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Communism and Terrorism

As American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in the Summer of 2021, the country once again fell into the Taliban’s hands. This event reminded the world that the global terrorist movements are still alive and well. Less well-known, however, are the close historical ties and mutually beneficial relationship between terrorism and communism.

At first glance, it may seem far-fetched to suggest that there is a direct relationship between communism and radical Islam. After all, communism is atheistic, whereas Muslims believe in Allah. That being said, the theory and methods of modern Islamic extremism have much in common with those of Marxism-Leninism, and there are deep historical connections between the two movements.

The first recorded use of the words “terrorism” and “terrorist” were in the year 1795, describing the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. {1} Communist regimes have a long history of relying on terror to seize and maintain power, with famous examples ranging from Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge and Mao Zedong’s Great Cultural Revolution to the Cambodian genocide under the Khmer Rouge. This trend has continued to the present day.

Conversely communism’s influence on global terrorist movements can be traced directly to the origins of modern Islamic extremism in the mid-20th century.

Communist Roots of Terrorism {2}

Many laypeople are familiar with the names of Osama bin Laden and his militant group al-Qaeda due to their role in the September 11 attacks. Although recent decades’ acts of Islamic extremism have garnered worldwide attention, the 20th-centrury writings of Sayyid Qutb ([ˈkuːtəb]) are relatively less well-known. Sayyid Qutb was the pioneer of what is today known as radical Islam. He was an Egyptian liaison for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to the Communist International and the communist party of Egypt. {3}

Called “the Karl Marx” of radical Islam {4}, Qutb’s writings serve as the philosophical underpinnings of modern Islamic extremism. His advocacy for violence, oppression, and revolution were directly inspired by Marxism-Leninism. {5}

Qutb’s key idea was the pursuit of violence to destroy the old society dominated by “jahiliyyah” [jahei’leeya].  Jahiliyyah means “the age of ignorance,” referring to the period of time before the advent of Islam. According to Qutb’s theory, the old society of jahiliyyah was forced upon people, robbing them of their freedom. He called upon Muslims to lay down their lives in the fight against jahiliyyah.

The writings of Sayyid Qutb have influenced many Arabs, including Abdullah Azzam, the co-founder of al-Qaeda. There is a saying among Islamic State (ISIS) supporters: “The Islamic State was drafted by Sayyid Qutb, taught by Abdullah Azzam, [and] globalized by Osama bin Laden.” {6}

This idea of using violence to destroy the old society mirrors the Marxist idea of class warfare.

Communism’s theories of class warfare and violent revolution hold that society is characterized by the perpetual oppression of one class by another. To overthrow the ruling classes and liberate mankind, terror is seen as a necessary tool. Meanwhile, Qutb said that those enslaved by the old society of jahiliyyah, just like the working-class people mentioned in Marxism, are bound to overthrow the oppression of the old society. He advocated jihad, the Arabic word for struggle, as the means to acheive the liberation of all mankind. {7}

As Glenn Robinson, a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, said: “Modern jihadism is distinctively Leninist.” Journalist Chuck Morse has also noted: “The real enemy confronting the free world remains Communism. … [R]adical Islam is nothing more than Communism cloaked in the traditional garments of Islam.” {8}

Chinese Communists’ Support of Islamic Terrorism

Prior to recapturing Afghanistan in August 2021, the Taliban had previously ruled the country from 1996 to 2001. According to a United Nations (U.N.) report, the Taliban conducted “15 massacres” during this previous administration. In 1998, the U.N. charged that the Taliban had denied emergency food to 160,000 hungry and starving people “for political and military reasons.” As of October 2021, at least 14 out of 33 ministers of the Taliban’s new administration had been designated as terrorists under the U.N. Security Council’s 1988 Sanctions Committee. {9}

In August of 2021, just days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Beijing began a whitewashing campaign for this U.N.-designated terrorist group. The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) mouthpiece China Central Television broadcast a video titled “What Exactly Is the Taliban?” It portrayed the Taliban as an anti-corruption group that was supported by poor Afghans. Not a single word mentioned the Taliban’s crimes against people in Afghanistan or other parts of the world.

