Islamofascism

Monday’s essay by Christopher Hitchens defending the term “Islamofascism” drew quite a bit of blogospheric reaction. Matt Yglesias responds to it with what amounts to a straw man and yet backhandedly makes a valid point.

[The term] provide[s] a spurious patina of unity and sameness to diverse phenomena involving Muslims Behaving Badly so that al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Assad, Saddam, Iraqi insurgents, Somali Islamists, plus sundry oppressive folk practices common in portions of the Islamic world like female genital mutilation in parts of Africa, “honor killings” in parts of South Asia, etc. The question to ask ourselves is what, if anything, is accomplished by devising and deploying a term that unites all those phenomena.

No reasonable reading of Hitch’s piece does any such thing. He asks, “Does Bin Ladenism or Salafism or whatever we agree to call it have anything in common with fascism?” and then identifies several characteristics:

  • “movements … based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind.”
  • “hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons)”
  • “obsessed with real and imagined ‘humiliations’ and thirsty for revenge”
  • “chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia”
  • “inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book”
  • “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.”
  • “despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence”

While there may be important differences, these factors do make Salafism very similar to Mussolini-Franco-style fascism.

The problem, as Matt’s post illustrates, is that the label “Islamofascism” will be misused and misunderstood, both through legitimate confusion and intentional distortion. Our enemies will use it as further evidence that the West considers Islam as a whole a threat akin to fascism and our friends will use the word lazily in a way that will help fuel this misperception.

Further, there is a lumping together of the domestic policy of pre-modern societies and the much more dangerous attempts to export Salafist theology. It’s the latter, not the former, that should be the focus of Western concern.

FILED UNDER: Religion, Terrorism, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. jpe says:

    No reasonable reading of Hitch’s piece does any such thing.

    I’m not sure how you can say that. Doesn’t Hitch’s definition lump together all these disparate groups under the umbrella term “islamofascist”? It certainly seems to do just that. Yglesias’s argument is that, while there may be commonalities between these groups that make lumping them together reasonable for taxanomy purposes, the differences are much, much more significant for foreign policy purposes.

  2. Ugh says:

    While there may be important differences, these factors do make Salafism very similar to Mussolini-Franco-style fascism.

    Hmm….

    movements … based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind.

    Check. See War, Iraq; Less Trouble, More Rubble; Design, Intelligent; climate change, denial of.

    hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons)

    Check. See 1950s, longing for; Lochner, longing for; JSF, support of.

    obsessed with real and imagined ‘humiliations’ and thirsty for revenge

    Check. See Christmas, “War on”; .Org, MoveOn; Frost, Graehme; Stark, Pete; Durbin, Dick.

    chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia

    No check. But see George Soros, Vilification of; Ann Coulter, latest comments of.

    inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book

    Check. See Bush, George W.; Reagan, Ronald; Petraeus, Gen.; Bible, The.

    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.

    Check. See Roe v. Wade, opposition to; birth control, opposition to; woman’s equality, opposition to; sexually explicit or suggestive _____, opposition to; gay rights, opposition to.

    despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence

    Check. See Hollywood, opposition to; NYC, opinion of; values, “San Francicso”.

    But I’m sure there are important differences.

  3. Triumph says:

    The only thing the term “Islamofacism” does is to serve the delusions of people like Bush and Hitchens that the Iraq invasion is somehow tantamount to WWII and that there is an existential threat to Western civilization that can only be managed by military means.

    You see this on display with Bush’s insane ramblings about how he is going to start “World War III” because Iran may have the “knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

    The simplistic drawing of false WWII analogies serves nothing other than to justify current failed policies.

  4. M. Murcek says:

    Just seeing who’s getting a tummy-ache over the term is demonstrative of its utility…

  5. whippoorwill says:

    The problem, as Matt’s post illustrates, is that the label “Islamofascism” will be misused and misunderstood, both through legitimate confusion and intentional distortion. Our enemies will use it as further evidence that the West considers Islam as a whole a threat akin to fascism and our friends will use the word lazily in a way that will help fuel this misperception.

