|The “Islamo-Fascism” Debate|
By Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, February 08, 2008
This Symposium discussion of the term “Islamo-Fascism” takes on a new urgency in light of that Declaration and of the upcoming second Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, which will hit campuses nationwide the week of April 7.
The usefulness and accuracy of this term, and the general necessity of naming the enemy properly as a prerequisite for defeating it, became a subject of national debate during the first Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, and that debate is certain to continue this April. This Symposium is dedicated to many of the issues involved.
Our guests are:
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, the vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the author of My Year Inside Radical Islam , which documents his time working for the extremist Al Haramain Islamic Foundation.
Bruce Tefft, the Director of CRA’s Threat Assessment Center. He retired from the CIA as a case officer in 1995 after 21 years, 17 working in Stations abroad. He was a founding member of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center in 1985 and has been involved with terrorism issues since then. After his retirement, he continued studying Islamic terrorist techniques and training more than 16,000 first responders, law enforcement, military and intelligence officials in terrorism awareness and prevention. For a two year period following 9/11, he was the Counter-Terrorism and Intelligence advisor to the New York Police Department.
Khalim Massoud, president of Muslims Against Sharia, an Islamic reform movement.
Robert Spencer, a scholar of Islamic history, theology, and law and the director of Jihad Watch. He is the author of seven books, eight monographs, and hundreds of articles about jihad and Islamic terrorism, including the New York Times Bestsellers The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) and The Truth About Muhammad. His latest book is Religion of Peace?.
Donna Hughes, Professor and Carlson Endowed Chairperson of the University of Rhode Island Women’s Studies Program.
Thomas Haidon, the Chief Legal and Policy Advisor of the Free Muslim Coalition and a member of its Board of Advisors. A commentator on legal issues surrounding counter-terrorism measures and Islamic affairs, he currently serves as an advisor to the New Zealand government and has provided guidance to parliamentary committees on counter-terrorism issues. His works have been published in legal periodicals, newspapers and other media.
FP: Christopher Hitchens, Robert Spencer, Bruce Teft, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Donna Hughes and Thomas Haidon, welcome to Frontpage Symposium.
Christopher Hitchens, let’s begin with you.
Is the term “Islamo-Fascism” legitimate in terms of defining the enemy we face in the terror war?
Hitchens: The attempt by David Horowitz and his allies to launch “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on American campuses has been met with a variety of responses. One of these is a challenge to the validity of the term itself. It’s quite the done thing, in liberal academic circles, to sneer at any comparison between fascist and jihadist ideology.
People like Tony Judt write to me to say in effect that it’s ahistorical and simplistic to do so. And in some media circles another kind of reluctance applies: Alan Colmes thinks that one shouldn’t use the word “Islamic” even to designate jihad, because to do is to risk incriminating an entire religion. He and others don’t want to tag Islam even in its most extreme form with a word as hideous as fascism. Finally, I have seen and heard it argued that the term is unfair or prejudiced, because it isn’t applied to any other religion. This was most recently argued by Patrick J. Buchanan, who asked us how we would have felt if Franklin Roosevelt had described Mussolini, say, as “Christo-fascist”.
Buchanan in his own autobiography describes being raised in a home where the true heroes were Father Coughlin the Jew-baiting priest, General Franco the foe of the Reds and freemasons, and Joseph McCarthy the drink-sodden bigmouth and bigot. That’s why the term “Catholic fascist” or “clerical fascist” used to be so current on the left.
This was to recognize the undeniable fact that, from Spain to Croatia to Slovakia, there was a very direct link between fascism and the Roman Catholic Church. More recently, Yehoshua Leibowitz, editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, coined the term “Judaeo-Nazi” to describe the messianic settlers who moved onto the occupied West Bank after 1967. So there need be no self-pity among Muslims about being “singled out” on this point.
The actual term “Islamofascism” was first used in 1990 in the London Independent by the Anglo-Irish writer Malise Ruthven, who was writing about the way in which traditional Arab dictatorships used religious appeals in order to stay in power. The expression has some respectable antecedents. In his book, The Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa, published by Princeton in 1965, the German scholar Manfred Halpern (himself a refugee from the Third Reich) employed the term “Islamic totalitarian” to characterize the mingled worship of a heroic past with the mobilization of “passion and violence”. Perhaps you suspect Halpern of undue sympathy with Judaism or Zionism? Very well, then, consider Professor Maxime Rodinson, one of the most intransigent critics of the state of Israel. In an exchange with Michel Foucault in the late 1970s, on the subject of the nascent Shi’a theocracy in Iran, Rodinson writing in Le Monde alluded to “a certain type of archaic fascism” taking the form of “an authoritarian and totalitarian state whose political police would brutally enforce the moral and social order.” I didn’t know about all of these for-runners when I employed the term “fascism with an Islamic face” to describe the assault on civil society on 11 September 2001, and to ridicule those who presented the attack as some kind of liberation theology in action. “Fascism with an Islamic face” is meant to summon a dual echo of both Alexander Dubcek and Susan Sontag (if I do say so myself), and in any case it can’t be used for everyday polemical purposes, so the question remains: does bin-Ladinism or Salafism or whatever we agree to call it have anything in common with fascism?
I think yes. The most obvious points of comparison would be these. Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind (“Death to the intellect! Long live death!” as Franco’s accomplice General Mola so pithily phrased it in a debate with Miguel de Unamuno). Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons) and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined “humiliations”, and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader-worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression, especially to the repression of any sexual “deviance”, and to its counterparts: the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence, and burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
Fascism (and Nazism) also attempted to counterfeit the then-success of the socialist movement by issuing pseudo-socialist and populist appeals. It has been very interesting to observe lately, especially in its most recent statement on the last anniversary of 11 September, the manner in which Al Quaeda has been striving to counterfeit and recycle the propaganda of the anti-globalist and “Green” movements.
There isn’t a perfect congruence. Historically, fascism laid great emphasis on glorifying the nation state and the corporate structure. There isn’t much of a corporate structure in the Muslim world, where the conditions often approximate more nearly to feudalism than capitalism, but bin-Laden’s own business conglomerate is, among other things, a rogue multi-national corporation with some links to finance-capital. As to the nation state, Al Quaida’s demand is that countries like Iraq and Saudi Arabia be dissolved into one great revived Caliphate but doesn’t this have points of resemblance with the mad scheme of a “Greater Germany” or with Mussolini’s fantasy of a revived Roman empire?
Technically, no form of Islam preaches racial superiority or proposes a master-race. But in practice, Islamic fanatics operate a fascistic concept of the “pure” and the “exclusive” over the unclean and the kufar or profane. In the propaganda against Hinduism and India, for example, there can be seen something very like bigotry. In the attitude to Jews, it is clear that an inferior or unclean race is being talked about (which is why many Muslim extremists like the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem gravitated to Hitler’s side). In the attempted destruction of the Hazara people of Afghanistan, who are ethnically Persian as well as religiously Shi’ite, there was also a strong suggestion of “cleansing”. And of course bin-Laden has threatened force against UN peacekeepers who might dare interrupt the race-murder campaign against African Muslims that is being carried out by his pious Sudanese friends.
Essentially, though, the point of convergence occurs at the word “totalitarian”. Study any serious proclamation about shari’a and you will be struck by the way in which Islam proposes itself as a “total” solution, covering every area of life and effectively abolishing the distinction between the public and the private. All “faith” does this, in my opinion, just as all “faiths” do it, but one cannot fail to be struck by the confidence with which Islamism legislates for absolutism in every department of existence.
