Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A desultory debate on the extent of totalitarianism within Islamism has reemerged in the blogosphere due to President Bush saying " Islamic Fascist" in reference to Islamist terrorist groups. There's a lot of objections to that term on pragmatic as well as technical grounds ( some Islamists are quietists, others accept democracy, some are "moderate" authoritarians, some are takfiri extremists with scores to settle against "apostate" Muslims) or the utility of the analogy.

Twentieth century totalitarianism in its Marxist, Nazi and Fascist manifestations have some commonalities with radical Islamism, notably opposition to liberal democracy, as well as important fundamental differences, radical atheism being a noteworthy example. Juan Cole's assertion that Fascism is incompatible with Islamism because Islamists reject the nation-state ignores the fact that Nazis emphasized not the state ( that was Mussolini's version) but the "Aryan race". Hitler himself was emphatic on that point, that the German state was an inconsequential thing before the wellbeing of the German" racial community". "Ein Reich, ein Volk, ein Fuhrer" puts the state at the bottom of the pyramid.

Quite frankly, the most radical Nazis looked forward to a postwar, de-Christianized, Judenfrei, European racialist superstate that incorporated all "teutonic" nationalities under Nazi dominion. State, race, religion - fascism is a collectivistic and exclusivist creed and religion is probably at least as durable an emotive basis for Fascism as nationalism or racism. While some radical Islamists have been " eucumenical" in their desire to build a united, Islamist, Ummah others like the psychopathic Zarqawi took a violently takfiri and exclusionary approach to Caliphate-building.

Nevertheless, "Islamic Fascism" as a term has a number of problems given the diverse, at times inchoate and dynamic nature of radical Islamist movements. At HNN, Dr. Tim Furnish, a stern critic of radical Islamists, found " Islamic Fasicism ", for his own reasons, as objectionable as did Juan Cole:

"Does this paradigm fit with the ideology of Islamic terrorists? That ideology has four major aspects: 1) a starting point of victim-hood, especially vis-à-vis the West and Christianity; 2) an intermediate goal of re-pietizing Islamic society via imposition of “true” shari`ah (Islamic law); 3) a long-term goal of re-creating the early Islamic ummah (community) under a new caliphate, which would eventually encompass the entire planet; and 4) the preferred methodology to achieve these goals of jihad. Put up against the characteristics of fascism, Islamic-based fundamentalist ideology seems obviously to share the emphasis on the group (the ummah) and a clear sense of being victimized. Also, since a caliphate, historically, has been essentially an Islamic monarchy, the dictatorial aspect should be included as common; likewise for repression of opposition, since pre-modern Islamic regimes (and, indeed, most modern ones) have not been known for their political tolerance. The other three elements of fascism—extreme nationalism or ideas of racial superiority, socioeconomic regimentation and extreme militarization—really are not prominent themes in Islamic political thought and praxis, today or in the past. So, definitionally, while “Islamic fascism” at first glance appears appropriate, upon more careful consideration its descriptive value is nominal at best.

A second point is that the term reinforces the questionable tendency of us in the West, and especially in the U.S., to see every new global threat as a reprise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Perhaps this is because World War II was the last war that all Americans agreed was truly legitimate, for every war since then—Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq both times (albeit much less so the first time)—has had its critics. Whatever the reason, wouldn’t it be more useful to the conduct of, and debate about, the undeniable global problem of Islamic-based terrorism if we analyzed the issue on its own terms? The differences between Nazi Fascism and Islamic-based terrorism are myriad, starting with the fact that the former was a state ideology and the latter is not (at least not yet). And whatever one wishes to say about Usama bin Ladin and his ilk, they are not devotees of racial purity. Religious purity, to be sure—but that calls for a different response. "

In an intellectual parallel, there is a fashionable tendency to call every modern ( or historical) mass atrocity "genocide". An ahistorical error which cheapens the value of the term for the actual victims of genocide and obscures what was unique about such horrors like American Slavery or China's Cultural Revolution; rendering elusive the very characteristics that makes these terrible events worth examining in their own right.

Perhaps, we ought to accept that the crimes of Islamist terrorism and the delusions of Jihadi ideology are distinctive enough to stand on their own merits and not try to paint them over with swastikas or hammers and sickles.
Do you mean to say "China's Great Leap Forward" (which was 7 years prior to Cultural Revolution)?
So from what mr Cole says, Islamism is not fascism, because the "Umma", or "Dar al-Islam", the Islamic nation, has ever expanding borders rather than a fixed territorial liebesraum?

or that Islam is a religion, not a race so therefore the term doesn't apply?

