Monday, October 02, 2006

Michael Burleigh on "Islamofascism"

A few weeks ago I took a stab at explaining what I thought the reason was behind the sudden widespread use of the term "Islamofascism" by many leading figures of the US administration - basically that it's politics before the midterms. I was going to write about what I thought was wrong with the concept more generally, but never really engaged with it. I don't have to now because Professor Michael Burleigh has done just that in this rather interesting essay.

A synopsis of the Professor's argument is that the term is perhaps half correct for describing Jihadi groups like al-Qaeda - there are many similarities between the ideology of bin Laden and of the Nazis but there are also many differences. For instance:
  • European fascism was(is) hyper-nationalist and obsessed with the purity of that nation, whilst the utopian-Caliphate of al-Qaeda whilst totalitarian in most other ways, isn't a racist concept.
  • Nazism and other European fascist movements tended to be corporatist - trying to be an anti-politics by joining the workers and the owners together to create a strong state. Islamism, which produced Jihadism, tends to be an ideology of the devout and aspiring middle classes - the market traders - and hence has no problem with free enterprise.
  • Nazism, in particular, as the name reveals is a mix of Nationalism and Socialism. These two western ideologies were imported into the Middle East in particular with gusto, but the result of this was not al-Qaeda, instead it was the Arab nationalism of Nasser and the Baath parties. Jihadism rose as opposition to this very legacy.
It's an interesting argument worth reading, I would though add that Fawaz Gerges's book "The Far Enemy" give plenty of example of national differences between the mujahideen in Afghanistan and elsewhere. These might have been over doctrinal differences and the like but often came over as petty nationalism and even racism. So the idea of the global Caliphate where all are equal within the faith would surely face the rocky-realities of communitarianism that so many past Utopias have also foundered on.


KGS said...

I believe Professor Michael Burleigh's synopsis comes closer to the truer defintition of what Islamic jihadism, is and isn't. My own understanding of it falls along similiar lines. What is most obvious about Islamism is its totalitarian nihilism, which is more close to that of Marxist-Leninism than it is to Fascism, philosophically and historically. Only of late (with the rise of Islamism and the Fall of the Shah) has Communism been deemed as another example of Western sickness, and Islamism the cure.

According to Dr.Daniel Pipes: "Ali Shariati, the key intellectual behind the turn to Islam in Iran in the 1970s, translated Franz Fanon, Che Guevara, and Jean-Paul Sartre into Persian. More broadly, quoting the Iranian analyst Azar Nafisi, radical Islam "takes its language, goals, and aspirations as much from the crassest forms of Marxism as it does from religion. Its leaders are as influenced by Lenin, Sartre, Stalin, and Fanon as they are by the Prophet." During the cold war, Islamists preferred the Soviet Union to the United States; today, they have more and deeper connections to the hard left than to the hard right.."

I am not happy with the label Islamic-Fascism, and admit that I have used it for a time, but it is an improvement over the badly misnamed "War on terrorism". I favor the term of Islamist Extremism, over anything else I have heard to date. As far as Gerges is concerned, wasn't he the guy who said back in early March of 2001, that, "Should not observers and academics keep skeptical about the U.S. government’s assessment of the terrorist threat? To what extent do terrorist ‘experts’ indirectly perpetuate this irrational fear of terrorism by focusing too much on farfetched horrible scenarios? Does the terrorist industry, consciously or unconsciously, exaggerate the nature and degree of the terrorist threat to American citizens?"

This was of course eight years after the first WTC bombing and the subsequent other bombings ect ect, kind of embarressing to have mouthed those words just six months before the grandest act of modern day terrorism ever...

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

I really don't know enough to know whether you can really draw a line from, say, Sartre to Iranian Shia Islamism, let alone bin Laden or Zawahiri. Having had to read Sartre at university it seems a bit of a stretch, although Burleigh suggests something similar with Heidegger. Of course its very reasonable to argue that ideas effect us all even if unconciously but then it gets rather hard to prove in any way.

I have no idea whether Gerges said that or not, or in what context, but that seems like a rather ad hominem attack. It would appear many people didn't see 9/11 coming including the US govt.! (Not knowing the context, if he was talking about, for example, the threat of "WMD terrorism" I would actually agree with him. 9/11 and the creation of the Dept. of Homeland Security in particular - and to a lesser extent EU spending like Fp7 - have clearly created a terrorism industry.)

His book is interesting as he actually spent a number of years travelling the world, going to prisons and such and actually interviewing jihadis and their sympathisers. It is well worth reading.

KGS said...