    You nailed this one, Mr. Joyner.

  6. Steve Plunk says:

    Labels, terms, and identifiers of all sorts can be misused and abused. That does not mean we should avoid creating them to advance and streamline the public conversation.

    I’m sure our interpretation of “evil Satan” is exactly how it was meant. If those who seek to damage us cannot understand the differences it is they who are ignorant. We should not have to dumb down our message.

  7. mannning says:

    We must have a unifying term to group together each and every diabolical and totally unacceptable action of Muslims everywhere, in the name of Islam, as seen from our Judeo-Christian viewpoint. This focuses attention on the set of acts that we must prevent in this nation.

    Forget the views of an Ugh (perfect name!), who may well be an atheist, one of the wee small 1% in the nation, and who apparently hates America too. Or, is he a Muslim?

    So what do we call these lumps of stuff that threaten us in so many different ways? How about–Muslim Fanatics–MFs! That has a satisfactory feel to it.

  8. Tano says:

    One can list the similarities of fascism to modern Ismalist radicalism, as Hitchens does. And /or you could list the differences. It is, in the end, an analogy, not a categorization.

    And one must inquire as to the motives involved in using that particular analogy, rather than some other, or none at all. Whats wrong with pure description?

    It seems obvious that the desire is to fast-track the conclusion that total war is the only solution to the problem, by referencing the unambiguous conflicts of the past. It is rhetoric, not the product of analysis.

  9. jpe says:

    We must have a unifying term to group together each and every diabolical and totally unacceptable action of Muslims everywhere

    Must we?

  10. mannning says:

    Yes.

  11. Grewgills says:

    We must have a unifying term to group together each and every diabolical and totally unacceptable action of Muslims everywhere, in the name of Islam,

    Should we also have a unifying term for all unacceptable members of other faiths? How do you feel about the term Christofascists?

    as seen from our Judeo-Christian viewpoint.

    Why must we view them through the lens of a competing religion?

    who may well be an atheist, one of the wee small 1% in the nation, and who apparently hates America too. Or, is he a Muslim?

    His religion or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with the validity of his argument.
    You repeatedly argue as though only the opinions of Christians count. Maybe the opinions of Jews count 3/5s.
    Though only about 2% of Americans profess to be atheists*, 61% of Americans say that religion should not influence government decisions. Remember a large part of the problem with Iran is that religion is far to tightly intertwined with government. Whenever this happens (regardless of the religion) problems follow and many liberties are lost for no logical reason.

    manning,
    I honestly cannot tell whether you are real or a spoof. Which is it?

    * The number goes up to 15% or more if you add in agnostics and people with no religious preference.

  12. mannning says:

    Well, census data shows that about 85% of Americans claim Judeo-Christianity as their faith. Thus by using that “lens”, I am using by far the majority opinion.

    Since we decide things here in the US largely on majorities, that is a correct social and political position or lens. This is particularly so when the subject is the threat of Islamic fanatics, or even any other fanatics for that matter, to our majority population and government. It is a proper ruler with which to measure the fatal differences, if we are to protect our nation.

    If our government, through our elected and appointed servants, is responsive to the Judeo-Christian majority, government decisions will be biased in that direction. If, however, we have officials who are not at all responsive, but are following an agenda of their own, we have a massive problem, and it will be corrected–at the polls. It is sometimes the case that officials think they know best, but they soon get a demand course correction from the majority populace. Take the amnesty fiasco as a prime example.

    Branding is a tried and true method for ensuring that people with unacceptable attitudes and behaviors against the majority are properly classified and labeled for all to know and react. A few current brandings include: Bushophobia; Islamophobia; Liberal; Muslim Fanatic; Atheist; and, indeed Christian Right Fanatic.

    Do you live in the US, GG? It would seem not, at least not in the real US. Our government has been informed, both directly and indirectly, by Judeo-Christian tenets for a very long time. It will continue that way if the majority wants it to, despite the best words and actions of miniscule fringe groups.