What utter bullshit. In fact, a description of Islamism containing the two points I mentioned above seems worse than Nazism, because anyone can sign up and everyone else in the world becomes the enemy.
I prefer "Islamic jihadists," which recognizes the theoretical possibility of non-Islamic jihadists.

And please let's not get into a debate about "lesser" vs. "greater" jihad. As the word is used today, everyone , including bin Laden, knows what it means.

Of course, the goals of the Islamic jihadists is a totalitarian empire, which is where the analogy to Nazi fascism comes into play.
"Islamic fascist" has the advantage that "fascist" is a term which by loose usage has come to convey little historical content but great evil. It almost just means "bad", as Leftists have used it. This de-historicized term has been common currency among the Left. Now, let the anti-jihadis pick up this term, stretched and twisted out of meaningfulness, and use it as a blanket term for the "bad" Muslims who want to kill us. Islamic fascism works just fine.

And, if you want to drill down anyway, because, say, you care about coherence and rationality, there is enough historic linkage between Nazi thought and, for example, Sayyid Qutb, including their hatred of Jews and of American liberal democracy, that there is adequate grounds for adopting the term.

I like the use of the term. It is a term of hostility, of revilement, it is a term applied to an enemy we mean to destroy.
I arrive late...yet I arrive...Hello everyone !

Sun Bin,

The Great Leap was actually a lot worse in terms of human costs than the Cultural Revolution but that fact is less well known to the public. (I try not to leave ppl saying " Huh " ?)

jimmy the dhimmi,

Interesting handle.

I found Cole's rationale to be qite weak as well. the potential for Islamism to be worse than Nazism is there( my money is on Mahdism married to possession of WMD )but being worse has yet to happen. The U.S. toppling of the Taliban probably prevented a major famine in Afghanistan.


The lesser vs. greater jihad argument is a cop-out ( as if anyone cares about some guy struggling against his inner demons - we care about the guy who runs with the demons and blows up buildings)


"Fascist" really has taken a linguistic beating - even back when there were real, live, fascists running powerful nations the Communists were calling Democratic Socialists " Social Fascists".

Perhaps the Islamists will manage to pull off something so nightmarish that fifty years hence we'll be calling some new, unrelated, group of violent loons " neo-Jihadis"
I think anyone reading this blog understands the extreme importance of the public's will in this fight. The fact is that fascist, even more so than communist, can concentrate the mind of the public much better than terms like salafist, Kuhmenist, jihadist, Islamist, takfiri, etc. Maybe because the Nazis have been used as the example of the epitome of evil in movies ever since 1939, the word nazi or fascist describes a palpable evil that no other word can match. Although not exactly accurate, the rhetorical value of the term is immeasurable.
The word descends from Italian for 'group' or Latin for 'bundle', and the general historical use is related to these concepts, since the establishment of a group requires some definable uniformity and exclusivity for the members. For instance, Americans may all be Americans (and human!), but trying to define all Americans as a single 'group' beyond description from national boundaries would be a bit difficult.

However, it would seem that defining 'the enemy' as fascist becomes easier when we assume uniformity -- homogeneity -- of that enemy group.

Plus, the major Islamist players and their most fervent followers probably see themselves as united into a 'bundle' that is quite exclusionary. Jews not allowed. Others not allowed. From such a perspective, the ultimate goals of these Islamists, if successfully carried out to their extreme, would probably resemble quite closely historical fascism.

Calling them 'fascists' on this basis does seem a little odd for the public discourse, however, since the average American, Brit, etc., etc., probably is not aware of those ultimate goals -- caliphate, i.e. For most people, the stripped down definition of 'great evil upon the world' will suffice.
Shrinkwrapped recently used the term: Expansionistic Totalitarian Islam - but that is a mouthfull.

I toyed around (pre-blogging days) with Islmotarian in the past, but it didn't catch on.

Colin is right on with "the fact is that fascist, even more so than communist, can concentrate the mind of the public much better than..."

Naming something gives you some power over it.

