Friday, October 26, 2007

The Great Islamofascism Debate

We are officially in the middle of Islamofascism Awareness Week. Organized by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, Islamofascism Awareness Week is designed to raise popular concern over the threat posed by radical Islam. The event has proved to be somewhat controversial, with critics especially vocal about the accuracy and fairness of the word "Islamofascism" itself.

Walter Skold at Freadom has an interesting series of posts on that very topic. In one, he quotes Christopher Hitchens making the case for the validity of the term Islamofascism at Slate. Hitchens does so by describing the numerous features shared by both Islamism and Fascism:

I think yes. The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.


This makes it permissible, it seems to me, to mention the two phenomena in the same breath and to suggest that they constitute comparable threats to civilization and civilized values. There is one final point of comparison, one that is in some ways encouraging. Both these totalitarian systems of thought evidently suffer from a death wish. It is surely not an accident that both of them stress suicidal tactics and sacrificial ends, just as both of them would obviously rather see the destruction of their own societies than any compromise with infidels or any dilution of the joys of absolute doctrinal orthodoxy. Thus, while we have a duty to oppose and destroy these and any similar totalitarian movements, we can also be fairly sure that they will play an unconscious part in arranging for their own destruction, as well.

Hitchens is right to point out these similarities. Earlier this week, Raymond Ibrahim noted the chilling parallels between Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and the writings of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Distinguished scholar of Fascism Walter Laqueur has also noted the commonalities between the two ideologies:

How helpful is the “Islamofascism” label at the present time with regard to the radical Islamists? There are striking parallels—the populism, the anti Westernism, the antiliberalism, the antisemitism, its aggressive, expansive, anti humanist character, the interpretation of Islam as both a religion and a totalitarian political-social order which provides answers to all problems of the contemporary world. It could be argued that while it lacks a Fuehrer or a Duce, the supreme clerical leader (such as Khomeini) fulfills a similar role and while there is no political party which has a monopoly, the mosque fulfills a similar function as far as the mobilization of the masses and their indoctrination is concerned.

Yet, while recognizing the similarities, Laqueur rejects the term "Islamofascism":

But at the same time there are differences that should not be overlooked. Fascism was an European phenomenon, dictatorships outside Europe (such as for instance the Japanese regime in the thirties and forties) were bound to develop on different lines according to historical tradition and political conditions. The age of fascism came to an end in 1945. Since then there has been neo-fascism and neo-Nazism which also differ in certain respects from its historical predecessors and models. Radical Islamism could be interpreted as a post fascist movement. But such a label tends to exaggerate the role of its European predecessor and to downplay the specific homegrown, in other words, the Islamist elements. Hitler did not engage in Jihad and he did note want to impose anything like the sharia.

In addition to Laqueur, noted historians such as Martin Kramer and Michael Burleigh also reject the term "Islamofascism" even while pointing out the same parallels Laqueur does.

While I'm far from being a noted historian, as Walter noticed I too refrain from using the word "Islamofascism". It's not that there aren't similarities between Islamism and Fascism, it's just that conflating the two concepts sheds more heat than light. Beyond the theoretical problems described by Laqueur and other scholars, the major issue is that Islamofascism has become a polemical rather than an analytical term.

The key to defeating our adversary lies in clearly labeling and understanding the threat we face. Islamism, which accurately describes that enemy as a combination of modern totalitarianism and Islamic extremism, best provides the analytical clarity we need.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muslims Against Sharia congratulate David Horowitz FREEDOM CENTER and Mike Adams, Tammy Bruce, Phyllis Chesler, Ann Coulter, Nonie Darwish, Greg Davis, Stephen Gale, David Horowitz, Joe Kaufman, Michael Ledeen, Michael Medved, Alan Nathan, Cyrus Nowrasteh, Daphne Patai, Daniel Pipes, Dennis Prager, Luana Saghieh, Rick Santorum, Jonathan Schanzer, Christina Sommers, Robert Spencer, Brian Sussman, Ed Turzanski, Ibn Warraq and other speakers on the success of the Islamofascism Awareness Week.

