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Islamo-Fascism IV: The Twentieth Century dictatorships and Islamism


In the twentieth century, the world was plagued with several totalitarian dictatorships. As we saw previously, the formal ideological rationales for these dictatorships differed, and, in the case of the USSR, the regime as implemented had little relation to the ideological design. Nonetheless, in practice, all the regimes looked very much alike - They all shared characteristics of repression, belief in undemocratic rule, subjugation of the interests of the individual to that of the collective, curtailing of civil rights, "thought control" and "mass ideology." There was a "right way" to think and a "wrong way" to think, and those who thought the "wrong way" were doomed, pariahs. They were labeled enemies of the state, reactionaries, left-deviationists, un-German, anti-Soviet, anti-Fascisti. They were beaten with truncheons or shipped off to Gulags or concentration camps. The dictatorships were not confined to the first half of the twentieth century. As the world is beginning to understand, Maoist China was fully as bad or worse than anything seen in the days of Stalin: tens of millions of people were murdered. The deposed right-wing Argentine dictatorship shared many of these characteristics on a lesser scale.

The dictatorships were made possible, and created, by the conditions brought about by industrialization. These regimes arose in states that had begun to industrialize relatively late, and in some cases, industrialization seemed to be failing. Germany and Japan industrialized quickly in the latter part of the 19th century, threatening to overtake established economies in Britain and France. Italy, Russia and Spain were still only at the beginning of industrialization. In China, the repression was supposedly a part of the attempt at industrialization.

It is a cliche that industrialization generated profound social and economic changes. The most important of these upheavals included:

- Sudden high population growth
- Flight from the land and urbanization
- Universal literacy
- Mass communication, mass transport and mass organization
- Possibility of mobilizing large groups of people
- Possibility of creating and maintaining large armies.
- Modern weaponry that provided an effective means of repression.
- Decline of the extended family
- Decline of traditional values and respect for authorities

Relative economic surpluses provided the wherewithal to support large armies,. Improvements in communication and transport made it possible to supply and move those armies at will, as demonstrated by the Prussians in their war with Louis Napoleon. Rapid urbanization created a large class of semi-skilled or unskilled workers and minor tradesmen and artisans whose economic situation was fragile. Conscription of these men and wars - and their aftermath - generated masses of men used to military discipline, who, returning to unemployment in failed economies, could do little else but fight. Expanding industries were hungry for raw materials and markets.

In countries that had industrialized gradually and more or less successfully, such as the United States, England and France, the trauma of industrialization could be solved more or less peaceably. France had her revolution, the United States her civil war, but both countries returned eventually to progressively more democratic and orderly government. The democracies increasingly involved larger proportions of the electorate and became increasingly democratic in fact, as well as in name, without rending the fabric of society and order. The great fear of conservatives had been that universal suffrage would empower radical demagogues. It did not happen. If anything, it is puzzling that workers and farmers tended to vote so heavily for parties that were against their class interests. This pattern could be observed to some extent even in economic depression. The result of the economic depression in England of the 1930s was to eject the Labor party from power and return a Tory sweep. Nonetheless, class barriers and social inequities were gradually ameliarated in all these countries.

Universal education, an evolving tradition of democracy and liberal values, as well as relative prosperity, made it unlikely (though not impossible) that these countries would devolve into repressive dictatorships. Fascist movements in France, Britain and the United States had a following in the 1930s, but failed to even come close to power.

In the countries of the dictatorships, these traditions were lacking. In most of these countries, the governments, such as they were, failed, and masses of discharged (or deserting) soldiers and urban gangsters filled the power vacuum, taking power under various, sometimes ad hoc rationales, and promising a social revolution that would rectify the evils supposedly brought about by foreign powers, kulaks, Jews or other scapegoats. The press and later the radio and cinema were used to mobilize and indoctrinate, and modern methods of organization made the ubiquitous secret police of such regimes very effective. These countries had adopted the technology of modern society, without the social mechanisms needed to be able to control that technology.

In the heyday of the dictatorships, pundits claimed that the affected nationalities were "naturally" bellicose and authoritarian. Prussian militarism, the Samurai ethic and Tsarist despotism were cited as reasons for dictatorships in Germany, Japan and Russia. Few pointed out that Italians had no such tradition, yet they brought Mussolini to power.

As in the case of the German, Japanese and Russian dictatorships, it is easy to fall into the trap of blaming Islamism or pan-Arabism on "despotic" oriental traditions. But the whole point of these dictatorships is that in all cases they represented a radical break with tradition. If Nazism was inevitable, due to inherent Prussian authoritarianism and regimentation of the Germans, how would we explain that Germany evolved into a peaceful democracy? If Islamic countries "must" be undemocratic, how can we account for Turkey?

