The president, as well as Senator Rick Santorum, has taken to using “Islamic fascism” to describe the enemy in this war we’re in — both provoking some outrage. Is the wording right? What does it mean? Would you put it differently? We asked a group of experts just that. Here’s how they responded.
Bush’s use of the term “Islamic fascist” is both sincere and correct. However, the scope of his definition is of limited utility. The problems of the current Middle East extend beyond those “Islamic fascists” who proselytize a skewed, militant version of Islam. The present conflict includes secular Arab despots who flout the rule of law, violate human rights, and crush political dissent.
The president has shown that he understands the war, but the gap between his rhetoric and action is considerable. The State Department exacerbates this problem when it actively launders the image of Colonel Qadhafi, an “Islamic fascist,” who has American blood on his hands and pioneered a strain of Islamism mixed with Arabism.
In an Islamic state, the Koran rules and freedom of worship and expression are restricted. Allegiance to the ruler is a religious duty. “O you who have attained to faith! Pay heed unto God, and pay heed unto the Apostle and unto those from among you who have been entrusted with authority”(The Koran 4:59). Arab rulers use religion to intimidate those who dare to dissent — Colonel Qadhafi labels his opponents as “Zanadiqah,” a religious term that means “heretics.”
Islamists fear losing control, so they incite hatred against people from other faiths. In Libya, disrespect for other faiths and the deliberate propagation of hate are official state policies. Earlier this month, during a speech to Libyan religious clerics and teachers — all of whom are state employees — Colonel Qadhafi warned against imitating Jews and Christians. He stressed the superiority of Islam and warned that there is a conspiracy against it. In essence, Qadhafi was invoking the Koranic verse, “O YOU who have attained to faith! Do not take the Jews and the Christians for your allies: they are but allies of one another and whoever of you allies himself with them becomes, verily, one of them; behold, God does not guide such evildoers” (The Koran 5:51). Perhaps “Islamic fascism” usefully describe more people than the president wants.
– Mohamed Eljahmi is a Libyan-American activist.
Some people can’t bear to hear the word “Islam” associated with “fascism,” no matter whom it describes. As for “fascism,” why not use this word to refer to those radicals bent on subjecting the world to their ideology, by whatever means necessary? As for “Islam,” what else do you call religious imams who encourage suicidal jihadists to take innocent lives and promise them the eternal gratitude of a heaven filled with virgins?
Unfortunately, instead of admitting that these jihadists are acting in the name of Islam, this fact is ignored; if you try to point it out, as President Bush has, you are accused of intolerance.
Many Muslims come to find sanctuary in this country, having escaped one oppressive regime or another, but precious few can find it in their hearts to be grateful to the safe haven that this country has offered us. Instead, many of them use their newfound freedom to denounce those who dare accurately describe the nature of their enemy. In so doing, they defend these Islamic fascists, whether willingly or not. And they fail to confront the true attackers of Islam: those terrorist fascists who call themselves Muslims.
— Farid Ghadry is president of the Reform Party of Syria.
So President Bush finally said the words “Islamic fascists.” And it’s about time; the phrase identifies a group of people, with a specific ideology, in a way that the “war on terror” never did. Terrorism is a tactic. If Syria launched a missile at us, we wouldn’t declare a “new war on users of ballistic armaments.”
But is the term accurate? Are these jihadists in fact fascists? Well, I’ve spent the last few years working on a book about fascism, and I can authoritatively say: It depends. As a matter of fact, there’s still no accepted definition of fascism among students of the phenomenon. “Put simply,” writes Gilbert Allardyce, “we have agreed to use the word without agreeing on how to define it.”
Most scholars concentrate on what Robert Paxton, author of The Anatomy of Fascism, calls the “motivating passions” of fascist movements. Among these are the quest for unity and purity, the demonization of the other, belief in a mythic past, the need to assert and demonstrate “greatness,” utopian faith in a glorious national restoration, revulsion toward bourgeois modernity, populist paranoia about manipulative forces keeping the group down, the cleansing value of violence, and various other themes. On these, and other, scores, jihadism looks a lot like fascism.
But there are other ways in which jihadis aren’t so obviously fascistic. The original fascists were statists at the most fundamental and philosophical level, even when out of power. It is hard to argue that the jihadi concept of the state and the Italian Fascist or Nazi version have much in common.
