This study is a challenge to the existing studies on totalitarianism which deal exclusively or at least mainly, with Western totalitarianism, ignoring non-western totalitarian ideologies and regimes. I think that Juan Linz is right in his statement that “This does not exclude in principle that in the future, regimes based on a movement, an ideology, a conception of man and society that cannot be described as either fascist or communist lead to a totalitarian system”.
The various manifestations of western totalitarianism: Bolshevism, Nazism and Fascism are sharing a number of important characteristics as the cult of leader, the one party system, the critical role of ideology; the control of mind and body of population as well as the systematic use of violence as the method of government. The religious character of Islamism is not limited to symbols and rituals; it implies real and important consequences in legitimization of power, the conduct of government, the loyalty of people, the methods of mobilization of the mass as well as the definition of friends and enemies.
All these elements make relevant the creation of a new category for this new comer to the totalitarian club. I find the denomination of Oriental Totalitarianism most accurate to Islamism. Oriental Totalitarianism recalls Oriental Despotism of Karl Wittfogel, Asiatic Mode of Production of Karl Marx and even Orientalism of Edward Said. These connotations to the Orient are reminding us in somehow the exotic, exceptionality, imaginative and fascinating character of Orient. Having this point in mind, the label of Oriental Totalitarianism is indicating the specific character of totalitarianism when it grows op in this part of the world.
To better grasping similarities and differences between Islamism and western totalitarianism is to describe at first place the most relevant characteristics which are common to three main manifestation of western totalitarianism (Bolshevism, Nazism and Fascism) before confronting Islamism with the western model.
In order to identify the general characteristics of classical totalitarianism, I shall start with Hannah Arendt, who is of the opinion that the totalitarian regime represents a new form of government which is distinct from both Aristotle’s well-known three categories of regimes: one ruler/Tyranny, few rulers/Aristocracy and many rulers/Democracy. These three categories were reformulated by Montesquieu as Despotism, Monarchy and Republic, respectively. It is to Montesquieu’s categorisation that Arendt takes a position. Yet, what is important here is not so much the question of the form of these regimes. The real difference lies in the “principle of action” which motivates each of these governments. While honor is the guiding principle in a monarchy, virtue in a republic and fear in a tyranny, the guiding principle of totalitarianism is terror (Arendt 1985:467). Before this statement, she precises that “[t]otal terror, the essence of totalitarian government, exists neither for nor against men. It is supposed to provide the forces of nature or history with an incomparable instrument to accelerate their movement.” (p. 466There is a critical difference between ‘fear’ and ‘terror’. ‘Fear’ is referring to a situation where individuals are scaring from on singular person or a bunch of persons who are sitting on the top of the pyramid of power. The fear is merely vertical. ‘Terror’ is on the contrary both vertical and horizontal, at the same time. Not only everybody scares of Leader at the top, everybody has scare from everybody else; a vast and horizontal fear. It is in this spirit that Arendt arrives at defining totalitarian government as “A form of government whose essence is terror and whose principle of action is the logicality of ideological thinking” (p. 468). On the novelty of totalitarianism as a new political regime, François Furet is in agreement with Arendt when he says that “the regime of both Lenin and Hitler had no historical precedent” (Furet 1999:2); and these regimes are unknown either to Aristotle, Montesquieu or Max Weber (p. 1999).