Much of the Muslim/Arab world, in many respects, resembles the failed states that were the breeding grounds of twentieth century dictatorships, and both radical Islamism and Baathism. The technological means of modern society are available: radio, television, Internet, cell phones, air transport, tanks and guns, and even nuclear weapons. Everyone agrees that many of these states are "failed states." Population has expanded faster than the growth of economies. The governments have been unable to provide for their people, and therefore the people lost faith in the governments. However, the gadgetry that enables dictatorship is available. The masses of unemployed people are available to fill the ranks of the Pasdaran and Basij and Hezbollah, just as they were available to enlist in the S.A., SS and Fascisti. Mass communications can be used to mobilize, indoctrinate and organize. Dissidents are labeled "un-Islamic" and may disappear. Secret police with their file systems and listening devices and informers can institute a reign of terror. Modern weapons can be used to boost national pride and terrorize neighbors.

How to effectively combat these despotisms without endangering democratic institutions and creating a despotic society, is a separate and difficult question. It is enough to note that some people, are unable to distinguish between the despotisms and the measures taken to fight them, or else they deliberately confuse the two. Avoiding McCarthyism while combating Stalinism was not easy. It is equally uninviting to choose between rule by the Muslim brotherhood and repression of the type practiced in Syria and Egypt. As we saw, Clement Henry managed to confuse between Islamists and those who fight them, and he is not alone.

In any case, it was not necessary to call Fascism "Stalinism" or to label Stalinism or Maoism as "Fascism" in order to understand and demonstrate the evils inherent in these societies, nor was it particularly helpful either for mobilizing support or for understanding them. In reality, it makes no difference what we call radical Islamism. Like the other repressive societies made possible by modern technology, it is an evil despotism that must be combated.

Ami Isseroff
Previous articles in this series:
Islamo-Fascism I: What Bush said, and why it is objectionable

Islamo-Fascism II: What some experts say

Islamo-Fascism III: How to Measure Fascism

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Replies: 11 comments

Well, you spent four long essays describing Islam and fascism in various forms and still seemed to have missed the point. In a world that is so torn, leaders should not use terms that are going to make the situation worse. Chevez shouldn't call Bush a devil, Ahmadinejad should quit calling for the wiping away of Israel and GOPers should stop with their baseless "cut and run" descriptions. Bush may have stopped using the term "Islamo-fascism", but no right pundit has stopped using it.

These pundits get validation from Bush and feel it is their responsibility to pass this bit of "wisdom" along. For this reason, editorialists should condemn anyone for using these inflamatory terms.

I also noticed in your first article on this subject that you point out various crimes of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, but mysteriously forget to mention the ratio of deaths of innocent Palestinians civilians in occupied Palestine by the illegally occupying force Israel to innocent Israeli civilians in the current intifada - 3798/697 or 5.45 to 1. (statistics by Israeli Human Rights organization B'Tselem - 9/29/2000 to 9/30/2006; see www.Btselem.org/English/Statistics/Casualites.asp).

If you do condemn organizations for their "fascisms", spread the condemnation around to everyone, including the US and Israel.

Posted by Larry @ 10/09/2006 03:49 AM CST

It seems to me that fascists of what ever nation thrive on misinformation to provide the easy explanation to complex problems. The only counter to that is an equally steady stream of rationality. But it is not easy, and there will be profound resistance to from the fascists to this. Another characteristic is that the fascists relieve their nation of any responsibility for their own state of affairs and blame everyone else. They foster the sense of victimhood and the associated anger.
A case in point in UK is MPACUK, web site that purports to attempt to create a Mulsim parallel to AIPAC. It operates an editorial policy that blocks rational explanations of events, and affords others a platform for delusional racism and violent fantasy.
It is quite interesting that sites such as MPACUK's often feature comments where the contributor deplores someone for lacking emotion and passion. Fascist groups like MPACUK fear the rational argument because it inherently awards identity to the other, in this case Jews and Israelis. The danger for them is that once they allow the opposition to be presented as having individualism and identity that they also seen as human, and from that sympathy and empathy for them can arise.
Unfortunately the situation that you described of populations growing at a rate far in excess of their economy's capacity to provide for them will continue. The West will continue to ship aid to these countries to ensure the survival of babies and the elderly. The famines and pestilence that once would have ensured that few of any of these people survived no longer have the same impact, unlike those of Europe.
The reason why the Western nations have adopted flexible and liberal government is simply we have been into the abyss and been deeply scarred by the experience. The two world wars touched everybody. Thus my grandfather was the only man in his village to return from WW1 and the same village was bombed in WW2. I as a child played on bomb sites and grew up with the evidence of war, including the human casualities of it.
In the recent outbreak of violence, the damage to Beirut was frankly minimal, and certainly far from the all out war that was supposed to be happening. Where were the fire storms, where were the 1000 bomber raids? Although the media talks of total unrestrained war, what has occurred is small scale and for most civilians the impact is equally minimal.
I sadly now believe that these populations have to experience the horrors of total war in order to absorbed them into their culture and reject war and fascism as a solution. It is an awful prospect which fills me with horror, but the more I hear the expressions of these nations the more I am convinced of it. Today the Iraqis and the Afganis are spared the brunt of total war by the intervention of the media and the constraints imposed by so-called liberals. Both these conflicts are now being described as new Vietnams. In light of this perhaps it would be appropriate to consider the comments of Field Marshal Templeton that to win such wars you need to be determined and willing to visit the full horror of war upon the enemy. He won against Communist Guerillas in Malaysia.