This makes it permissible, it seems to me, to mention the two phenomena in the same breath and to suggest that they constitute comparable threats to civilization and civilized values. There is one final point of comparison: one that is in some ways encouraging. Both of these totalitarian systems of thought evidently suffer from a death-wish. It is surely not an accident that both of them stress suicidal tactics and sacrificial ends, just as both of them would obviously rather see the destruction of their own societies than any compromise with infidels or any dilution of the joys of absolute doctrinal orthodoxy. Thus, while we have a duty to oppose and destroy these and any similar totalitarian movements, we can also be fairly sure that they will play an unconscious part in arranging for their own destruction, as well. Meanwhile, however our critics may wail about the way in which we generalize or deal in “stereotypes”, there is hardly one of them who has protested when the American flag is paraded bedecked with a swastika (a swastika!) or a cartoon of the President is carried across campus wearing a Hitler moustache. Who exactly is it who is looking for fascism in all the wrong places?
Gartenstein-Ross: Hitchens draws an excellent analogy between Fascist and jihadist ideology, and offers a competent rebuttal to various pundits’ objections to comparing the two. However, the question Jamie posed is not whether “Islamofascism” is an appropriate polemical term, or whether it is fair to compare militant Islam to Fascism. Rather, he queried whether the term is “legitimate in terms of defining the enemy we face in the terror war”; indeed, some commentators now use the term this way. My contention is that as a definitional term applied to the enemy, “Islamofascism” is too imprecise and in some ways counterproductive.
The first problem is that the term is overly broad. Hitchens actually does a good job of illustrating this problem in his opening remarks. In discussing the term’s history, Hitchens writes that Malise Ruthven first used it when “writing about the way in which traditional Arab dictatorships used religious appeals in order to stay in power.” Arab countries are, for the most part, no less fascistic today than they were in 1990, yet they are not “the enemy” in this war. Much of their heavy-handed police state tactics—for example, in Algeria and Egypt—are in fact aimed at the stateless Islamic militants against whom the present war is directed. (This statement is, of course, not meant as an endorsement of these states’ tactics.)
Taking a closer look at the Muslim world, the state of emergency that Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf declared in early November has much in common with Fascist governance—but it did not transform him from a bumbling and self-destructive ally into an enemy in the present global war. No Middle Eastern government had more in common with Fascist rule than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: as former CIA director James Woolsey has said, the Ba’ath party was “modeled after the fascist regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.” But regardless of what one thinks of the Iraq war (and I have made my views on the matter clear), we did not go to war—nor would we have—because of the similarities between Saddam’s rule and Fascism. Rather, the justification was rooted in U.S. national interests, such as intelligence estimates of Iraq’s development of weapons of mass destruction and concerns about possible cooperation with al-Qaeda.
Other groups and countries that possess critical differences may be too quickly lumped together under the “Islamofascist” umbrella. There is currently a lively debate among policymakers and analysts about how the U.S. should deal with the Muslim Brotherhood. While I do not endorse the argument advanced by Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke about “the moderate Muslim Brotherhood,” I think the debate is a legitimate one—and that treating al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same way because both are “Islamofascist” would run contrary to our strategic interests. In President Bush’s September 20, 2001 address to the joint session of Congress, he said that the U.S. would “starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another.” I think this is the right approach, and that the overbroad “Islamofascism” definition jeopardizes our ability to produce schisms between groups that in many ways are not alike.
Aside from this definitional problem, there are also tactical problems with using “Islamofascism.” The term is polemical in nature, as Hitchens readily admits when he says that he first used the phrase “fascism with an Islamic face” to “ridicule those who presented [9/11] as some kind of liberation theology in action.” His initial use of the phrase was both clever and effective. But clever polemical turns of phrase are best used sparingly. I would wager that even Hitchens cringes at how some lesser writers have used “Islamofascism.”
The use of a polemical turn of phrase to “defin[e] the enemy we face” can also limit the audience that one reaches. If I’m reading a work that employs the phraseology “Bushitler” or “Zionazi,” that’s usually a strong sign that reading further could only possibly lower my IQ. While “Islamofascism” is not as false as either of those polemical terms, people associate it with a certain political viewpoint about the war against radical Islam. If they do not agree with the viewpoint, the term causes many people to stop listening—and to disregard otherwise legitimate arguments.
Finally, use of the term “Islamofascism” makes it more difficult to work alongside moderate Muslims, who almost uniformly bristle at the phrase. It is true that a number of Muslim moderates have a wide variety of objections to terms analysts use to describe the enemy, and many of their terminological objections are in my view illegitimate. But they have some legitimate objections to the term “Islamofascism.” One legitimate objection, as detailed above, is the term’s overbreadth. Another legitimate objection is that the term will almost undoubtedly be applied against Islamic religious practice that is merely conservative and not violent. This can be seen in some of the similarities Hitchens fingers between radical Islam and Fascism, including “exclusive stress on the power of one great book,” “strong commitment to sexual repression, especially to the repression of any sexual ‘deviance,’” and “subordination of the female.” These descriptions can apply not just to militant practice of the faith, but also conservative manifestations.
Secularists tend to view all religious practice with suspicion, and overgeneralize on that basis. Note that Hitchens argues that there is a totalitarian tendency not just within extremist Islam, but rather that “all ‘faiths’ do it.” Or note Christiane Amanpour’s clumsy attempt to liken American evangelicals to the Taliban on CNN’s God’s Warriors. Moderate Muslims are rightly concerned that the “Islamofascist” label will be applied to legitimate theological practices.
In short, I have no problem with Hitchens’s initial description of bin Laden’s agenda as “fascism with an Islamic face,” and I think he proffers a strong defense of the analogy. But the term’s overbreadth obscures real distinctions that analysts need to make, and I believe there are also solid tactical reasons that those of us who care about defeating Islamic extremism should select a different label.
FP: So what is that different label going to be? We can’t just reject a term without offering a term that we think is better to describe our enemy.
Surely “Islamo-fascism” is a legitimate term. We can’t take the Islam out of the fascistic Muslims who are waging war on us, and we would be fooling ourselves if we try to sweep the word “Islam” under the rug. Moreover, it is a given that many Muslims are not fascistic — just as many Italians weren’t fascistic all because Italian fascists existed. And we can’t take the fascist out of the Muslim fascists either.
Khalim Massoud, as a reform-minded Muslim, what do you think of this term? Do you “bristle” at the term in the way that Gartenstein-Ross says that moderate Muslims “almost uniformly” do?
Massoud: I define fascism as a totalitarian political ideology with an element of superiority. German fascism’s criterion of superiority was race. Islamic fascism’s criterion of superiority is religion. Otherwise both ideologies are practically identical.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross says “use of the term ‘Islamofascism’ makes it more difficult to work alongside moderate Muslims, who almost uniformly bristle at the phrase.” I couldn’t disagree more. As long as the user of the term makes a clear distinction between Islam and Islamofascism, moderate Muslims will not be offended by the term. And the ones who are offended are not moderate. In fact, moderate Muslims were the first to widely use this term to describe radicals in Algeria who murdered more than 100,000 of moderate Muslims.
I also disagree with Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’s contention that “treating al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same way because both are ‘Islamofascist’ would run contrary to our strategic interests.” The strategic goals of al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood are identical; they both desire Global Caliphate. They may employ different tactics, but their objective is the same. And they both are Islamofascist organizations. Tactically, they need to be treated differently, but strategically they must be treated the same; these groups must be eliminated.
Starving terrorists of funding and turning them against one another hasn’t really worked so far. How can we possibly starve terrorists of funding when we are pumping billions of Petro-Dollars into Persian Gulf regimes? As for turning terrorists against each other, it might be working to some degree in Israel (Fatah vs. Hamas). However, in Iraq, Sunni terrorists are murdering Shia civilians and vice versa, but they don’t seem to be going after each other.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross says, “I think this is the right approach, and that the overbroad “Islamofascism” definition jeopardizes our ability to produce schisms between groups that in many ways are not alike.” I don’t think we can rely on these schisms, especially when history shows that supporting the lesser evil, i.e., Afghani mujahideen against the Soviets or Iraq against Iran, may backfire. I think the correct approach is not to focus on making different terrorist groups fight each other, but to empower moderate Muslims and have them fight the radicals.
