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.