PONDERING ISLAMISM AS A FORM OF TOTALITARIANIAM
I have not fully collected my thoughts on this topic but a couple of posts have me mulling the relationship between radical Islamism and the great secular totalitarianisms of the 20th century. the first was from JB
at riting on the wall
who delved into the recent pronouncements of al Qaida's chief ideologist, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
JB is not impressed with al-Zawahiri the theorist:"braude interprets all of this from a rationalist/western/critical perspective. but that's missing someting. there's nothing new here. zawahiri hasn't made a single point here that he hasn't been making since, at the very least, bin laden's days in sudan. actually, i'm not sure there's anything here unique to zawahiri. all three foundations are straight out of qutb. enjoining against the united states came out of the early days of egyptian islamic jihad. and it's really hard to see any of this as an attempt to link himself to an-nahda:"
The second prompt for rethinking Islamism was a dialogue I had with Collounsbury on his post on Koranic duels.
I ended up after the exchange stating the following hypothesis:"Islamism has some analagous traits or borrowed tactics from previous Totalitarianisms - people like Bin Laden are not stupid, they will use what can be adapted that does not contradict their view of Islam - but I think Islamism needs to be better understood on its own merits and not its borrowings. In other words, a revision of previous attempts to retrofit Islamism into Fascist or Communist models by American intellectuals is in order. Not all of these observations are wrong but the extent has been exaggerated in an attempt to understand how Islamism ticks. Or to communicate the urgency or scope of the problem."I am not knocking Paul Berman whose book Terror and Liberalism argues the connection between Fascism and Islamism or even those who took the tack of analogies with Communism. I think those arguments were fairly made and are persuasive to the degree that the Islamists have been influenced by or borrowed tactics from their secular predecessors who were also in revolt against the liberal modernity represented by he West. Islamist and Arab radicals have often cribbed Anti-semitic discourse in some of its vilest manifestations directly from its European and Nazi context. Even in the instances where the relationship between Islamism and Fascism or Communism is tenuous there remains some remarkable paralells in terms of psychological/internal and transnational/organizational dynamics because all three represented a revolutionary, anti-status quo, attack on the global order.
Conceding those points I must move on to the crux of the issue. These influences and analogies may be misleading us in terms of confronting the Islamists because they are secondary and not central to Islamism as a motivating ideology. By relying too heavily on our experential familiarity with the Nazis and the Cold War we avoid looking at the heart of what drives a Muslim to become a Jihadi and are apt to miss the evolutionary trajectory that Islamist groups may be taking. By missing the trends and not understanding the psychological-ideological levers we miscue our actions in the GWOT I think also that this works both ways. Bin Laden's pre-election videotape
revealed that he did not know quite how to direct his message to a Western audience with the clarity and effect he has enjoyed with the Arab-Islamic world.
Another conundrum is the existence and relationship between radical Sunni and radical Shiite forms of Islamism. The former is in a transnationalist, revolutionary, movement phase with no overarching authority and the latter is an official state ideology already swiftly descending into bureaucratic ossification. Supreme Guide Khameini is wearing his high religious titles with as much justification as Brezhnev wore his military decorations - and probably is causing as much wincing embarrassment to his followers. I'm no expert on Iran or Islam but I find it dubious that any significant body of Shiite Muslims hail Ali Khameini as a Marja, much less as an Imam.
I'm interested in hearing what you think regarding whether we are on the right track in analyzing and countering - and hopefully crushing - radical Islamism