Moreover, I subscribe to the view, put forward by Eric Voegelin and popularized by Michael Burleigh, that Fascism — and in particular Nazism — was a political religion. Still, Fascists, like Communists, had a fundamentally secular conception of utopia. They believed they could create a heaven on earth. And while Islamists sound quite fascistic when touting the glories of the restored caliphate, their belief in a payday of 72 virgins in the afterlife finds no analogue in fascist theory. Fascist nationalism was a political doctrine(s) which appealed primarily to deracinated young men desperate to find meaning in their lives. Islamic fascism clearly appeals to the same types of men. But it differs insofar as it is a political ideology resting within the grain of a religious tradition. That’s also what makes it so much more frightening. It’s easy to argue Communism or Nazism were “alien ideologies,” it’s much more difficult to call “Islamism” an alien ideology to the Islamic world.
Nonetheless, I’m ultimately in favor of the term “Islamic fascism” because it helps people understand the gist of what we’re up against in a way that the “war on terror” never could. That the term doesn’t work perfectly on a theoretical level is a problem. But as the scholars have shown, it’s a problem that never stopped them either.
– Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of NRO and is working on a book about fascism.
Judith Apter Klinghoffer
The president’s decision to identify “Islamic fascism” as the enemy makes sense (even if I would prefer Tony Blair’s term, “reactionary Islam.” I find the use of “fascism” a bit trite). There is little doubt that Muslim advocacy groups, and Muslim countries, will argue that such a designation plays into the hands of Islamists and serves to prove their claim that the U.S. has declared war not on terror but on Islam. Unfortunately, they have successfully made that claim regardless. More importantly, rather than acting to protect their religion from murderous ideologues who have been undermining its good name, Muslim advocates are much too busy protecting their co-religionists from the consequences of their atrocities. They do it in part by willfully ignoring the fact that Islam is the one common denominator of anti-Western terrorists and demanding that the rest of the world do the same. Including the name of the religion in the name of the enemy puts an end to this counterproductive charade.
Just as importantly, designating the enemy as fascist or reactionary may tarnish its revolutionary halo and diminish its attraction to leftist intellectuals whose distaste for the international status quo overrided their distaste for the “armies of G-d.” This is true in the West, where even the French worry about the possibility of an Islamist alliance with members of the anti-globalization movement. It is also true in the Muslim world, where more and more doctrinaire Marxists are becoming doctrinaire Islamists. To be effective, the president and his allies must use the bully pulpit to highlight the fascist/reactionary aspects of the Islamist ideology such as its treatment of groups near and dear to leftist hearts, e.g., women, gays, students, and human rights activists. But naming the enemy is just the beginning. Making effective use of that name is the end.
— Judith Apter Klinghoffer is a member of the Princeton Research Forum, and is the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East: Unintended Consequences co-author of International Citizens’ Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights and History News Network blogger.
The major advantage of using the terms “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism” is that it fairly accurately describes the ideology we face.
Al Qaeda and its ilk, as well as the Iranian regime, have selectively taken strands of Islam and twisted them into a political ideology. In so doing, they, like the Baathist movement, have also drawn on European ideologies such as fascism, Nazism, and Communism (on this see Laurent Murawiec’s The Mind of Jihad and Barry Cooper’s New Political Religions). The result is a genuinely totalitarian theory of political governance and domination that, through its version of Islamic law, makes all dissent illegal, even to the point of making it a capital offense.
Some argue that the term unfairly ties terrorists to Islam, something not done when, say, Christians commit terrorist acts. But here the premise is incorrect. We do, when it is relevant, describe other terrorist groups in religious terms. True, we do not refer to the Basque ETA as a group of “Catholic terrorists,” even though most of them are, I assume, nominally Catholic. Yet this is because their ideology is not tied to their Catholicism, but is rather a nationalistic one centered on language and culture. In contrast, we had no trouble referring to, say, “Protestant paramilitaries” in Northern Ireland, since the dividing line there has been Catholic/Protestant. Similarly, 20 years ago we did not call Fatah “Islamist,” since it was largely nationalist or Marxist, but we can accurately call Hamas “Islamofascist,” because its ideology is explicitly religious. Our labels refer not to the perpetrators’ nominal religious identity, but to whether their motivation is tied to this identity, however much they may have perverted it. Since al Qaeda and Ahmadinejad explicitly and sincerely outline their goals, and attempt to justify their actions, through their interpretation of Islam, they have to be understood in these terms. “Islamofascism” has the virtues of accurately describing both their ideology and also its differences from other forms of Islam.
– Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at Freedom House‘s Center for Religious Freedom, is the editor, most recently, of Radical Islam’s Rules: The Worldwide Spread of Extreme Shari’a Law.
Although I have used the term “Islamo-fascism,” I’ve never been comfortable with it. It’s a term used without much thought, but, like other similar terms — “radical Islam,” “militant Islam,” “political Islam,” “Islamism,” etc. — it conveniently allows us to dodge the question that begs answering: Is the terrorism we are dealing with globally a result of unadorned Islam?
Here is the problem: There is an interpretation of Islam that says everyone on earth must become a Muslim or submit to the authority of the Islamic state (meaning, pay the jizya tax and make one’s own freedom to worship subject to the regulatory whims of the Sharia authorities). This is to be brought about by jihad. Now, that is commonly called “Islamo-fascism” or “radical Islam” (among other things). But is it really fascist or radical? I don’t think so.
Fascism is rudimentarily nationalist, and the movement we are talking about rejects the nation state, favoring the Muslim umma. In addition, what’s called Islamo-fascism is not really a theory of social organization that argues for state control based on merit. It claims that its rules are based on Allah’s commands; that the authority to rule (like the rules themselves) belongs to God; that this is the way it has to be, merit or not.
I’m also not comfortable calling it “radical.” I have come to the conclusion that this interpretation of Islam has great support in the Koran and the Hadiths — it is not the exclusive interpretation, but it is an entirely plausible interpretation — which means it’s not “radical.” We would like to think it is radical, but it is based on scriptures that flatly instruct Muslims to quell non-Muslims.
In fact, if we are to speak about the reality of the situation, it would be “moderate” or “secular” forms of Islam that need the modifier. And they do. The unadorned word “Islam” tells us very little these days.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. He led the 1995 prosecution of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman.
I am reminded of a famous passage from Marx’s 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte: “in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language.”
Is President Bush conjuring a bogeyman, or does the language of 20th-century totalitarianism accurately describe the threat posed by militant Islamism? On a superficial level, fascism and militant Islamism are similar: both reject individual rights and liberal democracy, whilst offering a profound challenge to them. Still, the pedant will no doubt find numerous historical differences between militant Islamists and 20th-century fascists.
This however should not obscure the central truth: Militant Islamism is a successor to fascism. The ideology of the jihadists has deep roots, and these do not stretch back to the Koran, but to an age-old Dionysian project that, in seeking to create (or recreate) “heaven on earth,” is prepared to rationalize any act of brutality and savagery. “Islamic fascism” reminds us that ours is more than just a war on terrorism, it is against the ideological project that excuses it.
– Alykhan Velshi is a lawyer and manager of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
At first sight, the phrase “Islamic fascism” seems a strange combination of words, since “fascism” refers to an anti-democratic movement born in Italy in 1919. It spread throughout Europe and among Christians and Muslims in the Arab Levant, particularly Palestine, up until the end of World War II. The characteristics of this movement, — created by a socialist, Benito Mussolini — exist in radical Islam, found both in the Sunni tendency and, as illustrated by the Iranian state, in the Shia. Like Nazism, Fascism functioned through a network of political militias (fasci) imposing, by violence and assassination, the rule of a charismatic leader, the dehumanization of the Jews, the suppression of freedom of the press and opinion, the elimination of all other parties, and the state control of the economy, culture, and propaganda. However, unlike Fascism, Islamism is deeply imbedded in a jihadic ideology, with its legal framework of permanent war derived from religious scriptures, consolidated by a history of 13 centuries of warfare, conquests, and subjugation of infidels. Unlike fascism, all its references are religious, and its hatred targets equally Jews and non-Jews. Codified in 8th-century Islamic jurisprudence, Islamist warfare tactics conform exactly to a sharia-jihadic worldview, set in an enduring, theological pattern. Similarities with fascism emerge from a shared totalitarian mechanism, despite divergences in the two movements. Promoters of jihadism define their actions as a jihad, using its terminology and history. But they object to Westerners adopting this view negatively since for Muslims jihad represents the highest sacred duty in the path of Allah, and it is this positive interpretation of jihad that they want to impose on its victims. Being unfamiliar with jihad, Westerners do not understand that the fight against terror is against a 21th-century jihad and they do not realize the breadth of its scope and constituents.
— Bat Yeor is the author of studies on the conditions of Jews and Christians in the context of the jihad ideology and the sharia law. Recent books include: Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide and Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis, both at Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.