In a similar vein, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying avoided answering a press-conference question about whether China would recognize the Taliban regime. She suggested that the Taliban should be treated not only on the basis of “what happened in the past” but also on the basis of “what is happening now.” She added that the Taliban members today are “more sober and rational” than they were during their last administration. At the time of her talks, media and social networks were already surfacing video footage of Taliban militants pulling people from their homes, executing them and hanging them in the streets as thousands of Afghans were fleeing the country.

This support for the Taliban is not an isolated phenomenon – China’s history of supporting radical Islam goes back for decades.

For example, in 1998, after the United States attacked al-Qaeda with cruise missiles, the Chinese regime allegedly paid Osama bin Laden $10 million for unexploded missiles, presumably to reverse-engineer the technology. {10} The Iranian state’s official news agency then reported in December of 1998 that the Taliban had concluded a defense cooperation agreement with Beijing. {11}

According to a Washington Post article, on September 11, 2001 – yes, the date is correct – China “signed a memorandum of understanding for more economic and technical cooperation” with the Taliban. According to a Western diplomat, at that time, China had “the closest relationship with the isolated Kabul regime of any non-Muslim country”. {12} Days after the September 11 attacks, American intelligence officials revealed that two Chinese telecommunications companies – ZTE and Huawei – were helping the Taliban militia install a telephone system in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. {13} ZTE and Huawei have been on top of the sanctions lists as national security threats during both the Trump administration and the Biden administration. The BBC and other sources reported that, even after the September 11 attacks, Beijing continued to supply the Taliban with surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, landmines, rocket-propelled grenades, parts for roadside bombs, large-caliber sniper rifles, and millions of rounds of ammunition. Some of these arms were shipped to the Taliban directly from China’s factories. {14}

In the Chinese-language book Unrestricted Warfare, published in 1999, two Chinese military officers discuss several hypothetical attacks on the U.S., mentioning both the World Trade Center in New York and Osama bin Laden: “Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency band widths understood by the American military.” {15}

What a coincidence between the CCP’s discussion of “hypothetical attacks” and the actual action two years later!

China is Aligned with Islamic Extremists in Terms of Anti-Americanism

In a piece run during November of 2001, the Daily Telegraph reported that “the Chinese state-run propaganda machine is cashing in on the terror attacks in New York and Washington, producing books, films, and video games glorifying the strikes as a humbling blow against an arrogant nation.” The article went on to report, “Communist Party officials say President Jiang Zemin has obsessively watched and rewatched pictures of the aircraft crashing into the World Trade Centre.” {16}

After Al-Qaeda’s devastating attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Internet forums and online chat rooms in China were filled with joyful remarks: “Good job!” and “We strongly support the acts of justice against the United States.” According to a survey of over 90,000 people on the Chinese web portal NetEase, only 17.8 percent of respondents expressed strong opposition to the attacks. Meanwhile, a majority of respondents viewed the September 11 attacks positively and considered them a challenge to U.S. hegemony, expressing the view that “the best is yet to come.” {17} This overwhelming pro-Al-Qaeda and anti-American sentiment among the Chinese population underlines a perilous friendship between Chinese Communists and radical Islamic regimes.

Now, following the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, Beijing has engaged with Kabul on construction of the Peshawar-Kabul motorway, which would connect Pakistan to Afghanistan. This planned motorway makes Kabul a participant in China’s massive infrastructure and investment plan, the Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing is also building a major road through the Wakhan Corridor, connecting China’s western province of Xinjiang to Afghanistan, and onward to Central Asia. {18} In exchange for China’s investment in the region, Kabul has kept its mouth shut on China’s mistreatment of Muslims, which include Uighur militants that have close ties with Taliban. Beijing promised to provide a further $31 million worth of food and supplies to the Taliban regime. {19}

International Focus on Terrorism Helps China Stay Out of the Spotlight

Communist China is not just on friendly terms with the Taliban and al-Qaeda; it has maintained long-term comradery with a number of other terrorist peers, including Palestine, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Syria, Sudan, Iran, and North Korea, to name a few. Beijing’s backing of these states has included weapons, the sale of military technology, personnel training, infrastructure projects, financial aid, and the obstruction of U.N. sanctions. The CCP’s support for these terrorist regimes has not been without reason.

