Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Islamofascism

Christopher Hitchens defended the terminology of "Islamofascism" in an article yesterday over at Slate.

The notion of Islamofascism is denounced by left-wing activists, whose grumblings are building in response to "
Islamo-fascism Awareness Week," a series of gatherings at college campuses around the nation to promote greater awareness of radical indoctrination and propaganda in America's classrooms. (See Little Green Footballs on the online "pro-Islamofascism petition" being circulated by members of the leftist-Islamist axis at UC Irvine.)

Hitchens asks if the Islamist ideology of Osama bin Laden can be appropriately compared with fascism:

I think yes. The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have 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. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.

Fascism (and Nazism) also attempted to counterfeit the then-success of the socialist movement by issuing pseudo-socialist and populist appeals. It has been very interesting to observe lately the way in which al-Qaida has been striving to counterfeit and recycle the propaganda of the anti-globalist and green movements. (See my column on Osama Bin Laden's Sept. 11 statement.)

There isn't a perfect congruence. Historically, fascism laid great emphasis on glorifying the nation-state and the corporate structure. There isn't much of a corporate structure in the Muslim world, where the conditions often approximate more nearly to feudalism than capitalism, but Bin Laden's own business conglomerate is, among other things, a rogue multinational corporation with some links to finance-capital. As to the nation-state, al-Qaida's demand is that countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia be dissolved into one great revived caliphate, but doesn't this have points of resemblance with the mad scheme of a "Greater Germany" or with Mussolini's fantasy of a revived Roman empire?

Technically, no form of Islam preaches racial superiority or proposes a master race. But in practice, Islamic fanatics operate a fascistic concept of the "pure" and the "exclusive" over the unclean and the kufar or profane. In the propaganda against Hinduism and India, for example, there can be seen something very like bigotry. In the attitude to Jews, it is clear that an inferior or unclean race is being talked about (which is why many Muslim extremists like the grand mufti of Jerusalem gravitated to Hitler's side). In the attempted destruction of the Hazara people of Afghanistan, who are ethnically Persian as well as religiously Shiite, there was also a strong suggestion of "cleansing." And, of course, Bin Laden has threatened force against U.N. peacekeepers who might dare interrupt the race-murder campaign against African Muslims that is being carried out by his pious Sudanese friends in Darfur.

Hitchens does a good job in defending Islamofascist terminology as a description of our current ideological nemesis.

Yet, I would also point readers to Ladan and Roya Boroumand's, "Terror, Islam, and Democracy," from the Journal of Democracy (April 2002):

The man who did more than any other to lend an Islamic cast to totalitarian ideology was an Egyptian schoolteacher named Hassan al-Banna (1906-49). Banna was not a theologian by training. Deeply influenced by Egyptian nationalism, he founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 with the express goal of counteracting Western influences.

By the late 1930s, Nazi Germany had established contacts with revolutionary junior officers in the Egyptian army, including many who were close to the Muslim Brothers. Before long the Brothers, who had begun by pursuing charitable, associational, and cultural activities, also had a youth wing, a creed of unconditional loyalty to the leader, and a paramilitary organization whose slogan "action, obedience, silence" echoed the "believe, obey, fight" motto of the Italian Fascists. Banna's ideas were at odds with those of the traditional ulema (theologians), and he warned his followers as early as 1943 to expect "the severest opposition" from the traditional religious establishment.

From the Fascists-and behind them, from the European tradition of putatively "transformative" or "purifying" revolutionary violence that began with the Jacobins-Banna also borrowed the idea of heroic death as a political art form. Although few in the West may remember it today, it is difficult to overstate the degree to which the aestheticization of death, the glorification of armed force, the worship of martyrdom, and faith in "the propaganda of the deed" shaped the antiliberal ethos of both the far right and elements of the far left earlier in the twentieth century. Following Banna, today's Islamist militants embrace a terrorist cult of martyrdom that has more to do with Georges Sorel's RĂ©flexions sur la violence than with anything in either Sunni or Shi'ite Islam.
The Boroumands' piece is an excellent reference on the ideological origins of the current Islamofascist threat.

For some discussion of the etymological and linguistic justifications for Islamofascist terminology, see the articles from William Safire and Stephen Schwartz.

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