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On the Term “Islamo-Fascism”: Part 2

The Washington Times recently (August 12) published a useful and insightful Editorial, “It’s Fascism,” that I will use to comment on this nomenclature. First, the Editorial points out the gradual change in President Bush’s designation of the enemy. He, with Mr. Blair, began using the word “terrorist,” but more recently he has used the designation “fascist.” “Is this a legitimate use?” the Editorial asks itself. Fascism, it continues, is a “political philosophy” that exalts a group or nation over the individual. It could also imply a religion. Fascism promoted central rule, subordinated individuals to “political leadership.” The term thus can legitimately be used to designate those responsible for the recent “terrorist” understandings of themselves.

The Editorial identifies groups like “al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas” and other organizations as “fascist,” that is, they operate in effect on these principles. “Non-Muslims” are regarded as “a lesser breed of expendable or contemptible dhimmis and infidels.” Social and economic restrictions are placed on every group that does not conform to the ruling power. The Editorial says that “this is not mainstream Islam. . . . It is a corruption of the faith.”

Evidently, the Washington Times was among the first to use this designation “Islamofascism.” It was related to a German-born Muslim scholar, Kalid Duran, in an interview about his book An Introduction to Islam for Jews, in the Washington Times. In spite of Muslim organization protests, the Editorial maintained that its use of the term was simply an accurate description of what, with proper distinctions, these people did. “Islamofascism speaks for itself. It is a real phenomenon.” It is not illegal, immoral, or even impolite to call it what, judging from its actions, it is.

The question I ask, in the light of this case for the use of the term “Islamofascism,” is this: does this term clarify or obscure the issue? Let me propose a thought process. Recently, a friend told me of reading a report from London that one of the “terrorists” designated to blow up a transatlantic flight planned to be accompanied by his wife and child. The explosive was to be in the baby’s bottle. The man was willing thus to blow up himself, his wife, and child in the cause for which these ten or so planes were to be destroyed by similar methods.

Now this proposal, in itself, strikes any of us as simply horrendous, insane, mad. Moreover, let us suppose that the plot was not detected and was successful. Within the course of several hours, analogous to the relative success of 9/11, ten planes with a total of, say, two or three thousand passengers flying from London to New York had been destroyed. What would the reaction of this news been in Tehran or Cairo or other Muslim capitals? I would like to be wrong on this, but judging from previous instances, I greatly fear that, in too many cases, there would have been cheering, not horror. This heinous act would have been interpreted, not by all but by many, as a stunning success and a blow at the great Satan. We would probably have heard from the President of Iran or Osama bin Laden himself or someone of that level that more was in store, that the final day of reckoning is nearer.

What do these speculations have to do with the term “Islamofascism?” When 9/11 first happened, I recall commenting on this very issue, this time in the case of the young men who plotted, planned, and carried out the destruction of the World Trade Center. What, in their own minds, did they think they were doing? Did they think they were executing an “Islamofascist” plot? Hardly. Did they think they were in it for money? Surely not. They were in it for the glory that comes from what they saw to be the “brave” act of destroying the symbol of the great emery, his communication center. This act would go down in sacred history as the first step. Other successes would surely follow.

What was in it for themselves? Exactly what their religion said was in it. They were doing the work of Allah. The world could not know peace until it was subjugated to his rule as laid down in the holy book. The advance had been stymied for hundreds of years, set back, but now a new, glorious opportunity arose. Young men, willing to die, flocked to the cause. There is a sense of purpose, the reestablishment of the Caliphate, the subjugation and elimination of the enemies, the Christians, the Jews, the Hindus, the Chinese. Not all would be eliminated, of course. It is a religion of peace. All would be “converted,” except perhaps for a few insignificant ones. This is why Islam is in the world.

But, one might protest, are there no rules about means? And Islam is said to want to achieve these world goals “peacefully.” My only point in following this question of the use of the word “Islamofascism” is that it does not describe what these men think they are doing. Nor does it help that some thus far ineffective Muslim apologists do not think that the term describes what the religion means. It is what these men think and evidently practice. What has to take place, in response, is some more adequate confrontation with the incoherence of this claim to world-subjection to Allah as an inner-worldly political mission powered by a quasi-mystical devotion to its cause. In this sense, in the minds of the ones carrying out the attacks, it is religious, not ideological, in origin.

A somewhat bewildered American President and British Prime Minister have understood, whereas many politicians have not, that there is a real war and a real enemy. They have been prudent in their use of language, catering to differing usages both in western democracies and in the Muslim world. Their general approach has been to seek to isolate the “terrorists” from the rest of the Muslim world. This world itself has been caught up for centuries in a stagnant and almost totally controlled system usually under the power of a military that has served to sit on top of those religious radicals who would tear up the world. What the President thus has sought to do is finally to allow and encourage what he considers to be the great majority of Muslim citizens to be able to participate in a culture that is not dominated by such motives that burst forth frequently from within Islam to employ terror.

Just as the Washington Times proposes “Islamofascism” to describe what these missionary groups do to further their cause, so the President proposes “democracy” as the alternative way of life that would both mitigate the fanaticism and allow the majority to escape into their own self-ruling states. One drawback of this solution is often the internal moral condition of the democracies themselves. The “terrorists” never tire of pointing to this inner corruption that often manifests itself within our own souls. So there is a kind of war on two fronts that comes forth from thinking about “Islamofascism,” that envisioned by the “terrorists” themselves and that of the alternative they see in us which justifies, in their own minds, their violent ways.

Words, I am sure, have to be themselves used “wisely.” It is not always easy to describe or hear what we actually are. The root cause of “suicide bombers” and the attacks of the “terrorists” is not primarily in western political philosophy. The “suicide bombers,” in effect, while they sometimes learn to use sophisticated weapons, have shown the folly of much discussion about nuclear weapons — the weapons are not the problem, but who has them. Moreover, as 9/11 showed, modern civilization is so complex than even the simplest acts like flying a plane into a building are as lethal as anything we can conceive. No one doubts, however, that these “terrorists” would use more sophisticated means if they could manage it.

In the meantime, one or two potential terrorists have made everyone of us take our shoes off or empty our bottles before we fly anywhere in the world. The cost of their even trying unsuccessfully to blow us up is itself astronomical. The first question remains, not “how do we protect themselves from their threats?” We must ask that too. But the first question has to be, “why in the first place do they still want to threaten and yes, conquer us?” I suspect we cannot answer this latter question primarily for reasons within our own political philosophy.

Originally published online by Ignatius Insight on August 15, 2006.

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