Posted by Rod Davies @ 10/09/2006 09:36 PM CST

"In any case, it was not necessary to call Fascism "Stalinism" or to label Stalinism or Maoism as "Fascism" in order to understand and demonstrate the evils inherent in these societies, nor was it particularly helpful either for mobilizing support or for understanding them. In reality, it makes no difference what we call radical Islamism. Like the other repressive societies made possible by modern technology, it is an evil despotism that must be combated."

Dear Ami,

On the contrary it does make a difference how you describe anything. If Zionism is misinterpreted, then those who misinterpret the word will act on false beliefs. Trying to solve or combat Zionism on mistaken beliefs will lead to even greater problems because no one understood what Zionism meant in the first place.

The same goes for radical Islam. Without understanding what radical Islam is calling it names that aren't true will lead to greater trying to eliminate radical Islam. Understanding a beliefs starts with how you describe something. Bush calling radical Islamists "Islamicfascists" sends a message to any person on the street on how to react to radical Islam even if those beliefs are mistaken.

Posted by Butros Dahu @ 10/10/2006 12:26 AM CST

Dear Larry,
What did you NOT understand about this: ????
"The principle valid objection to the use of "Islamofascism" or "Islamic Fascism" as a political slogan is that some Muslims object to it. Bush wears two hats. As a politician, he has to win the hearts and minds of American voters. However, as a statesman, he must win the hearts and minds of Muslims, and should not be using terminology that they find objectionable."

Who missed what point, Larry?

Dear Butros - I think the message about "Islamofascism" that people understand is "This is a repressive militaristic, regimented regime like Fascism" - not is not far from wrong. The important things are for us is to understand how these regimes come about, get an idea of how to fix the problem, and understand that these problems are not due to Islam in its entirety or to "Arab culture" any more than Italian Fascism was due to some quality inherent in Italian culture.


In historical and political analysis, we should generally shy away from use of slogans, as these usually prevent thought and tend to label the person who uses them as belonging to a particular political sect and presenting a political opinion rather than considered analysis. "Islamofascism" has generally been a term of right-wing writers unsympathetic to Islam - "neocon" "islamophobes." Of course, the same people who object so vigorously to the term "Islamofascism" often have no problem with slogans like "American imperialism," "Zionism is racism" or "Israeli apartheid state." Different phrases for different fanatics. The question is, to what extent the term "Islamofascism" actually tells us something about the nature of Islamism. That will be explored in subsequent articles.

Posted by Ami Isseroff @ 10/10/2006 10:49 AM CST

"The same goes for radical Islam. Without understanding what radical Islam is calling it names that aren't true will lead to greater trying to eliminate radical Islam. Understanding a beliefs starts with how you describe something. Bush calling radical Islamists "Islamicfascists" sends a message to any person on the street on how to react to radical Islam even if those beliefs are mistaken."

Wasn't that wahat Ami said. That we should go beyond labeling to understanding the phenomenon and addressing its dangers?

I actually liked Islamo-fascist because it seems to highlight the existence inside Islam of a militarist, belicose, repressive, anti-democratic, chavinistic to racist ideology. However, like Ami said, since this term is associated with Islamophobes perhaps another should be used.

It seems to me necessary to understand the relation between the existent despotic nationalistic regimes in Arab countries, the Islamic governments in Iran, formerly Aphganistan and Sumalia, Islamic militias and the covert terrorist groups.

Posted by Micha @ 10/11/2006 11:38 AM CST

Unfortunately the only way to organize a strong and unified resistance against an enemy is to label the enemy. Bush Co., however, are too stupid to properly demonize the enemy. Instead of identifying terrorist organizations by their characteristic behavior, they have tried to identify them as turban wearing, Allah fearing peoples, which could describe one quarter of the worlds population. Here in the US we have "The war on *****", this is similar to "The war on terror", in that the enemy is entrenched in the population. There of course is no physical way to identify these people as they come from all walks of life. The only way we capture dealers is by turning the public against them with a heavy dose of propaganda. Just as with "The war on *****" people in the communities have to become intollerant of the death and destruction that is brought about by terrorist activities and the reprisals they solicite. this war will not be like the wars of the twentieth centry. This war will be continuous with no clear lines, no axis nor allies. This war will be a civil upheaval on a global scale, one which the likes of the US/Russian cloak and dagger "Cold War" could not even begin to compare.