Tefft: My view is a bit more simplistic, and at the same time an amalgam of the rest of the panel. Islam is indeed fascistic in that it is (like National Socialism, Communism and Fascism) both totalitarian and posits an absolute superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims. This is demonstrated in the Islamic system of dhimmitude and the second class citizenship of kuffars who, if not killed or converted, are forced to pay the ‘jizya’ – the infidel poll tax.
The problem with using the term Islamofascist though is that it implies there is a difference in Islam between fascist Muslims and non-fascist Muslims — and this is misleading and therefore a disservice to our war effort. As the later Suras of the Koran indicate, Islam is to dominate the world, jihad is an obligation if not a duty of all Muslims, and all non-Muslims are to be converted, enslaved or killed.
As you know, the later Suras abrogate any contradictory earlier ones of “peace, love, and tolerance”. Given that the first duty of every Muslim, as an article of faith, is to accept the Koran as the literal word of Allah, is it possible for so-called ‘moderate Muslims’ to pick and choose which part of the Koran they will adhere to? To reject parts of the Koran? My understanding is that if a Muslim rejects the Koran he is rejecting Islam and Allah and is an apostate.
I think the evidence is clear that, as the Prime Minister of Turkey Erdogan said about “moderate” Islam, this past August, “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”
In further support of Erdogan, it is interesting that no Islamic religious authority has pronounced takfir on bin Laden or al-Qaeda declaring them apostates for their terrorism in the name of Islam. This is not from fear of retaliation by the terrorists, but recognition of the fact that bin Laden is not violating Islamic principles. He is practicing Islam as the Koran and the Hadiths dictate.
Insofar as Muslims murdering Muslims, this is human nature and fascist or not, Muslims are humans. They are divided into tribes, and groups, with leaders who have ego problems. Bin Laden and the Ayatollah Khomeini agreed to an alliance in 1995 that the Shia-Sunni conflict was inevitable and would continue but that both sides, as Muslims, must devote their efforts against the main enemy, the Great Satan. After the defeat of the United States and the West, then the Shia and Sunnis would sort out their differences. This agreement has largely held, in spite of the word not getting through to some of the lower level elements who insist on blowing up each other’s mosques in Iraq and Pakistan.
FP: With all due respect, Bruce Tefft, to suggest that there is no difference between fascist Muslims and non-fascist Muslims is completely erroneous. I don’t know if I am missing something, but I think there is indeed a difference between someone who is fascist and someone who isn’t fascist.
It is a given that Islam has an intrinsic problem and that it does serve as a foundation to terror. And it is crucial that people such as yourself have the courage to raise this and to drive the point home. But to suggest that all Muslims are the same, indistinguishable from one another, and all our enemies is absurd. There are organizations such as Muslims Against Sharia and the Muslim Canadian Congress that reject Sharia and reject jihad. There are Muslims, such as the two on our panel, Khalim Massoud and Thomas Haidon, who oppose extremism and are trying to bring Islam into the democratic and modern world. They are not replicas of Osama bin Laden, they do not share his agenda, and they are his enemy and our allies.
Does this mean that there is no problem in Islamic theology? No. Does it mean that Islamic moderates and reformers don’t face a huge challenge in their effort to change Islam, especially when it is true, as you point out Mr. Tefft, that Islam itself disallows any change to its own teachings (i.e. the Qur’an)? No. But this does not mean that there are not many Muslims who want to try to create their own new Islam and who want a relaxation of Islamic principles? Whether they can do this, and whether it is possible, is another matter, but to suggest that all Muslims are the same because there are huge obstacles to an Islamic reformation is based on fundamentally flawed assumptions.
And these kinds of arguments do deadly damage to our own cause since the Muslims who embrace Western civilization and seek to change Islam, whether this is possible or not, are our inspirational hope against radical Islam. They have weapons against the enemy that we do not have and we would be foolish to push them away and consider them our enemy, when they are not.
Thomas Haidon, go ahead.
Haidon: Accurate problem definition is a crucial component to addressing any policy question. The failure to accurately frame issues and problems almost ensures a misguided policy response to any issue. Ensuring that the terminology we use to describe a problem is accurate is crucial. There are real risks if we get it wrong or articulate the problem in a manner that is “under inclusive,” inclusive or “over inclusive” (as Mr Garenstein-Ross has observed). We have seen what happens, at a policy level, when an “under-inclusive” approach has been taken to addressing the Islamist problem. The US “war on terror” has consistently failed (other than in soundbites) to identify Islam’s role. This has lead to flawed policies which have forced “democracy” in the Arab world, which has led to the consequences in Egypt and the Occupied Territories and the resurgence of Ikwan and Hamas.
An over-inclusive approach to problem identification has just been demonstrated to us by Mr. Tefft. This approach not only marginalises the Islamists, but also moderate Muslims who are in a bitter fight for survival in the battle of ideas. Mr. Tefft’s approach is not one rooted in strategy. Moderate Muslims should be viewed by non-Muslims as partners in fighting Islamists. That being said, I can understand and sympathise with Mr. Tefft’s frustration. Moderate Muslims are not always easy to identify.
Overall, while I think there is some incongruence between fascism and the nature of the Islamist threat, at a high-level I think that Islamo-fascism is an appropriate descriptor of the problem. It is neither under-inclusive nor over-inclusive. The challenge we are confronted with is a political, confrontational and authoritarian interpretation of Islam. The writings of the 20th century Islamist revivalists (Hasan Al’Banna, Sayid Qut’b, Abi Al’a Al Mawdoudi, Sheikh Haj Amin Al Husseini) demonstrate approaches in common with fascism. When one reads the writings and teachings of these individuals, which are celebrated in the Muslim world, and which form the ideological basis of the full range of Islamist organisations and movements (from Ikwan to Hamas to Al’Qaeda), there is no mistake about the commonalities and shared characteristics with fascism of Giovanni Gentile or Carl Schmitt, particularly a disdain for democracy and fundamental human rights, in favour of the rights of the collective.
Islamo-fascism, as a term, is neither “under-inclusive” nor “over-inclusive”. It defines the enemy narrowly. It has the potential to isolate some moderate and traditional Muslims, not because of the accuracy of the term, but in its delivery. The methods and ways in which the term is delivered will have a bearing on how moderate and traditional Muslims will react. The term “Islamo-fascism” is now inextricably linked to the so called “right-wing” and those who have traditionally been critical and skeptical of Islam. This perception will continue to contribute to the lack of moderate Muslim “buy in”. In my view, the “right”, which is on the forefront of this fight, needs to develop a more strategic approach in engaging moderate and traditional Muslims. How to achieve this is another question, but one that is closely linked and requires examination. It should be a core assumption (not shared by Mr. Tefft), that moderate Muslims and peaceful traditional Muslims are partners in this process. As Mr. Massoud has indicated, they need to be empowered. The term “Islamo-fascism” has the capacity to be an empowering mechanism, if delivered effectively.
Spencer: Perhaps it would be helpful to step back for a moment and recall some of the features of the phenomenon we are trying to capture in a phrase. The 20th century Islamic revivalists to which Mr. Haidon refers wrote of the need for Muslims to make war against and ultimately replace any government not based on Islamic law with a Sharia regime. This is an explicitly and inherently religious imperative, as Maududi articulated when he said that non-Muslims have “absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God’s earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines.” If they do, “the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life.” The Islamic way of life – Sharia in its classic formulations by the schools of Islamic jurisprudence — is a total concept, encompassing every aspect of life, and subordinating every human endeavor to the Islamic cause.