Hi Toby,
It wasn't an ad hominem attack. Regardless of the context in which the quote was made, whether he was referring to WMD, or a more conventional threats like planes crashing into very tall buildings, he had consistently over a period of time (interviews ect.) lumped every "terrorist fear scenario" under the highly suspicious label of the "terrorism industry".

A highly dubious term that is probably borrowed from the highly inflammatory term "Holocaust industry", an erroneous canard that depicts Jews as cashing in on the guilt of others. Likewise, Gerges is palying with the term now in painting the voices who correctly forcasted an upcoming mega attack with using the Fear of terror to advance their agenda.

I was correct in saying that he got it wrong, as well as many others in the US government at the time, and across the political aisle, Dems and Repubs alike. I will give him his due in some regards, he has admitted in sime measure the lack of political following for the jihadis in Iraq, however, he tries to seperate Islamists from the radical Islamists as if both of their agendas didn't share the same end result.

I will admit to some measure of bias before you mentioned him, due to his being upset with Israel's removal of Arafat, making him a virtual "persona non grata". Gerges' making light of the widespread criticism of Arafat, saying Arafat had only "flirted with limited violence," in spite of the fact that he is the father of modern day terrorism. He may have some value to the debate, but I watch his words very carefully, so does Pipes.

Perhaps I'll pick up his book, it might prove to be interesting.

Toby - Northern Light Blog said...

"he tries to seperate Islamists from the radical Islamists as if both of their agendas didn't share the same end result."

Didn't you just the other day say you favoured the term "radical/extremist Islamist"? Doesn't that imply there must be mainstream Islamists as well. I saw Pipes is quote in the CNN interview you linked about it being like trying to split Nazis, but I think that ducks the argument. If Islamist political parties are willing to take part in the democratic process (Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, Morocco all being examples) is Pipes suggesting they should be banned because ultimately they want a caliphate reuniting the Umma? This is the central tension in the US's "democracy" agenda - what happens when you don't like the outcome of democracy?

Pipes' rushes to the Nazis rather quickly (what's the old internet-law about how quickly people call each other Nazis!). You could make just as fair/silly an argument as saying that the most Chrisitian-rightwing members of the Congress share the ultimate aims of some of the Militia movements and therefore should be judged the same. No they shouldn't! One is the democratically elected representative of a certain constituency, and the other is an illegal armed movement.

I'm writing a specific post on the "terrorism industry" issue! Just for you. ;-)

KGS said...

Hi Toby,
I believe that the term I have chosen to define violent jihadists, "Islamist Extremists", adequately describes the violent side of the Islamist movement. Regardless of the non-violent nature of most Islamists, their agenda (which I focus on as well as Pipes) is as much a danger to ME/western civilization as their violent co-religionists who operate under that Islamic "Jolly Roger" that you wonderfully depicted some time ago. A rather good analogy I must admit.

Having any Islamist movement politically active and represented in parliament is never a desirable scenario, any more than having openly fascist parties disgracing the halls of the parliaments of Europe. However, there is a great deal of difference in Islamist groups (in spite of the danger posed) participating in the politics of the states mentioned, from an Islamist group being ushered straight into the seat of power like the Hamas. One scenario just happens to be worse than the other.

Here is the context of the Caliphate quote:

DEEB: I think it is critically important. The difference in methods is essential in defining who is a terrorist and who is not. The fact that someone can believe in a Caliphate does not mean by definition that person is going to use violence, that he is against the United States, or that he is against the values of other countries and civilization, but...

PIPES: "Fair enough, but believing in a Caliphate is not the key. The key is believing this totalitarian-is supporting this totalitarian ideology-that's the key. Some Islamists are violent, some are not, but all want to impose a totalitarian ideology."

In my opinion, Pipes is drawing attention to the ideology itself, putting it in on trial, not just the supporters/active agents of the violent means used in promoting its political agenda, Islamist terrorism. Deebs kept butting her head into the wall on that one. Its the ideology that's in question, and I believe the analogy Pipes' uses is very accurate. The supporters of Nazism were as culpable as the actors who played it out. That mom and pop Hinkleburger didn't pull the trigger, but were actively instructing their children in the role National Socialism should play in their lives and that they were the future for the "Master Race", makes them passive/active participants in a miserable and dangerous ideology.

The Militia Movements in the US would be considered by the overwhelming percentage of Christians in government as a cult, not being a part of true Christianity, whereas the Islamists, violent or or not, look to Sharia as being the only just Law and an Islamic state the ultimate model for society, and thus have shared goals.

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