Fascists and Nazis, Democrats and Republicans
Albert Scardino has a piece in the Guardian entitled, “1-0 in the propaganda war–How the right played the fascism card against Islam.”
Fascism is coming back into fashion, at least in the propaganda wars. For the right, it comes in the shape of a new word: “islamofascism”. That conflates all the elements into one image: suicide bombs, kidnappings and the Qur’an; the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan; Iranian clerics and Hitler. The term seems to have appeared first in the Washington Times in a reference to Islamist fundamentalists. Coined by Khalid Duran, a Muslim scholar seeking to explain Islam to Jews, the word was meant as a criticism of hyper-traditionalist clerics – who in turn denounced Duran as a traitor to the faith. Usage has gathered momentum among commentators and academics who seek a verbal missile to debilitate those who disagree with them. They have adopted it as a sort of Judeo-Christian war cry – look for it soon in the title of a neo-conservative think tank conference.
While it’s not a term I use — I prefer the more established “Islamists” — “Islamo-fascist” is not used merely to describe a set of ideas with which, presumably, virtually all Americans disagree. Rather, it describes the political credo that motivates a terrorist movement and its sympathizers. The facist label is used because the fascsist ideology, like Islamism, required an absolute fealty to a dogma issued by a central leadership, a totalitarian worship of that idea, and terroristic violence to kill or intimidate the opposition.
For the left, the term “fascist” lost its power in the 1970s, when it was sprayed on every authority figure in sight, from the Nixon-Kissinger White House to university provosts to the neighbourhood cop. To make Bush-Hitler comparisons work requires more nuanced historical references – to the night of the long knives, for example, as Sidney Blumenthal did about the dismissal of Colin Powell. Unfortunately for liberals, those references don’t work as efficiently as islamofascism does for the right, because to imagine the appropriately creepy picture requires a familiarity with German history of the 1920s and 30s. Nazism is better known for its death camps than for Leni Riefenstahl or the Reichstag fire, so analogies between the Nazis’ early years and current Republican party behaviour seem hollow, no matter how strong some parallels might be.
Amazingly, in an article attempting to persuade readers that the use of incendiary labels applied to mass murderers should be avoided, the author expresses his disappointment that the attempt to tar a democratically elected leader with a similar label isn’t sticking. Norm Geras correctly notes that even Trotsky was able to “cut through the kind of sorry and dangerous claptrap that minimizes or altogether eliminates the differences between democratic polities and the openly undemocratic, and murderous, movements that are intent on destroying them.”
Christopher Hitchens, a former socialist who now sits on the other end of the political see-saw, sprinkles islamofascism about like paprika. He and Andrew Sullivan, a voice of the right, both wrongly receive credit in some quarters for coining the term.
Hitchens is still very much a Leftist. Vehement opposition to those who murder innocents and wish to impose a barbaric theocracy on the world is not limited to the Right.
Long before September 11 2001, Duran was commissioned by the American Jewish Committee to produce one side of an interfaith project. Duran responded to attacks on his book, Children of Abraham, by deriding those who sought “to impose religious orthodoxy on the state and the citizenry”. In that sense, he said, extreme islamism is “islamofascism.” It took a couple of years for the word to seep into frequent usage. By then its meaning had expanded. Last year, Sullivan cited “five elements that make it particularly dangerous”, including the “broken, medieval societies” that foster it, the “unquenchable extremism” of its motivation, and “the destructive technology” its adherents seek.
Which of these elements is not, in fact, actually part of the fascist ideology? Or, which of those mischaracterizes the position of Islamist extemists?
Use of the term to describe Muslim clerics and stateless terrorists has neatly pre-empted any chance of labelling Bush a fascist – no matter how many suspects are kidnapped by the US authorities and tortured; no matter how impervious the border; no matter how effective the use of propaganda to destroy the opposition; no matter how many countries are invaded on false pretenses; no matter how strongly a minority religion may become a mark of guilt.
Meanwhile, Janeane Garofalo compares solidarity with Iraqi voters to Nazism.
Actress and liberal talk-radio host Janeane Garofalo is taking issue with congressional Republicans who dipped their fingers in ink for President Bush’s State of the Union speech as a sign of solidarity with Iraqi voters, likening it to a Nazi salute. Garofalo actually made the salute [yesterday] morning as she provided post-speech commentary on MSNBC’s “After Hours” program.
“The inked fingers was disgusting,” said Garofalo, who is one of the hosts on the Air America radio network. “The inked fingers and the position of them, which is gonna be a ‘Daily Show’ photo already, of them signaling in this manner [Nazi salute], as if they have solidarity with the Iraqis who braved physical threats against their lives to vote as if somehow these inked-fingered Republicans have something to do with that.”
Given that, if Garofalo’s policy preferences had been enacted, Saddam Hussein would still be in power, this is an odd position indeed. All taxpaying Americans had something to do with the Iraqi vote, in that we financed it. Congressional Republicans have more to do with it than most, given that they supported the policies that led to the Iraqi elections against considerable political opposition at home.
As McQ observes, “Maybe they don’t get it yet, but this type of hyperbole, after viewers had just watched an Iraqi woman hug the mother of a slain Marine, just doesn’t do their side any good.” Of course, this is a party that just decided that Howard Dean would be their best spokesman for the next several years, a decision Johnathan Chait, writing at the LAT, correctly calls “A Suicidal Selection.”