Is this an Islamic imperative? Undeniably, to any rational observer — although this half of the “Islamo-Fascism” term is controverted even more heatedly than the other half. The Prime Minister of Great Britain has even forbidden his cabinet to use another compound, “Islamic terrorism,” or to suggest in any way that Islam has anything to do with the…the…the large thing that the world faces today. Yet proponents of this view are indeed, as Mr. Haidon said, revivalists: they are attempting to restore what they argue is the purity and fullness of Islam, and appeal to peaceful Muslims on that basis. Part of that fullness and purity is the proposition that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that Islamic law must be the law of the land.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, however, is quite right when he points out that the term “Islamo-Fascism” has been applied to governments that are not strict Sharia or Islamic revivalist regimes, but are rather dictatorships that – as Hitchens notes regarding Malise Ruthven’s original use of the word “Islamo-Fascism” – “used religious appeals in order to stay in power.” Gartenstein-Ross correctly notes that sometimes these regimes, such as in Algeria, Egypt, and now Musharraf’s Pakistan, cracked down violently on “stateless Islamic militants” who hold an ideology identical to that held by those who attacked us on 9/11. This does complicate somewhat the usefulness of the term. If the enemy is Islamo-Fascism, can the U.S. have Islamo-Fascist allies such as General Musharraf?
Ruthven’s usage is perfectly legitimate: after all, Saddam Hussein, to take the most notorious example, headed an Arab nationalist secular regime, but he never hesitated to use religious language – specifically, the language of jihad warfare – to shore up his base and try to compel Islamic hardliners in Iraq to fight to defend his regime. Nevertheless, Saddam did not institute Sharia and had no desire to do so; Musharraf, despite his own occasional use of Islamic rhetoric, is now actively engaged in combating those who want to make over Pakistan into a strict Sharia state.
The term “Islamo-Fascist” may not, therefore, apply to them or to others like them as well as it does to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakar Bashir and others who have made it clear that they are fighting for Islam and Islamic law as they see them: Saddam, Musharraf, Mubarak and the secular rulers of Algeria may indeed be authoritarians – fascists – but there is nothing specifically Islamic about their fascism other than the fact that they themselves are Muslim rulers of majority-Muslim states. The state envisioned by Osama and his ilk, in contrast, is just as authoritarian, but it is so in a strictly Islamic context – which is why those in favor of such a state – authoritarian and Sharia-based — merit the “Islamo-Fascist” label.
I disagree with Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, however, and agree with Mr. Massoud, about the Muslim Brotherhood. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross contends that “treating al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood in the same way because both are ‘Islamofascist’ would run contrary to our strategic interests,” but Mr. Massoud points out correctly that “the strategic goals of al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood are identical; they both desire Global Caliphate.” As the Muslim Brotherhood’s website itself says:
“We want a Muslim individual, a Muslim home, a Muslim people, a Muslim government and state that will lead the Islamic countries and bring into the fold the Muslim Diaspora and the lands robbed from Islam and will then bear the standard of jihad and the call [da’wah] to Allah. [Then the] world will happily accept the precepts of Islam….The problems of conquering the world will only end when the flag of Islam waves and jihad has been proclaimed….The goal is to establish one Islamic state of united Islamic countries, one nation under one leadership whose mission will be to reinforce adherence to the law of Allah…and the strengthening of the Islamic presence in the world arena….The goal…is the establishment of a world Islamic state.”
That statement is quintessentially both Islamic and, in its authoritarianism and orientation of every aspect of society to Islam, Fascist.
As for Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’ contention that “the use of a polemical turn of phrase to ‘defin[e] the enemy we face’ can also limit the audience that one reaches,” and that “the term causes many people to stop listening—and to disregard otherwise legitimate arguments,” I’m afraid that is inevitable no matter what term one uses. People make decisions about the veracity of an argument based on who is making it, or where it is published, or what set of catch phrases are being used. That is true across the political spectrum. Dispassionate seekers after truth are as thin on the ground now as they were in Diogenes’ day, and we should not let that fact deter us from using a term that may be accurate, useful and in many ways illuminating.
And in light of the fact that the term is in both of its component parts accurate, I do wonder why, as Mr. Gartenstein-Ross says, moderate Muslims “almost uniformly bristle” at the phrase “Islamo-Fascism.” As I found myself saying many times during Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, “Islamo-Fascism” doesn’t imply that all Muslims are fascists any more than “white racism” implies that all whites are racist, or “Italian fascism” that all Italians are fascist. So much for the term’s “overbreadth.” And will it “undoubtedly be applied against Islamic religious practice that is merely conservative and not violent”? A further distinction needs to be made here: are those engaging in this conservative but not violent Islamic religious practice believers in the Islamic supremacist notion that underlies the Sharia imperative? In that case, ultimately it matters little that they are “not violent,” for they are pursuing through non-violent means the same goal that Osama and others are pursuing through violence. There are many non-violent Islamic supremacists even in America today, and we need to be aware of the congruence of their agenda with that of the violent jihadists.
When Mr. Tefft says that “the problem with using the term Islamofascist is that it implies there is a difference in Islam between fascist Muslims and non-fascist Muslims,” I think he is failing to draw the necessary distinction between Islam and Muslims. Religious traditions are large things, and while it is certainly true that all the schools of Islamic jurisprudence teach that Muslims must wage war against and subjugate non-Muslims under Sharia rule, it does not follow from that that all Muslims, or any given Muslim, knows of such teachings, takes them to heart, or acts upon them — or ever will.
In Islam as in all religious traditions there is a spectrum of belief, knowledge, fervor and emphasis. Islamic supremacism has not, unfortunately, been disavowed by any orthodox sect or school of Islam, but for a variety of historical and cultural reasons these teachings have not been emphasized for a considerable period in some areas of the Islamic world. Because of the deep traditional roots of these teachings, jihadist recruiters in person and via cassette tapes, DVD’s and the Internet are making inroads in these peaceful Muslim communities, and have seized the intellectual initiative in the Islamic world. Nonetheless, there is a large difference between fascist and non-fascist Muslims.
Unlike many analysts, I do not believe we can encourage those non-fascist Muslims by pretending that the Islamic texts do not say what they say, or that the jihadists have no case to make on Islamic grounds; rather, I believe that their case can only be combated by being confronted for what it is. There may be considerable numbers of Muslims who would sincerely renounce Islamic supremacism if given a chance to do so. But since the problem is not even being presented in those terms, non-Muslims are too often fooled by false moderates and pseudo-reformers.
And one quibble: Mr. Tefft says that “the later Suras of the Koran indicate” that “all non-Muslims are to be converted, enslaved or killed.” Actually, the choices for non-Muslims delineated by Muhammad and Islamic law are not conversion, slavery, or death, but conversion, subjugation, or death (cf. Qur’an 9:29, as well as the hadith recorded at Sahih Muslim 4294). Subjugation is not, strictly speaking, slavery, although the distinction between the two at various points in Islamic history was exceedingly fine. Non-Muslims had to accept a humiliating second-class status and held their lives and property always at the sufferance of their Muslim overlords, but they were not slaves outright.
Hughes: The comments and responses in this symposium are useful and enlightening. I think this is just what is needed to characterize and define what our moderator (Mr. Glazov) refers to as “our enemy.” Some may think that referring to Islamic militants as the enemy is too polarizing, but from my view, as a feminist concerned about the well being and rights of women and girls, they are indeed one of the most serious, global threats to women and girls.
As for the term “Islamo-Fascism,” it is a compound term comprised of two essential elements. First of all, it connects the growing threat to the religion that the militants choose to explain and justify their beliefs and actions. They have chosen this base for their ideology. They proclaim themselves to be God’s warriors and call their actions jihad. Their opponents did not project it on to them. It may challenge us to precisely name and identify who they are, but the Islamic radicals are not confused. I know liberal, moderate, and progressive Muslims who also are not confused, they have no trouble distinguishing between the Islamic fundamentalists and Muslims who have different interpretations of the religious texts, especially as they translate the texts into how they live their lives and define their politics.
The second part of the term “Islamo-Fascism” is also important. “Fascism” clearly indicates that this is a political movement. We can debate whether “fascism” is the correct name or not. Some say it isn’t because it differs in some ways from previous fascist movements and regimes. Well, nothing is ever exactly like anything else. I’ll let the historians and political scientists debate this one. If they come up with a better term, they can let us know. The point is we need a term that names this phenomenon as a political movement with common ideology, tactics, and way of ruling once control of territory is established.
