Friday, September 08, 2006

A Friday thought - President Bush and "Islamic-fascism"

All of a sudden its word of the week, the Whitehouse puts it on their talking points - Bush and Rumsfeld both make major speeches that use the term and everyone is talking about it.

It was a pleasant autumnal morning as I road to work this morning, and I took a longer route to have time to listen to the whole podcast of Wednesday's "On Point" show from WBUR in Boston that focused on this term. Notably all their pundits from across the political spectrum agreed that Bush using the term was centrally political rhetoric for the US audience, even Steven Schwartz (an interesting character well worth listening to even if you don't agree with anything he says) who also claimed that he and other "Muslim intellectuals" coined the phrase to express originally a specific and analytical concept.

On the programme Walter Laqueur, the grand old man of the academic study of totalitarianism, made the interesting point that the term doesn't have much impact within the Muslim world as they do not have the same visceral reaction to the idea of fascism that the west does after the Nazis. Therefore it is really a phrase for domestic consumption - designed to remind people in the west of the totalitarianism and violence of the Jihadis. It should come as no surprise then that we have seen Senator Rick Santorum (a very rightwing Republican from Pennsylvania for those who don't follow US politics) pushing the phrase so hard over recent months, doing more to bring it to main stream attention and out of the still slightly rarefied world of the blogosphere and certain online and paper journals and magazines. Santorum looked until recently like he was going to hammered in the November mid-terms, but he has fought a smart and hard campaign running straight to his base, banging away to show his strong rightwing credentials. Santorum addressed the National Press Club in July and "Islamic fascism" was the central point of his high profile address.

It seems as things look "pretty dire" for the Republicans in November (and I quote Tony Blankley the conservative columnist from the Washington Times and not a man averse to using the Islamo-fascism term himself), the Whitehouse has also decided to appeal to its base by using these kind of terms which are flags being waved to a certain constituency. You can argue all night whether any aspects of the Salafi-Jihadi movement or Islamism more generally resembles classical European fascism (some do, some don't in my opinion) - a thousand rightwing blogs will tell you why they are the same if you interested - but that is all rather beside the point. The most poignant caller into the show was an American-Muslim who said that the label was effecting how people see his young daughter at school.

Plenty of rightwing commentators have laid into Bush and Blair for labeling Islam "the religion of peace" in the past. The critics are correct to a certain degree that this is disingenuous as there are plenty of Muslims who see their religion as justifying certain acts of violence just as can be seen in most (all? See the "fascist" Sinhalese-chauvinist monks in Sri Lanka before anyone trots out the "all Buddhists are lovely" line) of the world's religions, but I think most would understand that their hearts were in the right place when they said it. But now we have gone from the President of the United States talking about Islam being a religion of peace to talking about Islamic fascism in just a few years. I'm sure if pressed the President would say that the latter is just a minority and doesn't make the former concept false, but I'm sure this will be lost on many and that's exactly what the Whitehouse's strategy aims at.

1 comment:

KGS said...

Actually Bush first included the term in an Oct. speech in 2005, along with other various terms people used in describing the enemy. It was a rather welcome departure from the badly misnamed war (War On Terror) the US is currently waging against the jihadis.

IMHO, the Salafi jiahdis should be labeled as Islamist Extremists/Radicals, though they do have many fascist trademarks that could be deemed as evidence enough to catagorize them with that label. I do however believe the term Islamic fascism is a step in the right direction.

That Islam isn't "a religion of peace", must be understood from the difficulty an Islamic preacher has in arguing his moderate POV to Islamists, who then point to the same book to prove the preacher an opastate. The literal interpretation of Islamic sriptures differs greatly from the Judeo-Christian concept.

That is the why Islam as a whole, hasn't made any significant headway in formulating a challenge to Islamist thinking. Perhaps that Islam/Koran hasn't undergone any form of textual criticism as with the Tenach and Christian scriptures, and that most (even the so called moderates)would never dare call for such a thing, is reason why the Islamist mindset is so hard to counter.

I am not sure as to what the ultimate AIM of the Bush admin. concerning Islam you are alluding to, so I can't really comment on it, in any meaningful way. I will however add that He has clearly made a distinction between the two on repeated occasions, and only his detractors who have sought to muddy the waters have said different.