Thursday, August 17, 2006


I learned a new word today: neologism--meaning a newly invented word or phrase. The word it referenced was Islamofascism. Stephen Schwartz, the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, and the writer at TCS Daily delving into this topic, has some grounds for expertise in the subject, and a definite perspective as to its meaning:

I admit to a lack of modesty or neutrality about this discussion, since I was, as I will explain, the first Westerner to use the neologism in this context.

In my analysis, as originally put in print directly after the horror of September 11, 2001, Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology. This radical phenomenon is embodied among Sunni Muslims today by such fundamentalists as the Saudi-financed Wahhabis, the Pakistani jihadists known as Jama'atis, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the ranks of Shia Muslims, it is exemplified by Hezbollah in Lebanon and the clique around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran.

Political typologies should make distinctions, rather than confusing them, and Islamofascism is neither a loose nor an improvised concept. It should be employed sparingly and precisely. The indicated movements should be treated as Islamofascist, first, because of their congruence with the defining characteristics of classic fascism, especially in its most historically-significant form -- German National Socialism.

What follows in the article is an exploration of what makes fascism distinct from other far right ideologies, which, according to Schwartz, seek to enforce laws and reinforce authority. By contrast, he says, "...the fascist organizations of Mussolini and Hitler, in their conquests of power, showed no reluctance to rupture peace and repudiate parliamentary and other institutions; the fascists employed terror against both the existing political structure and society at large. " He stresses that, "Fascism is not merely a harsh dictatorship or oppression by privilege." Where he says groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah converge with fascism is in their "...willful, arbitrary, and gratuitous disruption of global society, either by terrorist conspiracies or by violation of peace between states." Schwartz also claims that, as in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, Islamofascism has a root in economic dissatisfaction and frustrated ambitions. He goes on to explain that fascism is imperialistic, totalitarian, and paramilitary. This is the common ground which Schwartz sees the Islamofascism of today, and the forms of fascism we find in history, as sharing.

Where Schwartz takes his analysis from there is his stated belief that this fascism is not intrinsic to Islam:
Islamofascism is a distortion of Islam, exactly as Italian and German fascism represented perversions of respectable patriotism in those countries. Nobody argues today that Nazism possessed historical legitimacy as an expression of German nationalism; only Nazis would make such claims, to defend themselves. Similarly, Wahhabis and their allies argue that their doctrines are "just Islam." But German culture existed for centuries, and exists today, without submitting to Nazi values; Islam created a world-spanning civilization, surviving in a healthy condition in many countries today, without Wahhabism or political Shiism, both of which are less than 500 years old.
Schwartz then goes on to examine fascists movements that have been tied to Christian extremism, citing several examples. Of course, as a Christian myself, I would say that these "Christian fascists" were not really Christian at all, by any spiritual standard, but merely co-opting Christian terminology, or historical cultural tradition, to attract others to their cause and invest themselves with legitimacy. I think this is the point Schwartz is making about the Islamofascists as well. It is definitely true that the people who have declared war on the West are Islamic. It is true that most of the terrorist attacks around the world are committed by young Muslim males (as Michelle Malkin frequently points out when parts of the media refuse to acknowledge this fact after any given terrorist act of violence.) There is no question that some Muslims believe their faith justifies, and in fact commands, their aggression. However, it is also true that there are many Muslims throughout the globe who do not share the Islamofascists world view.

Because of this distinction, Schwartz thinks the definition of the term Islamofascism is extremely important, as well as the way civilized people, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, respond to the threat of this particular fascist ideology:
Similarly, the violence wreaked by al-Qaida and Hezbollah, and by Saddam Hussein before them, has been different from other expressions of reactionary Arabism, simple Islamist ideology, or violent corruption in the post-colonial world. Between democracy, civilized values, and normal religion on one side, and Islamofascism on the other, there can be no compromise; as I have written before, it is a struggle to the death. President Bush is right to say "young democracies are fragile ... this may be [the Islamofascists'] last and best opportunity to stop freedom's advance." As with the Nazis, nothing short of a victory for democracy can assure the world's security.
What I find encouraging is seeing this kind of argument from the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism. I've read Mr. Schwartz's writing before, and it's always been something notable to me to read this kind of reason from a very vocal Muslim. What discourages me is that it is so very notable, by reason of being rare. What I can hope, being by nature an optimist, is that he speaks for a large, if relatively silent majority. Now, if that majority could become more vocal, and stop the prevalent drumbeat that any use of such terms as Islamofascism is by nature racist and bigoted, instead acknowledging that the term has its roots in reality, we as a civilization might be able to come to a more unified consensus and strive for and achieve "nothing short of victory."