A political label also helps us distinguish the political movement from conservative, traditional practices. This distinction is most apparent when we look at the lives of women. There are many families, communities and entire nations that are conservative and traditional, which often translates into suppression and strict control of women and girls. Females are oppressed by discriminatory attitudes and practices, often reinforced by violence (i.e. honor killings). Feminists say that sexism is political. A rallying cry of the second wave of the women’s movement (1960s) was “the personal is political.” While I agree that the status of women and girls is always political, influenced by culture, religion, and traditional practices, I want to distinguish between the small “p” politics of traditional practices, and the capital “P” politics of Islamo-Fascism.
The small “p” politics of sexism is systemic discrimination that exists all over the world; sometimes it is so severe that it reaches the level of oppression. Women’s liberation movements have addressed sexism throughout the world, some more successfully than others. In the ideology and practices of Islamo-Fascism, sexism is politicized. The suppression of women is incorporated in the capital “P” political movement.
As the influence of Islamo-Fascism grows and as Islamo-Fascists gain control of territory, women and girls and their rights become political targets. As I like to say “Terrorism begins at home.” The most severe oppression of women and girls we have ever seen took place under the Taliban in Afghanistan, where girls were banned from education and women were banned from working and consigned to house arrest. They could only emerge from their houses if they covered their bodies and identities with a burqa and were accompanied by a male member of their family.
Islamo-Fascism politicizes sexism, making the oppression of women and girls a political goal. Their success in controlling a population can be measured by the extent to which they have suppressed women and girls. It is their visible sign—to the communities they control and to the outside world—that they are in control. Just as anti-Semitism is a global prejudice, with consequences–sometimes severe consequences—to individuals, it is when anti-Semitism is incorporated into a political movement, as it was with Nazism, that it becomes more virulent and deadly. That is what Islamo-Fascism is doing with sexism. Because even the most misogynous Islamo-Fascist recognizes the biological indispensability of women, they don’t advocate genocide. Instead they practice slavery. Women and girls who violate their rules are viciously punished with whippings. In order to terrorize the rest of the population, a few women and girls are killed, often in brutal public executions, such as stoning to death.
To conclude, it is important to have accurate term or terms to describe the global threat we are facing. The “war on terror” as a label has failed us. My students have no idea what it means. It carries no information. It doesn’t identify the enemies the war is against or their ideas and goals. In fact, it’s a rather sad state of affairs that six years after 9-11 and nine years after the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania we are still trying to decide what to call the people and movement that have targeted us.
In the end, we may decide there are better terms to refer to this militant, deadly political movement, but Islamo-Fascism moves us in the right direction of identifying and characterizing it.
Hitchens: I feel very much vindicated by the comments of the learned members of this panel: whether our disagreements are concerned with principle or with emphasis they are nonetheless of the sort that enable one to learn. I think that the most thin-skinned objector to the coupling of the terms “Islamic” and “fascist” would have to agree that this symposium has enlarged and clarified the subject.
I myself am of the opinion that monotheistic religious belief, with its celebration of an absolutist and unchangeable deity, is in any case implicitly and explicitly totalitarian. But this does not mean that every Baptist in every epoch is always and everywhere the equivalent of today’s members of the deluded “Mahdi Army”, say.
Fascism is not something that can be a permanent part of the landscape. It is hysterical and spasmodic and relies on very strenuous forms of mobilisation. Even when victorious it probably cannot constitute, for very long, a regime. Its tendency to self-destruction is very marked, as I tried to point out. However, it is in some ways precisely this futility and degraded romanticism that make it so dangerous.
I tried to introduce a version of the term because, as Marx says at the opening of the Eighteenth Brumaire, a person trying to learn a new language will always have a tendency to translate it back into the tongue that he already knows. I knew that there would be those who compared the struggle against jihadism to the Cold War (and I argued with Jim Woolsey and others that this was no time to resurrect The Committee for the Free World: an opinion of mine that events have not forced me to reconsider.) The battle, it seemed and seems to me, was very much more like the earlier struggle against an essentially irrational movement. Stalin and Mao may have been deeply unstable people but they were somehow constrained by a wooden materialism: religious intoxication can have the effect of making half-way sane people act with wild disregard for their own self-interest, let alone the interests of others. Khalim Massoud has noticed this demented tendency in the case of the Algerian jihadists, who ended up excommunicating an entire North African population as infidel. Similar pathologies are observable among the sadistic maniacs of Al Qaeda in Mesopotomia.
Let us not forget that ultimate victory over fascism was made possible in large part because of that movement’s own tendency to act in mad ways. (Declaring war on three fronts at once, expelling all those who knew anything about nuclear physics, diverting rail-cars and troops and materiel for the purpose of eliminating civilians.) Thus, in pointing out the kinship between one kind of irrational fanaticism and another, I was also hoping to put a bit of heart and stomach into the argument, and suggest a thoughtful confidence in ultimate victory. This confidence is given a slight surge, in my own case at least, by observation of the criminally insane and self-defeating tactics that the fascists of Islam have been pursuing since the fall of 2001.
I should add the anti-fascists of Islam, who have born much of the heat and burden of the day, deserve a much more honorable title that that of “moderate”. Perhaps this condescending terminology could furnish the material for a subsequent FP round-table.
FP: And the round-table on this subject will begin immediately. Thank you for the excellent idea Mr. Hitchens.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, your turn my friend.
Gartenstein-Ross: At the outset, I’d like to agree with Hitchens’s remark that even “the most thin-skinned objector to the coupling of the terms ‘Islamic’ and ‘fascist’ would have to agree that this symposium has enlarged and clarified the subject.” In fact, I recently spoke with a “moderate” Muslim colleague (I put the term “moderate” in quotations not to suggest that my colleague is a closet extremist, but to signal my agreement with Hitchens’s statement of the term’s inadequacy) about Hitchens’s initial contribution to this symposium. On hearing that past usage of the terms “Catholic fascist,” “clerical fascist,” and “Judaeo-Nazi” mean that Islam is not being uniquely singled out, he commented, “As a Muslim, that makes me feel somewhat better about the term.”
That being said, I do not waver from my initial position in this debate: while the analogies between Islamic extremism and fascism are clear, and while Hitchens (and, perhaps, others?) has competently employed the polemical term to rebut those who would like to paint al-Qaeda as a kind of turbaned liberation theology, “Islamofascism” is not the term we should use to define the enemy. It seems that I am alone on the panel in taking that position: the only other contributor who opposes the use of this term is Tefft, who argues that it falsely “implies there is a difference in Islam between fascist Muslims and non-fascist Muslims.” That is, obviously, not my argument. Now, it’s always pleasant to be the lone dissenter in a debate—particularly in a debate like this, where I’m not forced to distance myself from the kind of hypersensitive “how could you even think of using that term?” arguments to which the other panelists alluded. But because I am a lone voice, you’ll have to indulge the length of this summary of the reasons that I encourage others to avoid “Islamofascism” as a definitional term.
The first argument I advanced against the term is its overbreadth. Arab countries, for example, are generally no less fascistic than they were in 1990 when Malise Ruthven applied the term to Arab dictatorships—yet they are not the enemy that we’re fighting. My argument on this point has not been refuted. Haidon argues that the term is “an appropriate descriptor of the problem” because such twentieth century revivalists as Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb, and A.A. Maududi have approaches in common with fascism. (He also mentions Haj Amin al-Husseini, grand mufti of Jerusalem, who had more in common with fascism than just an approach.) I don’t disagree with the parallels that Haidon draws, but they are not responsive to my argument: while “Islamofascism” is a fair description of the jihadist ideologues whose views drive al-Qaeda and other militant Islamic movements, it also describes many other actors in the Middle East. The term has been applied to groups ranging from al-Qaeda and Hizballah to the PFLP, Iraqi Ba’ath party, and Syrian Alawite elite. “Islamofascism” largely appears to have become a stand-in for “Middle Eastern bad guys.”
