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Islamo-Fascism II: What some experts say


Previously, I noted that while US President Bush never equated Islam and fascism, it was not advisable to use this term as a slogan in official political rhetoric because it angered Muslims and labeled the speaker or writer as an Islamophobe. "Islamo-Fascism," like the term "Fascism" itself, was born out of the need for political spin. As such it appears to have outlived its usefulness.

Regardless of its attractiveness as a political slogan, we can ask whether "Islamo-Fascism tells us something about the relation between Islamist extremism and Fascism.

In the Sunday Times, historian Michael Burleigh carefully lists all the similarities and parallels and relation between radical Islamism and fascism, and then obscurely vetoes the use of the term because Islamofascists is a dangerous label. Some excerpts:

One of Hitler's greatest admirers was Grand Mufti Haj Muhammed Amin al-Husseini, an uncle of Yasser Arafat, who spent the war in Berlin urging the Führer to exterminate Jewish people. Ahmad Fardid, the Iranian philosopher, introduced the mystifying existentialist philosophy of Martin Heidegger to the young President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

...Nothing much separates the horror that modern Islamists express towards western urban industrial society and the cultural pessimism that was pervasive on the European right in the late 19th century...

Most European fascist movements were products of visceral national grievance; a colossal sense of collective victimhood at the hands of the Israeli David or the western Goliath is also a key motivating force behind radical Islam.

Interwar fascists believed in the purifying efficacy of political violence, glorified death and destruction and were contemptuous of liberal democracy and the rule of law. Radical Islamists ...but they share a similar nihilistic pleasure in chaos and destruction.

Like fascists and communists, they are psychologically captive to one big idea and are equally willing to kill, or to die, for it. Their big idea is that Muslims should be on top rather than so manifestly powerless vis-à-vis the western world.

Fascists believed in a politics of fall from a heavily mythologised paradisiacal past, casting themselves as the light that will dispel the darkness. "Germany awakes" is paralleled by the "blessed awakening" of all Muslims that tantalises Osama Bin Laden.

Like radical Islamists, fascists were fascinated by modern technology, albeit tank and tractor factories rather than satellite phones, but the visions of greatness that animated them lay in the remote past: ancient Rome in the case of Mussolini, or the medieval Reich which Hitler promised to restore a third time, although he was also fascinated by prehistoric Aryans. Al-Qaeda is similarly driven by a desire to recreate a caliphate that existed 1,300 years ago.

Having ably made the case for why Islamism is like Fascism, Burleigh tries to destroy it. He writes:

... the rise of radical Islam since the late 1970s reflects the bankruptcy of the two dominant political creeds in the Arab world, nationalism and socialism, the two western movements that comprised fascism.

But of course, it was the collapse of real nationalism - as exemplified by Czechoslovakia, and the collapse of real socialism, that produced Fascism. Any delusions about the relations of Fascism to socialism should have been removed by Hitler's purge of the S.A.
Burleigh also tries out this argument:

Perhaps the biggest problem with using 20th-century political concepts to describe Islamist militants is that they want to cause the collapse of the artificial nation states that were established by tribal dynasts, or imposed by imperialists in the 1920s, into a caliphate stretching from southern Spain to northwest China. Most fascists in the 1930s were extreme nationalists, not people who wanted to abolish the nation state in favour of some larger ethnically mixed empire.

Extreme nationalism is not incompatible with empire building. On the contrary. Mussolini was intent on conquering Ethiopia, Albania and Greece, and Hitler, far from being content with a one-nation Reich, was intent on conquering and enslaving all of Europe and Russia, as well as North Africa, Palestine, and whatever else he could conquer. The Japanese were likewise intent on empire. Most fascists, like Islamists, were empire builders. The only fascist who didn't go after an empire was Spain's Franco, and if you count him as a Fascist, Juan Peron of Argentina.

Burleigh gives some sound advice about dealing with Islamism, but he never explains why he thinks the term "Islamofascism" is 'dangerous."

At Tharwa, Mary Ann Tetreault and Clement M. Henry offer two more views of fascism and of whether or not Islamism is fasicsm. Henry writes:

"Are they the Islamists representing popular forces or those trying to contain them and mobilize support for strong-armed tactics [fascists]?"