I think I will be sticking with Islamofascism or Islamic Fascism for now - that is the name I want to use to tarnish the "great evil upon the world".
I come very late to this conversation...see what happens when your RSS doesn't work. :)

In any case, I've been uncomfortable with the term Islamofacism, or Islamic fascism not because of the clear association to evil (i'm fine with that) but rather for what it does to most analysis of the enemy when we use the term. Mainly, we continue using WWII terminology and comparisons that many times are not apt enough to explain the real threat we face. For example, Nazism, Fascism were grave dangers because they controlled nation-states which used their resources to wage war upon us and our allies. These were state on state contests, where references to total war, and targeting of population centers was acceptable since every single individual aided the governments in the war effort.

The war against Islamic Jihadism however, is a war against a stateless enemy, one that is using guerrilla, insurgency and terrorist tactics to attack us and destroy the world order we have established. They target our civilians on the grounds that they aid the war effort, and harking back to state on state war seems to me to legitimize that targeting to some extent. In the current war, we must attack adn kill the jihadists while at the same time draining the swamp that bred them. That means reconnecting those regions most disconnected from the global economy and establishing the security rulesets that will allow them to individually determine their fate.

So, in short my problem with the term islamofascist or Islamic fascism is the fact that it seems to blur the line between state on state war, and the current type of conflict we are fighting which is more akin to a global insurgency movement.

Given that one could characterize the enemy a global insurgency, do you have any suggestions for names?

Islamic Global Insurgency, maybe?
I like the term "Global Salafi Jihadist Movement" though it is a mouthful. I think the person who came up with it is Marc Sageman (Understanding Terror Networks), but I have to double check.
The disagreement over use of "fascist" seems to revolve around which aspects of a group are to be judged adequate for defining a group as fascist:

1. Evilness?

No, I think that's too broad. (And too subjective.)

2. State-centric?

This has some importance for the definition, given the "state over individual" stance of historical fascism. Or, rather, to borrow another term, "superorganism over individual."

I'm often troubled by the apparent punditarian belief that al Qaeda and other groups in the movement are only interested in perpetual chaos: They are devils and dervishes, whose only goal is to disrupt, disrupt, disrupt! unto eternity. Rubbish. They may not have a state yet, but they want one. So halfway definitions like "to attack us and destroy the world order we have established" do not rule out the state-centric ideology, imo, even if the foe hasn't yet established that state.

3. Group purity?

Yes, I think this one would apply. The purity does not have to be based on pseudo-genetics for the group ideology to be purity-based. Also, even the worst case historical example of an ideology of group purity did not rule out 'peaceful' coexistence with all members outside that group; some, yes, but others outside the core would be allowed to exist as long as the core maintained its standing as the superior group.

4. Warfare tactics?

No, strictly speaking the method of war was not historically 'fascist' although the ideology of group purity and ideology of governance played a role in how the war would be prosecuted. So I disagree with the notion that a 4GW movement, terrorist movement, etc., must necessarily be considered something other than fascist simply because their method of fighting is different than the methods used by historical examples of fascism.

Consider the statement, "They target our civilians on the grounds that they aid the war effort" in collusion with the Nazi Fascist notion that Jews had to be killed because Jews 'aided' Germany's downfall in WWI (or leading up to WWII.) Even after France's fall, etc., etc., Jews would be rounded up and killed, because they represented a threat to Germany, an internal weakness of Europe, etc. The Holocaust was different than the type of targeting of civilians we see from the radical Islamists, but it, also, is a blurring of state & non-state warfare.

In fact, I remember Mark posting some comments about the beginnings of 4GW style of warfare -- i.e., an origin in Nazi Germany. (But I'm too lazy to look up the link on ZenPundit.)

5. Authoritarianism?

Well, this general tendency would apply, even if radical Islamists have yet to form a solid core state apparatus for implementing full authoritarianism.

6. Corporatism?

This one does not really apply, as yet, with the radical Islamist movement, although I suspect that it would if they were given enough time to acquire and solidify territory. The ME military-market nexus (oil; plus the 'bazaar of violence'; plus perhaps even the Iran-Syria-Hizbollah style of blending politics, markets, and military forces) may be approaching a corporatist strategy.

[Incidentally, Ahmadinejad in Iran, who is of a different stripe than al Qaeda, is actually a bit more fascist in this regard at the moment. Spengler at Asia Times had an interesting article about A's efforts to relocate civilians in Iran in an effort to improve the economy and stop the aging demographic crunch coming Iran's way, among other things. 'course, Spengler also compared Ahmadinejad to Hitler, favorably -- i.e., complementing Iran's president w/ the comparison.]
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