Spencer agrees that there is a problem with overbreadth, but attempts to mitigate it by pointing out that although Pervez Musharraf, Saddam Hussein, and other leaders in the Muslim world to whom the term “Islamofascist” might apply employ religious rhetoric, they have not implemented sharia law. Therefore, Spencer states, the term might not “apply to them or to others like them as well as it does to the likes of Osama bin Laden, Abu Bakar Bashir and others who have made it clear that they are fighting for Islam and Islamic law as they see them.” His argument is true enough if one emphasizes the “Islamo” half of “Islamofascism.” But if one emphasizes the “fascism” half of the term, it fits Middle Eastern regimes better than it does al-Qaeda. I do not deny the authoritarian nature of today’s militant Islamic movement, nor its conception of religious supremacy—but some Middle Eastern regimes explicitly drew their organizing principles from twentieth century fascist movements. George Michael (no, not the Wham! singer) writes in his book The Enemy of My Enemy:
The German model of centralized government and corporatist nationalism remained attractive to many of the early pan-Arab nationalists in Egypt, some of whom sought the creation of an “Arab Reich” that would unite all Arabs into one nation. The early pan-Arab leaders searched for methods to mobilize their populations and build independent nations. They were influenced in large part by European fascists who viewed the state as an organic outgrowth of the nation. As they saw it, only a strong, authoritarian state could protect the nation. Hence, the German model of bureaucratic centralization and authoritarianism looked attractive to many Arabs who sought an alternative way to modernize their countries.
This approach was most influential in Egypt, where such former Nazis as Otto Skorzeny, Johann von Leers, Wilhelm Farmbacher, Oskar Munzel, and Wilhelm Voss were given positions in Gamal Abdel Nasser’s government. But former Nazi officials were granted sanctuary in other Middle Eastern states as well (notably Syria), and the fascist model was adopted elsewhere: recall that in my first contribution to this symposium, I quoted former CIA director James Woolsey’s statement that Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath party was “modeled after the fascist regimes of Hitler’s Germany and Mussolini’s Italy.” In contrast, if you look at the kind of rule that was set up under the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, under al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in those parts of Iraq that came under its control, and more contemporaneously in northern Pakistan, these are not typical fascist states. Rather, their murderous political apparatus is somewhat unique. The same can be said of the long-term end-states laid out by both Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiyah and also the international Hizb-ut-Tahrir movement. So if you give equal weight to both “Islamo” and also “fascist” in the term we are debating, overbreadth remains a problem.
My remarks about the Muslim Brotherhood have been somewhat misapprehended. Massoud decries the tactic of “supporting the lesser evil,” while Spencer quotes from the Brotherhood’s web site to show that the organization is “both Islamic and, in its authoritarianism and orientation of every aspect of society to Islam, Fascist.” I did not claim otherwise: in my first contribution, I said that both al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood should be considered “Islamofascist” if one employs that term. Massoud in fact makes my point for me by stating that, tactically, al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood “need to be treated differently.” One reason a definitional term like “Islamofascism” is not useful is that it may obscure the tactical need to deal differently with such groups. (Incidentally, I’m currently participating in a separate FPM symposium on the Brotherhood that further elucidates my views on the group.)
Massoud claims that turning terrorists against one another “hasn’t really worked so far.” Nothing could be further from the truth. A critical reason that the U.S. has made such gains in Iraq over the past year is our ability to engage locals through the Awakening movement, along with other institutions such as the Concerned Local Citizens. Our ability to “turn” former insurgents has been an important part of this. Turning former insurgents has reduced the pool of potential recruits for AQI, created a mechanism for allowing experienced Sunni fighters to provide security in their areas, established a security force with local knowledge of AQI (since many of these men were formerly aligned with or subordinate to AQI), and provided a reconciliation mechanism for incorporating large numbers of armed Sunnis into the security forces in their areas. It has also been an important part of convincing people to stop participating in the insurgency. I don’t think the U.S. has done a fantastic job of this beyond Iraq, but Iraq clearly shows that turning terrorists against one another can work.
My next argument was that, tactically, using a polemical term to define the enemy can limit the audience that one reaches. Spencer replies that “[d]ispassionate seekers after truth are as thin on the ground now as they were in Diogenes’ day”—and thus we shouldn’t worry about employing potentially alienating terminology. It is true that we live in an age where public commentary can be characterized by its cheapness, demagoguery, and overall cowardice. Yet I don’t think the situation is as bleak as portrayed by Spencer. If it were, why are any of us wasting our time engaging in public commentary about terrorism and religious extremism? None of the panelists has seriously disputed the fact that the term “Islamofascism” causes a portion of the one’s potential audience to simply tune out. Why use such a term when there are other options?
Finally, I argued that the term “Islamofascism” makes it more difficult to work with moderate Muslims. Certainly Massoud and Haidon provide examples of Islamic moderates who aren’t upset by usage of the term, but Massoud’s statement that “the ones who are offended are not moderate” is simply untrue. I personally know a number of moderate Muslims who take exception to that phraseology. It is true that some Muslim extremists masquerading as moderates have objected to the term, but it’s a category error to say that therefore any Muslim who objects to the term “Islamofascism” is not moderate.
I stated in my first contribution that some moderate Muslim objections to the term “Islamofascism”—and to other terminology used to describe militant Islam—are illegitimate. But are there legitimate objections? I think so. One legitimate objection is the term’s overbreadth, which I have already discussed at length. A second legitimate objection that I outlined in my initial response is the concern that the term will be employed against religious practice that is merely conservative and not violent. In response, Spencer asks whether “those engaging in this conservative but not violent Islamic religious practice” are “believers in the Islamic supremacist notion that underlies the Sharia imperative.” If they are, he argues that “it matters little that they are ‘not violent.’” While I do not want to excuse those who seek to impose brutal forms of sharia through non-violent means, I note that within virtually all religions there is a constant struggle to determine what the faith means, and how it intersects with society. Some Muslims, for example, define themselves as pro-sharia, but in fact mean that they incorporate sharia into their personal lives while favoring secularism in society. This approach appears contradictory at first, and only time will tell if it can gain traction. There are also some Muslims who define themselves as pro-sharia but interpret the sharia in such a way that it has little in common with the religious laws adopted by the Taliban, the Islamic Courts Union, or Saudi Arabia. I agree with Spencer that we do Muslim moderates no favors “by pretending that the Islamic texts do not say what they say,” but a distinction (albeit one that is not always crystal clear) exists between conservative and militant practices of Islam.
How do I define the enemy? Sadly, my own terminology isn’t all that exciting. I agree with Glazov that one cannot remove the word “Islam” from the equation because that is how bin Laden and others expressly frame their motivations. I tend to use the phrase “militant Islam” because we are contending with Islamic movements defined by their willingness to take up arms for their cause. I use the terms “radical Islam” and “extremist Islam” because Islamic terrorist movements are radical or extreme by any sane definition—and both terms signal that this is not the way all Muslims understand their faith. None of these terms are perfect. Perhaps the most accurate phrase, employed by Marc Sageman in Understanding Terror Networks, is “global Salafi jihad” (to describe violent Sunni movements). Sageman’s term has the disadvantage of being rather unwieldy. We are unlikely to see a “Global Salafi Jihad Awareness Week” anytime soon.
I have enjoyed taking part in this symposium, and appreciate my fellow panelists’ contributions. All the terms currently bandied about to define our enemy in the terror war have some shortcomings—but I think Islamofascism is particularly ill suited. I hope that my contributions have helped to clarify some of the legitimate objections to the term.