The September 11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. and the ensuing U.S. War on Terror have benefited China profoundly. For more than a decade, the United States had focused its diplomatic, military, and intelligence resources on the Middle East. Meanwhile, Communist China has quietly grown and prospered, following Deng Xiaoping’s strategy of “hiding its capacities and biding its time.”

Just one month after the September 11 attacks, then U.S. President George W. Bush announced the establishment of a cooperative relationship with China. {20} This was a reversal of Bush’s previous depiction of China as a potential enemy and “strategic competitor” while he was on his 2000 presidential campaign trail just one year earlier.  {21}

Ironically, in fighting its war on terror, the United States has partnered with the world’s largest terrorist state.

2001 was the third year of Beijing’s now decades-long ruthless campaign to eliminate Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation group that became popular in China during the 1990’s. When the U.S. was sidetracked by its response to the 2001 terrorist attacks, the issue of human rights in China was sidelined. During this time period, Beijing’s massive crimes against humanity received minimal attention from the West. As a matter of fact, Beijing even called the years during which the U.S. could not afford to focus on China a “Strategic Opportunity Period.” {22}

China’s economic and military rise over the past two decades has a lot to do with global terrorism. Communism and terrorism have worked together to make the world a more dangerous place. To truly win the war on terror, it is vital to understand deeply of the playbooks of Communism and terrorism, bearing in mind that there is a common root cause.


{1} The Guardian, “The Definition of Terrorism,” May 7, 2001.
{2} Some materials of this section referred to the book How The Specter Of Communism Is Ruling Our World, chapter 15.
{3} The Investigative Project on Terrorism website, “Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time,” November 30, 2012.
{4} New York Times Magazine, “The Philosopher of Islamic Terror,” March 23, 2003.
{5} Robert R. Reilly, “The Roots of Islamist Ideology,” Centre for Research Into Post-Communist Economies, February 2006, 4.
{6} Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “The Sectarianism of the Islamic State: Ideological Roots and Political Context,” June 2016.
{7} Stahl, “‘Offensive Jihad.’”
{8} Charles Moscowitz, “Islamo-Communism: The Communist Connection to Islamic Terrorism,“ (Boston: City Metro Enterprises, 2013).
{9} Washington Free Beacon, “Nearly Half of the Taliban Government’s Leaders Are Designated Terrorists,” October 13, 2021.
{10} The Guardian, “Claims that China paid Bin Laden to see cruise missiles,” October 19, 2001.
{11} Washington Times, “Chinese firms helping put phone system in Kabul,” September 28, 2001.
{12} Washington Post, “A Volatile Region,” September 14, 2001.
{13} Washington Times, “Chinese firms helping put phone system in Kabul,” September 28, 2001.
{14} FOX News, “Gordon Chang: China-Taliban connection – we must hold Beijing accountable for Afghan militants’ crimes,” August 20, 2021.
{15} “Unrestricted Warfare,” Page 144 – 145.
{16} Daily Telegraph, “Beijing Produces Videos Glorifying Terrorist Attacks on ‘Arrogant’ US,” November 4, 2001.;
{17} Modern China Studies, “911 kongbufenzi xiji hijian zhi hou: guonei yanlun zhaideng” 911恐怖分子袭击事件之后:国内言论摘登 [“A Sampling of Chinese Public Opinion Following the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks”], Issue 4 (2001). [In Chinese] {18} RAND Corporation, “China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance,” July 22, 2021.
{19} Foreign Policy, “Chinese Recognition of the Taliban Is All but Inevitable,” August 27, 2021.
{20} CNN, “U.S. wins support from China,” October 19, 2021.
{21} South China Morning Post, “9/11, 20 years later: did the tragedy give US-China relations a respite?” September 2, 2021.
{22} People’s Daily, “The Change and Response to the Strategic Opportunity Period,” December 18, 2012.