The conventional rap against Dean as DNC chairman is essentially the same as the conventional rap against him as presidential candidate a year ago. Namely, he reinforces all the party’s weaknesses. Democrats need to appeal to culturally traditional voters in the Midwest and border states who worry about the party’s commitment to national security. Dean, with his intense secularism, arrogant style, throngs of high-profile counterculture supporters and association with the peace movement, is the precise opposite of the image Democrats want to send out.
The conventional rap is completely right. But, in a way, Dean is even less suited to run the DNC than he is to run for president. The DNC chairman has two main jobs. First, he transmits the party’s message Ã¢€” an important role when the party lacks a president and majority leaders in Congress. This job requires one to master the dismal art of “message discipline,” boiling down the party’s ideas into a few simple phrases and repeating them over and over until they have sunk into the public consciousness. It’s a role for which Dean is particularly ill suited. During his campaign, remember, he fashioned himself a straight talker, delighting reporters by repeatedly wandering “off message.” On the plus side, he won friends in the media by appearing honest and human. On the negative side, he did himself enormous damage, when, for example, he suggested that he wouldn’t prejudge Osama bin Laden until he had been convicted in a court of law. For presidential candidates, the negatives of “straight talk” usually outweigh the positives. Paul Maslin, Dean’s former pollster, wrote in the Atlantic Monthly after the campaign fell apart: “Our candidate’s erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down.” But at least for a presidential campaign there are some positives in going off message. In a job like party chairman, a loose cannon is nothing but downside.
The second major task of the DNC chairman is to run the party organization. And here, if this is at all possible, Dean looks even worse. Garance Franke-Ruta, who wrote sympathetic Dean pieces in the American Prospect during the campaign, spoke with several former Dean staffers. One called the candidate “a horrible manager” and added, “I wouldn’t trust him to run a company.” Another called his management style “just a disaster.”
I refuse to believe that Scardino, Garofalo, or Dean represent most Democrats, let alone a majority of Americans. Why the Left’s leadership is so intent on driving off a cliff is simply beyond me.
Update (1240): Victor Davis Hanson has a great, related piece this morning. The whole thing’s worth a read but this is particularly apt:
If the American Left is furious over the loss of most of the nation’s governorships and legislatures, the U.S. House, the Senate, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court, the Europeans themselves are furious over America’s power Ã¢€” as if Red America is to Blue America as America is to Europe itself. Thus how can a mongrel culture of Taco Bell, Bud Light, and Desperate Housewives project such military and political influence abroad when the soft, subtle triangulation of far more cultured diplomats and sophisticated intellectuals from France, Germany, and Scandinavia is ignored by thugs from Iran, North Korea, and most of the Middle East? Why would the world listen to a stumbling George Bush when it could be mesmerized by a poet, biographer, aristocrat, and metrosexual of the caliber of a Monsieur Dominique de Villepin? Why praise brave Iraqis lining up to vote, while at the same hour the defeated John Kerry somberly intones on Tim Russert’s show that he really did go into Cambodia to supply arms to the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge Ã¢€” a statement that either cannot be true or is almost an admission of being a party to crimes against humanity if it is.
Perhaps the result of this frustration is that European intellectuals damn the United States for action in Iraq, but lament that they could do nothing in the Balkans. Democrats at home talk of the need for idealism abroad, but fear the dirty road of war that sometimes is part of that bargain Ã¢€” thus the retreat into “democracy is good, BUT…” So here we have the global throng that focuses on one purported American crime to the next, as it simmers in the luxury of its privilege, education, and sophistication Ã¢€” and exhibits little power, new ideas, intellectual seriousness, or relevance.
Update (1547) Slate’s Jack Shafer terms Bush “The Propaganda President” and compares him to yet another despot:
If “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il of North Korea and George W. Bush ever meet, I suspect the two will bond like long-lost brothers. Both men are first-born sons of powerful fathers who partied like adolescents well into their adult lives, after which they submitted to their dynastic fates as heads of state. Both avoid critical thought, preferring to surround themselves with yes men and apply propagandistic slogans to the onrushing complexities of justice, culture, economics, and foreign policy. Bush churns out buzz phrases with the best of them: He believes in “compassionate conservatism” and fancies himself part of the “army of compassion.” He’s the “reformer with results” who embraces the “culture of life.” He shouts his paeans to “liberty” and “freedom” (a combined 27 times during last night’s State of the Union speech, according to today’s Washington Post) while reducing civil liberties at home.
Lovely. Hot tip to liberal columnists: the “George Bush is like Idi Amin” meme appears not to have been taken.
Update (1552): I may have spoken too soon:
It is tragic that such a small majority of active American voters have been able to create such a vile, reprehensible untouchable who most certainly is the most hated, most loathed man in the history of the world. I wonder how Hitler’s supporters felt when he was the most hated man. Did they realize they were supporting a monster? Were they proud to be contributing to his power? What about after Hitler fell, or Mussolini, or Idi Amin? Did their supporters realize what they’d helped to create? Did they stay loyal to their monsters? Did they see the light and experience regret? George is not the first ugly, planetary monster to be created. We should learn from his and his predecessors.
Okay, I give up trying to find something wildly stupid that someone on the Left hasn’t already said.