Massoud: I think Mr. Tefft’s statement “Islam is indeed fascistic in that it is both totalitarian and posits an absolute superiority of Muslims over non-Muslims” is a perfect example of the failure of an average Westerner to make a distinction between Islam and Islamism. Belief in God (Islam) is a religion. Strife for supremacy and world domination (Islamism) is not. It is a political ideology based on Islam, but it is not Islam. We (Muslims Against Sharia) also believe that the doctrine of abrogation is contrary to the doctrine of the infallibility of God. We believe that peaceful parts of the Koran came from God, but violent parts of the Koran were added by unscrupulous people to fit their agendas. That’s why the violent verses must be removed.
I would like to elaborate on Mr. Spencer’s statement “[t]here are many non-violent Islamic supremacists even in America today, and we need to be aware of the congruence of their agenda with that of the violent jihadists.” One of the problems we are facing in America today is that the vast majority of the American Muslim Establishment is radical. Whether it is so-called “civil rights” leaders like CAIR, imams in mosques or teaches in madrassas, most of them are financed by the Wahhabis, and, therefore, espouse Wahhabi ideology. And since the media and the government use Muslim Establishment as the go-to guys when they need an Islamic opinion, the consequences are dire. First, the radicals are labeled moderates and afforded legitimacy. When an average American sees a CAIR representative whitewashing terrorism on TV and then reads about DOJ having a booth at ISNA convention, no wonder he thinks that all Muslims are Islamists. Second, true moderates are ignored by default.
I agree with Mr. Gartenstein-Ross that when “[t]he term has been applied to groups ranging from al-Qaeda and Hizballah to the PFLP, Iraqi Ba’ath party, and Syrian Alawite elite, “Islamofascism” largely appears to have become a stand-in for “Middle Eastern bad guys” and it becomes overbroad. Maybe we should start with clearly defining what “Islamofascism” means. While Asad, Musharraf, or Mubarak are undoubtedly Muslims and run totalitarian regimes, which some people may call fascist, they are not Islamofascists. Islamic supremacy doctrine is not a cornerstone of their policies. Islamofascists, on the other hand, are motivated by religious duty to achieve world domination. I think that if a clear and concise definition of the term is universally accepted it would not be misinterpreted to be offensive. Of course, we will always have CAIR to complain since CAIR is a primary example of Islamofascists masquerading as moderates, but if the MSM can correctly use the term, it will be a great achievement. Mr. Gartenstein-Ross brings up a valid point about some Iraqis who were fighting coalition forces now fighting al-Qaeda. Perhaps I should have stated that turning terrorists against each other doesn’t work more often than it does instead of “hasn’t really worked so far.”
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross argues, “using a polemical term to define the enemy can limit the audience that one reaches.” I think that using term Islamofascism is a balancing act. It may turn off an over-sensitive part of the population. But I believe that at the same time it will attract or awaken a much larger segment. We need to keep in mind that majority of Westerners do not concern themselves with issues like terrorism on a daily basis. Use of the term may mobilize some people who were shocked by the events of September 11, but fell into complacency over the years. At the end of the day, the use of the term Islamofascism is more beneficial than detrimental, and I completely agree with Ms. Hughes that while imperfect, it is the best we have. Radical Islam, militant Islam, fundamentalist Islam are descriptive terms, but none of them carry negative connotation or emotional charge to describe the evil and danger of Islamofascism. We must use the term that also appeals to people’s hearts, not just to their heads.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross states, “[he] personally know[s] a number of moderate Muslims who take exception to that phraseology.” I’m afraid that those Muslims have not been explained the term properly. I seriously doubt that any Muslim who does not believe in Islamic supremacy and is explained that the term strictly applies to Muslims who do believe in Islamic supremacy would be offended. It just doesn’t make sense.
Islamofascists consider moderate Muslims apostates, since we do not believe in waging Jihad to conquer the world. To Islamofascists, moderate Muslims are a more substantial threat than infidels. They don’t want to convert or subjugate us; they simply want to kill us. Thus, Islamofascists are our enemies. So, why would we be offended by the term that describes (or insults) our enemy?
FP: Mr. Massoud, while it is encouraging that Muslims such as yourself would like to see the violent verses in the Koran removed, the reality is that they are in the Koran. And unfortunately just saying that “they are not supposed to be in there” doesn’t really fix the problem that they are.
Having said that, your point is well taken that Islamo-Fascists are the enemies of many Muslims and that Muslims who do not believe in jihad have a stake in supporting the term.
Tefft: We’re going in circles, James and I don’t believe I’ve much more to say. It is amazing that non-Muslims (I include all of us, since someone who wishes to deny the divine infallibility of the Koran and suggest eliminating, changing or reforming its verses is by definition a non-Muslim) presume to contradict Mohammed and the other ‘fundamentalist’ Muslims when they tell us what Islam is. When the enemy informs, we should listen.
When one fails to even arrive at a basic definition of words one can not communicate. It is similar to pointless discussion of dialectical materialism with a Marxist — you get nowhere.
What is a Muslim? One who believes in Islam, the infallibility of the Koran as the literal word of Allah.
If one does not believe in this, one is not a Muslim, regardless of what one calls oneself. If you do believe in the Koran as the literal word of Allah, then you are a Muslim but certainly no moderate.
No difference between fascist and non-fascist Muslims? I did not say this. I said there were no non-fascist Muslims. No moderate Muslims, because to be non-fascist or moderate is to be a non-Muslim, a non-believer in the Koran’s totality and infallibility.
Mr. Spencer’s comment that not all Muslims may be aware of the nature of Islam is an assumption that may account for the appearance of non-fascism or moderation in Islam, but Muslim ignorance of their own ideology or assumptions and appearances of non-fascism or moderation does not create the reality.
FP: Well yes we are going in circles. I don’t really know what to say. So when Thomas Haidon tells me he is a Muslim I am supposed to tell him he is not?
The bottom line is that Muslims can reinvent their religion if they have the motive, the means and the opportunity. It is a huge undertaking and they may not achieve this, but those individuals who consider themselves Muslims but reject jihad exist and we can tell them that they are not Muslims, but that doesn’t change the reality that they see themselves as Muslims – and that they might even help reform Islam and fight on our side against the extremists.
Haidon: I am grateful for Mr. Hitchens’ recognition of the work of genuine Muslims who fight fascism and for his suggested opic change. There are many committed, effective Muslim leaders who are working towards real change. More important than the terminology we use to describe this type of Muslim, is identifying the characteristics of these genuine “moderate” or “progressive” Muslim leaders. This is essential because there are a number of Muslims who are falsely moderate, or irrelevant because they have failed to set out a vision or framework for addressing Islam’s problems. What are the defining characteristics of an effective moderate Muslim leader? To my mind, they include:
- the sources of Islam are organic, that is, capable of contextual interpretation and hermeneutics.
- the recognition that Islam, as it is currently understood in terms of jurisprudence, is generally inconsistent with fundamental human rights.
- the respect for the fundamental human rights of all persons, as enshrined in the international bill of rights (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Internation Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Convention Against All Forms of Racial Descrimination, and the Convention for the Elimination of Deiscrimination Against Women) are respected without reservation.
- committment against the implementation of shariah at a legislative or policy level and the respect for the primacy of national law over the law of Islam.
An additional, and essential criteria for anti-Fascist Muslims is a strategic vision for addressing Islam’s core problems and inconsistency with fundamental human rights. It is not enough to merely confirm these problems, or offer haphazard and ill-conceived solutions. Real, tangible solutions must be put forward. An effective progressive/moderate Muslim should have a firm theological basis for their vision on addressing Islam’s problems. A Muslim who simply believes Islam is “peace” without a coherent explanation is’nt necessarily a moderate, but a confused Muslim or a false moderate. A clear vision for a way forward is requisite.
