Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Islamic Fascism"

As of August 10, George Bush has adopted the expression “Islamic Fascism.” (Apparently, there was one use about eight months ago, but that was probably a slip on his part.)

Previously, there had been (and perhaps still is in some quarters) an effort to evade the Islamic issue with the GWOT or “Global War on Terror.” That is duplicitous. Our struggle is not with the Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka or the ETA in Spain. At present, and for the foreseeable future, we are confronted with Muslim extremists.

Ever deaf to nuances, Bush failed to notice the difference between “Islamic Fascism” and “Islamo-Fascism” (the latter expression relentlessly promoted by his utensil, the obnoxious Christopher Hitchens). As with “Franco-German,” “Euro-American” and other compounds, the –o suffix suggests the union of two independent entities, who need not be—perhaps should not be—united. “Islamic Fascism,” Bush’s variant implies that Fascism is an integral aspect of Islam.

Why the switch in terminology now? According to sources cited by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, the hawks in the Bush administration, undeterred by the Israeli failure in Lebanon, are pushing ahead with their plans to bomb Iran. This may occur after Iran, as is expected, declines at the end of August to stop its nuclear program. It is Iran that is being portrayed as the core of “Islamic fascism,” with of course Syria and Hezbollah as its satellites. How much more will this country stand under the pretext of “national security”?

Plenty, if the latest scare about liquids on planes is any indication. The plotters were the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. British experts admit than an attack was not immanent; some of the plotters didn’t even have passports. But the outrageous ploy worked, boosting Bush’s ratings on national security—if not his personal popularity.

At all events, with the viral spread of these two terms, Islamo-Fascism and Islamic Fascism, we are moving closer to the clash of civilizations, an outcome that most observers claim they wish to avoid.

The term Fascism has been subjected to so much semantic degradation, that it is surprising that there is any life left in it. Academic colleagues have reported being accused of being “Fascists” just because they insist that term papers be turned in on time. In addition to applying to anyone perceived as right wing, a Fascist is anyone who insists on some measure of discipline. One’s parents, for instance, if one is young.

Here is a pertinent excerpt from a Wikipedia article:

“The word "fascist" ( or "fascism") is sometimes used to denigrate persons, institutions or groups that would not describe themselves as fascist and that do not fall within the formal definition of the word. As a political epithet it has been applied to persons and groups on the extreme left, the extreme right and most points in between. It has also been applied to persons of many religious faiths, particularly fundamentalist groups, and it has been used to label a broad range of persons and institutions. Its use as an epithet generally serves to imply that the supposed "fascist" is unreasonably authoritarian. At best, it is considered mildly offensive, although many persons find it highly offensive and inappropriate.
“In this sense, the word "fascist" is generally [understood] to mean "oppressive," "intolerant," "chauvinist," or "aggressive," all concepts that are at least loosely inspired by the ideology of actual fascism. For example, one might accuse an inconveniently placed police roadblock as being a "fascist tactic" or an overly authoritarian teacher as being a "real fascist." . . .
“By 1944, the term had already become so widely and loosely employed, that British essayist and novelist George Orwell was moved to write: "[T]he word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless. In conversation, of course, it is used even more wildly than in print. I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox hunting, bullfighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley's broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else."
“During the late 1960s and 1970s, it was popular for many leftists to describe a wide range of governments and public institutions as fascist. In the 80's the term was used by leftist critics to describe the Ronald Reagan administration and recently George W. Bush's. In her 1982 book "Beyond Mere Obedience" radical activist and theologian Dorothy Soelles, coined the term "Christofascist" to describe fundamentalist Christians.”

An extensive scholarly literature addresses the historical phenomenon of fascism. In this copious production a gap has persisted between the unitarians and the pluralists. The unitarians insist that Fascism is a single entity, with a number of national variants. The pluralists hold that the umbrella term Fascism shelters several distinct types. One typology would be as follows: 1) Mussolini’s original model; 2) Hitler’s National Socialism, in some key respects sui generis: 3) clerical Fascism, typified by Franco’s Spain; and 4) opportunist dictatorships like that of Perón in Argentina.

Presumably Islamo-Fascism belongs to category three, clerical fascism.

Not so fast, though, for that is scarcely the end of the matter.

Scholars have agreed on a number of characteristic features of the fascist regimes during the period 1922-45. The first is that the fascist state must have a maximum leader--a duce, fuehrer, or caudillo--whose word is law. It is hard to know who would fill this bill in the Islamic world of today. Osama bin Laden and Sheikh Nasrallah are not heads of state. Mr. Ahmadinejad heads the Iranian state, but his actions are subject to review by the ayatollahs. Unlike any fascist country, Iran is officially a theocracy. Chances for the revival of the caliphate (which could conceivably fill the bill) are remote, to say the least.

The maximum leader in turn rules over a single unified state. It is true that the historic Fascist states of Europe did some fudging here. Mussolini tried to repress the German- speaking minority in South Tyrol; and Franco was faced with a more daunting task in dealing with the Catalans and Basques. But there was enough ethnic consistency for the fiction to be sustained. The Iranian ruler does stand at the head of such a unitary state—or a reasonable facsimile since there are Arab and other minorities in his country. However, Iran must reach out to other Shiites, who are not Iranian. How can the Arab Iraqi and Lebanese Shiites be incorporated in any Iranian Reich?

Finally, the Fascist state must exercise absolute control over all the means of communication. As far as newspapers, radio, and television go, such control has been secured in the Islamic authoritarian countries. However, those polities have been less successful in censoring the Internet, and cell-phone communication, much of it subversive, is rampant.

So in all three of these categories the ascription of “Islamo-Fascism” does not hold up. It appears that we are presented with an Orwellian epithet, whose explanatory power is virtually nil.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks. Excellent writing--and true.

10:15 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home