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.