Indeed, who was the fascist, Adolf Hitler, or the judge who put him in jail for the Munich putsch attempt, Mussolini, or Winston Churchill, who mobilized opposition to Hitler and Mussolini by "strong arm tactics?" Good thinking, Clement Henry.

Henry also offers his own version of the Marxist definition of fascism:

fascism in Italy and elsewhere represented a counter-mobilization of elements of society that viewed - or could be persuaded to view - organized workers as a threat.

That was hardly the appeal of Mussolini to the workers of Italy, nor was it the popular appeal of Hitler. Hitler used the threat of Bolshevism to enlist German capitalists in his cause, as well as eliciting sympathy from the British upper class. But the workers didn't vote for Hitler because they feared communism. Popular support for fascists in Spain, Italy and Germany came from those who feared egalitarianism and Western liberalism and blamed them for the problems of their country. In any case, President Ahmedinejad and Osama Bin Laden has established records as anti-Bolsheviks that would make both Hitler and Mussolini proud.

Mary Ann Tetreault incidentally demolishes Burleigh's argument that Fascism was born of Nationalism and Socialism when she notes,

"Mussolini explicitly rejected socialism in familiar "class war" language, and democracy, on the basis of the incompetence of the masses to make good decisions (!)."

Unlike Henry, she is willing to allow that some Islamists are pretty much like fascists.

Evidently different experts are divided on the nature of fascism and the nature of Islamism. Burleigh explains exactly why Fascism and Islamism are similar, and then retreats from his conclusions. Henry gets confused between the good guys and the bad guys, while Tetreault uses arguments that contradict those of Burleigh and Henry.

In the next essay on this subject, I will examine the relation between Islamism and fascism by two other methods.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 4 comments

"...but they share a similar nihilistic pleasure in chaos and destruction." - Michael Burleigh
Nihilism has nothing to do with Destruction and Chaos. Nihilism is simply devoid of belief in inherent morals, social structure, religion, etc. etc.. Chaos may be present in a nihilistic society but is not the product of the society. Chaos exists to some degree in nature, most societies only place barriers around the chaos and call it order. Nihilists are indifferent to destruction, destruction happens. Just wanted to state that point, most people associate nihilism with the SS, when in fact most of the nihilists in that region durring WWII were the communists who were betrayed by Hitler at the onset of the war. In fact the SS's rise to power erroded the nihilist movement as book burnings took place and a hatred grew towards intellectuals.

Posted by OMFG @ 10/06/2006 11:36 PM CST

We shall deal with some of this in the next article. It is misleading to take the word of any "expert" literally. They all contradict each other, and they are all right or wrong in a sense. For Mussolini and Hitler, destruction and activism were an "ideology." But it is misleading to take Mussolini or Hitler or Franco at their word either. Remember that Mussolini admitted that he was inventing a rationale for Fascism as he went along. "Have mob will rule" was the motto of the man.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 10/07/2006 06:12 PM CST

OMFG, you are confusing Nihilism as a movement with "nihilism" as a popular adjective. Obviously Islamists are not Nihilists in the proper sense as they have a very strong belief in "Allah" and his supposed teachings.

Ami, regarding "fascism [was] a counter-mobilization of elements of society that viewed...organized workers as a threat." I think your second argument is infinitely better than your first. Working-class and lumpen fascists regularly cite anti-Communism as their primary motivation. On the other hand, the Iranian state has very effectively atomised the workers' movement and slaughtered communists of the Tudeh party and others. The Islamist websites regularly denounce communism as an alien "western" ideology.

Posted by Spike @ 11/08/2006 03:36 PM CST

Your splitting semantic hairs about the meaning of the word ismalic fascism is rediculous. You ignore that the Muslims supported the Nazis before WWII ever started ala Iraq and syria. Maybe you should apply the same obfuscation against the word Palestinians like you do with islamofascists, is not it true that the arabs took a 2000 year old roman latin curse against the Jews and twisted it onto the muslim body politic, but only after 1964. So islamic fascists exist, while paestinians do not.

Posted by James Just @ 11/23/2006 09:06 AM CST

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