I am somewhat concerned about Mr. Massoud and his views on reform, including removing parts of the Qur’an (which he provides no explanation or rationale here or on his liked site). Mr. Massoud does not offer any explanation of how this would be done, or any rationale other than that the verses he cites are just “bad”. Unfortunately, Mr.Massoud’s approach to Islam is completely overinclusive, untenable and has no prospects of success. While Mr. Massoud may be moderate, his approach is ineffective. Removing parts of the Qur’an will never be accepted by the wider Ummah. It would appear that Mr. Massoud’s approach is informed by the late (and great) reformer Mohammed Taha. But I implore Mr. Massoud to read the new translation and commentary on the Qur’an by Edip Yuskel and others that seeks to challenge these ayat with modern understandings. This approach focuses attention on removing from the scope of usul al fiqh, man made Islamic traditions. I cannot say strongly enough however that Mr. Massoud’s approach cannot succeed because its lack of a theological basis. It appears to be a desperate and ill-conceived approach that will only further the divide between reformers and mainstream Muslims.
I agree with the tenor of Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’s point that moderate Muslims who reject the term Islamo-Fascism or its connotations, are no less moderate because they do so. It’s an important point to make. Moderate Muslims do not cease being moderate because they dislike perceived insults. Moderate Muslims do not cease being moderate because they don’t approve of specific United States foreign policies towards the Middle East. Moderate Muslims do not cease to become moderate because they do not reject all religious principles. A moderate Muslim must be defined by his specific views on Islam and modernity, and whether he/she believes in the protection fundamental human rights.
As Mr. Glazov points out, Mr. Teft is essentially informing Mr. Massoud and me, that we are not Muslim. Mr. Teft’s attempts to define the parameters of a “Muslim” and Islam is seriously misguided. There is no one singular vision of Islam, or what a Muslim is. While Islam today is dominated by Salafist or Jafari interpretations, these interpretations and understandings do not and cannot define Islam. I’m rather surprised that as an analyst, who purports to be so well versed in Islam and Muslims, that he would make this overbroad observation. It’s also a critical strategic error to isolate moderate Muslims, who are a valuable source in the war on terror. Again, given that he is an analyst, I’m surprised by his broad conclusions. Islam will be what Muslims make of it. Islam has the internal capability to adapt and reform, although this capability has been severely eroded. We also need to closely analyze the reasons and factors of why the efforts of moderate Muslims have not been significant. I think some of the reasons are fairly obvious. But genuine moderate Muslims must look to the lessons learnt and develop better strategic capabilities.
Spencer: I agree with Christopher Hitchens (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d say) that the term “moderate” Muslim is inadequate, dishonorable and condescending. Also, uncomfortably for those who use it to deny there is anything within Islam that has any responsibility for giving rise to today’s global jihad, it implies that very thing. For if Islam itself is a wholly positive entity, then one would not expect those who take it only in moderation to be the heroes of the piece. The idea that Islam becomes benign only when the Muslim in question imbibes of it sparingly suggests that it contains within it the elements that make it so often not benign. But since Muslims who are genuinely working against the violent and supremacist aspects of traditional Islamic teaching are trying to preserve something they see as positive, rather than solely to limit the effects of something negative, a more precise and honorable term would be “reformist Muslim” or words to that effect.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’s story about his telling “a ‘moderate’ Muslim colleague” about “past usage of the terms ‘Catholic fascist,’ ‘clerical fascist,’ and ‘Judaeo-Nazi’” was extremely interesting. Had this colleague really never heard of such compounds – which are as common as any newspaper — before? I am not doubting Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’s account of his conversation, but I remain skeptical about Muslim claims that terms such as Islamo-Fascism tar all Muslims, since compounds like this are extremely common in political discourse, as well as in any area of life that may involve factions, and no one has ever gotten so confused or indignant about them before. I believe a large amount of Muslim indignation over this term, and willful misunderstanding of it as applying to all Muslims, is simply part of the larger Islamic supremacist effort in the U.S. to deflect attention away from Islamic jihad activity, and to claim protected victim status for Muslims, thereby shielding them from all criticism.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, meanwhile, is not satisfied with my limiting of the term “Islamo-Fascist” to Islamic supremacists who want to impose Islamic law upon societies and subjugate the non-Muslims therein: my argument, he says, “is true enough if one emphasizes the ‘Islamo’ half of ‘Islamofascism.’ But if one emphasizes the ‘fascism’ half of the term, it fits Middle Eastern regimes better than it does al-Qaeda.” Well, yes. But if one emphasizes neither half of the term, but employs it as the compound that it is, then it describes perfectly well those Muslims who wish to impose their totalitarian fascist vision, whether by violence or stealth or both, upon the rest of us.
Mr. Gartenstein-Ross further asks, “None of the panelists has seriously disputed the fact that the term ‘Islamofascism’ causes a portion of the one’s potential audience to simply tune out. Why use such a term when there are other options?” One reason might be because it is true. It is accurate in both its compound parts, and, as I noted above, there is, I believe, a considerable manipulative element in Muslim objections to the term – a manipulative element that emanates ultimately from quarters that want to keep Westerners from realizing the nature of the Islamic supremacist agenda, and defending themselves from it. If Christians in Europe had objected to the term “Christian Democrats” on the grounds that it implied that all Christians were anti-monarchist, or if Italians had objected to the term “Italian fascist” on the grounds that it implied that no Italians had anything but enthusiasm for Mussolini, Muslims might have a reasonable case here. But they didn’t, and Muslims don’t. Is every Muslim who claims to be offended by the term a politically manipulative pseudo-moderate? No – some may simply be confused, or mau-maued by those who are. But that doesn’t make their objection any more reasonable.
Finally, and somewhat tangentially, Mr. Tefft states that “someone who wishes to deny the divine infallibility of the Koran and suggest eliminating, changing or reforming its verses is by definition a non-Muslim.” Indeed – by the standards of Islamic orthodoxy. But I do believe we should allow for the growth of Islamic heterodoxies which may mitigate violent and supremacist elements. Will such groups be targeted as heterodox by the orthodox? Certainly. Will they ever grow large enough to counter those orthodox on a large scale? Probably not. But history has surprised us before. Indeed, as he says, “but Muslim ignorance of their own ideology or assumptions and appearances of non-fascism or moderation does not create the reality,” – but forthright acknowledgment and outright rejection of these things might.
Hughes: In the interests of brevity at the conclusion of this forum, I will try to quickly indicate my opinions on the term for “our enemies” and give a quick summary.
With the exception of Mr. Gartenstein-Ross, there seems to be agreement among the discussants that Islamo-Fascism is a useful and meaningful term to describe the political movement that threatens so many. Both the religious and political elements are important to accurately characterize this religious based political movement. While Mr. Gartenstein-Ross’s terms “militant Islam,” “radical Islam,” and “extremist Islam” indicate an extreme form of Islam, they leave out the important political element and could leave people with the impression that the problem is solely Islam, the religion, and not an ideological political movement with a religious base.
In addition to exploring different views on the accuracy and value of the term Islamo-Fascism, Mr. Hitchens has identified the need for further discussion of the term “moderate Muslim” or “moderate Islam.” I was happy to read that Mr. Glazov agrees. If the threat we face is a politicized religious movement, then we need to examine the elements of political, social and religious opposition to that movement. Mr. Haidon gave us a good introduction and launching point for that discussion.
In this symposium, discussants repeatedly tried to disentangle the religion of Islam, conservative, traditional cultural practices, and the political ideology of a movement. We need further discussion of the connections among these different elements and how they can be addressed. In the previous round of discussion, I used the oppression of women and girls as an example of how traditional cultural practices of inequality and discrimination against women and girls become politicized in the Islamo-Fascism movements.
In co-operation with Muslim reformists we need to analyze each of the beliefs and practices that contribute to Islamo-Fascism and design strategies to combat all of them. I see a role of the FrontPage Magazine’s forum in leading these discussions.
FP: Christopher Hitchens, Robert Spencer, Bruce Teft, Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Donna Hughes and Thomas Haidon, thank you for joining Frontpage Symposium.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine’s managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org://frontpagemagazine.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=D66B9FE5-21A4-4828-A3E3-41F43B9F14DE