Islamofascism (or Islamism) is the main threat facing modern civilization and ignorance about this threat is astounding. We hope that this event becomes regular and reaches every campus.

A great many Westerners do not see the clear distinction between Islam and Islamism (Islamofascism). They need to understand that the difference between Islam and Islamism (Islamofascism) is the same as the difference between Christianity and Christian Identity Movement (White Supremacy Movement).

Original post

1:21 AM  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

Mr. Durant,

I will offer that "fascism" is a more amorphous taxonomic category than "communism" because the authoritarian regimes of the inter-war period were a product of local political struggles which themselves may have had a common set of antecedents in social life but which were not inspired by a single set of texts (e.g. Das Kapital), nor instigated by a central headquarters in a foreign power (Moscow), nor directed by a corporate body erected according to stereotype (the Leninist vanguard party). I would suggest the works of Stanley Payne or Zevedei Barbu for apprehending some of the issues.

Christopher Hitchens adds no clarity at all in his remarks. The Franco regime was praetorian, bureaucratic-authoritarian, and traditionalist. It was not revanchist, imperialist, or notably bellicose. There was no country as external enemy nor any domestic communal group which was the object of its recriminations or violence, it had no objects on the territory of any other country (bar it dispute with Britain over the rock of Gibralter), and it remained neutral during the Second World War and never went into battle with any other country.

As for the state party of the Franco regime, it was a fusion of Falangists, Carlists, and Alfonsine monarchists. The latter two dispensations antedated inter-war European fascism by nearly a century and had political aspirations that were quite distinct (and not much honored in the succeeding decades). The Falangists were the most resemblant to other novel authoritarian movements at the time; they were also the least consequential component to the opposition to the Republic prior to the civil war and their ideologists were somewhat dubious about analagous movements abroad.

If I recall correctly, Gen. Queipo de Llano was denied any consequential position in the government after the war and may have shortly gone into retirement.

The Franco regime was an unapologetically authoritarian one-party state which favored voguish innovations in political economy. One or more of these criteria are present in governments to which the "Fascist" appellation is never applied, among the those of Kemal Ataturk and Lazaro Cardenas.

Suggest this, that truly signature phenomena comprehend an authoritarian national mobilization for revanchist goals, the enemy being objects of hate understood as those responsible for leaving the nation in its reduced state. The Nasser regime, the Ba'ath Party, al-Fatah, and a selection of Islamic movements could be understood in this vein as distinct manifestations of a similar social impulse (which a common-and-garden military regime or the Justice and Development Party in Turkey would not).

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Art Deco said...

There was some years ago a screen play written which was made into a novella called Bab el-oued (I have forgotten the author). It is set in Algeria about a decade ago. It has an engaging take about the distinction between Muslim piety and political Islam, and (I think) a point to make about various sorts of ugly phenomena (e.g. truculent religio-political agitation or the use of street drugs) can be seen as a consequence of manhood thwarted and others (disfigured family relations, disfigured city scapes, and white collar crime) as a consequence of taking commerce out of its proper social and cultural context. The explanation of a certain sort of political Islam is complementary to that offerd by (among others) Thomas Sowell and is worth considering.

11:18 PM  
Blogger Stephen Denney said...

I prefer the term Islamic extremism to Islamism. The latter sounds too cloee to Islam, and to many it would probably seem virtually the same, just a derogatory rererence to Islam, as in Christianism vs. Christianity. If it is our purpose to reach out to the Islamic world and isolate the extremist terrorists, then we should be careful to use terms that reflect the distinction between the vast majority of Islamic believers and the relatively small groups of terrorists who are wreaking so much havoc across the globe.

11:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stephen Denney,

You are probably correct in regards to 'Islamic extremism' vs. 'Islamism', however, 'Islamism' is an established and widely accepted term. Islamism refers to a political ideology, not the religion of Islam.

1:44 AM  
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10:09 PM  

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