Posted by OMFG @ 10/16/2006 10:34 PM CST


i dont give a care about wat you say cuss, you stupid americanss think every one who says they are muslim are terrorists and will bomb yor country. You guys are so racist, now you against muslims,, you are RACISTTTTTTTTTT PREJUDICE , YOU just wish you could be like us *

Posted by dina @ 10/26/2006 04:59 AM CST

This war or lets say battle, is not based upon weapons it is based upon ideoligies. The imperialist regimes of the western world, trying to spread their influence to the eastern world has failed, and will continue to fail. The Great war, and the second world war fought against a German nation influenced by firstly Russia ( communist nation ), and secondly Hitlers ambitions of an Aryan race ( pure race ) without any other countries influence upon it was also opposed by these imperialist regimes. We move on to the Indo-China war, now why were the French given permission to leave the region and then return when ever they felt like it. They claim they were spreading democracy, not if the nation did not want American influence, or western influence how could they possibly spread democracy? To reside within a communist country or a capatilist country does not change the person you will become or the things you would do. All communist nations have lasted all these years, and yes believe it or not are the most expanding nations on the earth. Yes you read right, the communist nations are growing rapidly whilst the capatilist regimes are steady or falling.

Throughout the 1900's, and into this century we are faced with two sides those who support the US and those who oppose it. They are the options, you cannot differ and if you do get ready for a UN inspection on the so called ' Weapons of Mass destruction'. Methaphorically , if a country possesed these weapons why wouldnt they use them? Its like a child with a gun, you come to take the gun of the child, the child will shoot. Now if Iraq had these weapons why didnt the ' tyrant ' Saddam just start firing them all over the earth? Why would he care what harm he done. Now whoever responds to my message, i dont want profanity or any ill-tempered manners as my post is peaceful so shall yours be.

Thanks for reading whoever had the time to do so, much appreciated. As for you ' dina ', keep your anger within, to give in to these things makes you fall for their trap. Be smart, remain cool because end of the day you are to be Muslim and they are going to be in your country.

Posted by Disclosed @ 11/06/2006 01:39 AM CST

"Throughout the 1900's, and into this century we are faced with two sides those who support the US and those who oppose it."

This idea is at the root of a particular problem of 'left-wing''thinking', what I and co-thinkers call (after Bebel) "the Anti-Imperialism of Idiots". How can you lump Iran and Iraq together on one "side" when they fought a ten year war with each other? How can you tell workers in Iran or China that they should accept whatever repressive measures their government imposes because to complain would aid US imperialism? How can you tell Iraqis to support the Sunni supremacist insurgency blowing up Shiite mosques and killing trade unionists because it's "anti-imperialist"?

I'd argue that class politics should always trump any sort of nationalism.

Posted by Spike @ 11/08/2006 04:06 PM CST

Well, my point is prior US invasion of Iraq, and most arab nations there was none of this civil outrage. Yes maybe throughtout history there was, but at the current state there was none. Yes you may argue Saddam Hussain was killing off the Shiite population ( I am Shiite myself ), but what does the US honestly care? There recently appointed Prime Minister who is Shiite, reminds me of the US appointed Diem in Vietnam all those years ago, he was a failure and so will be this new Iraqi. Its funny that the US are losing support for a war they started, yet its the Iraqi insurgents fault? The killing of zarcawi ( mind my spelling ) was not a victory for Bush or Blair because Zarcawi was appointed by them. Now Bush and Blair are both murderes themselves, yet they sit behind there power and act innocent claiming these ' Terrorists ' have done this and done that. Why is it when a Terrorist kills somebody in the military it is against the law, but when the Us/british soldier kill an Iraqi it is morally justified by all of you? And when Us/British soldiers are caught on tap breaking war law, and hitting Irawi civilians for nothing that it is seen as a mistake get over it? We can argue for days on the matter, it does not mean i support Iraqi violence but is it i OPPOSE US military actions imposed on almost any nation. The core of the problem is the US, until the Bush administration is removed I dont think the problem will ever be removed.

Posted by Disclosed @ 11/11/2006 03:18 AM CST

I fully agree that removing the Bush adminstration would be a good move. I opposed the invasion and think Bush and Blair should be on trial at the Hague.

But that doesn't mean I have to support Al Qaeda or the Ba'athists.


Posted by Spike @ 11/13/2006 02:59 PM CST

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