which rival versions of political universalism struggled for hegemony.
Today, we are watching a rerun of that uncomprehending struggle. Of course, much has changed. Unlike communism, political Islam does not purport to be secular. For that reason alone, it is a puzzle for the many who still hold to the atavistic 19th-century faith that secularisation is the wave of the future. But the view that something called "the West" is under attack from an alien enemy is as mistaken now as it was in the Cold War.
Islamic fundamentalism is not an indigenous growth. It is an exotic hybrid, bred from the encounter of sections of the Islamic intelligentsia with radical western ideologies. In A Fury for God, Malise Ruthven shows that Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian executed after imprisonment in 1966 and arguably the most influential ideologue of radical Islam, incorporated many elements derived from European ideology into his thinking. For example, the idea of a revolutionary vanguard of militant believers does not have an Islamic pedigree. It is "a concept imported from Europe, through a lineage that stretches back to the Jacobins, through the Bolsheviks and latter-day Marxist guerrillas such as the Baader-Meinhof gang".
In a brilliantly illuminating and arrestingly readable analysis, Ruthven demonstrates the close affinities between radical Islamist thought and the vanguard of modernist and postmodern thinking in the West. The inspiration for Qutb's thought is not so much the Koran, but the current of western philosophy embodied in thinkers such as Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Qutb's thought -- the blueprint for all subsequent radical Islamist political theology -- is as much a response to 20th-century Europe's experience of "the death of God" as to anything in the Islamic tradition. Qutbism is in no way traditional. Like all fundamentalist ideology, it is unmistakeably modern.