Monday, February 21, 2005

On President's Day and Islamofacism

By: UnrepentantNewDealer

Remember the President's Day and Keep It Slackish

First of all, a happy President's Day to you all. I hate saying that. I can still recall (or at least, I think I still recall) when we had two separate holidays in February, Lincoln's Birthday and Washington's Birthday. Both days were federal holidays, as they should be. Washington and Lincoln were the most important leaders of the eighteenth and nineteeth centuries, respectively. I suppose we should also have a holiday for the man historians overwhelmingly regard as the greatest twentieth century president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I was perfectly happy with having two Mondays off in quick succession. Two three day weekends in February to provide relief from the hustle and bustle of second-semester studies. Everyone loves three-day weekends. Except businesses, I suppose. I understand giving the employees both days off would be costly, but I think the shrewd businessman could make up for it by having separate Lincoln's and Washington's Birthday sales.

As it is, we have for some years now had this amalgamated "President's Day." This irks me because it seems to honor all presidents, as though all presidents were equally worthy of honor. This is patently ridiculous. We have had some great presidents (Truman, Wilson, and both the Roosevelts, in this century) and some presidents who were merely good (Clinton, Kennedy, Eisenhower perhaps). But let's face it, most of our presidents have been mediocre (Pierce, Fillmore, Buchanan--oh hell, every president between Jackson and Lincoln and every president between Lincoln and McKinley, and even he was a hack--as well as the likes of Taft, Coolidge, Hoover, and Ford) and we have had more than our fair share of really, really bad presidents (Harding, Johnson, Nixon, and Reagan would be my picks of the worst of the last hundred years).

To pretend that all of these presidents are equally worthy of praise and honor is no different than saying that all students, no matter how they do in class, deserve an "A". There's a reason we have memorials for Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln but not for Harding or Fillmore. In short, bring back Lincoln's Birthday and Washinton's Birthday. And give college students both off. I'm sick of "holidays" like President's Day on which you still have to go to class. It's not a holiday if you're doing any work!


I first came across the term "Islamofascism" last fall. I first heard of it as coming from America's most annoying pompous windbag, Bill O'Reilly, although I doubt he posesses the mental wherewithal to coin a word. On the other hand, he might as well have coined it, for whoever coined this word didn't know what they were talking about--which is, of course, O'Reilley's distinguishing characteristic.

What does this word actually mean, anyway? It seems to be used to describe--or rather, to condemn--Islamic radicals of the Taliban/bin Ladin/al-Zarqawi variety.

Let's break the word down, examinging "Islamo-" first. As we've heard a million times by now, Islam is a "religion of peace", or put more accurately, "no more a religion of war than Judaism or Christianity." All three monotheistic faiths advocate peace and members of all three have committed many of the worst atrocities in the bloody annals of mankind. So, ok, these fundamentalists claim allegiance to Islam, same as abortion clinic bombers (,10987,1101850114-140923,00.html) and Tomas de Torquemada ( claim allegiance to Christianity, and the same as Baruch Goldberg ( Meir Kahane ( claim allegiance to Judaism. Of course, all right-thinking Christians, Jews, and Muslims would rush to reassure us that these extremists are not representative of their respective religions, but they do constitute an extremist element on the fringes.

All right, they're "Islamic". Now, what about the other half of "Islamofascism"? Fascism is a very specific political ideology. According to that fount of all earthly knowledge, Wikipedia:

"The word fascism has come to mean any system of government resembling Mussolini's, that

* exalts nation and sometimes race above the individual,
* uses violence and modern techniques of propaganda and censorship to forcibly suppress political opposition,
* engages in severe economic and social regimentation.
* engages in corporatism,
* implements or is a totalitarian regime."

First, do Al-Qaida and the Islamic fundamentialist movement "exalt nation or race above the individual"? There is no existing nation all the Islamic terrorists support, only "idolotrous" ones they wish to overthrow. As to race, Al-Qaida has recruited people of many races to accomplish its aims, from the African bombers of the American embassies in East Africa in 1998 to John Walker Lindh more recently. Al-Qaida is, ironically, egalitarian in a racial sense, but militantly anti-pluralist on religious matters, including the equality of women.

Second, while the Islamic radicals do use violence and propaganda, so do the corrupt authoritarian regimes they seek to overthrow. So, we have another element of fascism that doesn't really apply to the "Islamofascists."

Third, "severe economic and social regimentation"? Not particularly. While they couldn't be characterized as advocates for free trade, they also lack a coherent economic philosophy. Banks in predominantly Muslim nations traditionally don't charge interest, as it is forbidden in the Qu'ran. Needless to say, the fundamentalists see everything through the narrow lens of religious zealotry, not in terms of class, caste, or other socioeconomic issues.

Next, we come to "corporatism." I'll return to it after considering number 5: that fascism is totalitarianism. This one defintely applies to the Islamic radicals, as every time they seize power in a country, they immediately institute a totalitarian regime of terror.

Number 4: "Corporatism." What is this "corporatism"? Back to Wikipedia,

"Besides totalitarianism, a key distinguishing feature of fascism is that it uses a mass movement to attack the organizations of the working class: parties of the left and trade unions. Thus [fascism is] a militant form of right-wing populism. This mobilization strategy involves Corporatism.... state action to partner with key business leaders, often in ways chosen to minimize the power of labor unions. Mussolini, for example, capitalized on fear of an imminent Socialist revolution, finding ways to unite Labor and Capital, to Labor's ultimate detriment.... The moneyed classes in return helped him change the country's laws to raise his stature from a coalition leader to a supreme commander. The movement was supported by small capitalists, low-level bureaucrats, and the middle classes, who had all felt threatened by the rise in power of the Socialists.

This is the key to understanding fascism. As I understand it, fascism has four pillars: glorification of war and the military, glorification of the totalitarian state and of the nationalistic spirit, glorification of the business elite, and hatred of the opponents of the aforementioned groups (the pacifists, the labor unions, and the Socialists). The resulting union of State, Business, and Military is what fascism looks like. By these criteria, the current presidential administration is more "fascist" than the "Islamofascists" are, though don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying Bush is a fascist.

The "Islamofascists" do glorify armed jihad against the "unbeleivers", but they do not glorify military force for its own sake, an important point. To the Islamists, violence is merely a means to an end--the establishment of God's Kingdom on Earth, a renewed Caliphate. For true fascists, war is good in and of itself, regardless of its aims. This is a strange concept for us to understand today. Benito Mussolini, the founder of fascism, described this attitude:

"Fascism, the more it considers and observes the future and the development of humanity, quite apart from political considerations of the moment, believes neither in the possibility nor the utility of perpetual peace.... War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and imposes the stamp of nobility upon the peoples who have the courage to make it.... War is to man what maternity is to a woman. From a philosophical and doctrinal viewpoint, I do not believe in perpetual peace."

A far cry from Aristotle's "We make war that we may live in peace." Also dissimilar from the jihadist philosophy, which seems to view war as a means to an end.

On the matter of the glorification of the nationalistic spirit, the jihadists are enemies of the spirit of nationalism which is diametrically opposed to their delusions of a pan-Islamic empire. The "glorification of the business elite" has already been examined and discarded as non-applicable. The Islamic radicals glorify other Islamic radicals, not mere money-grubbing Western capitalists. In fact, if anything, Islamic fundamentalism can be understood to be a backlash against the strengthening currents of globalization and (mostly) free market capitalism, along with the secularization all this entails.

Soon after 9/11, Osama bin Laden appeared in a video. I don't remember a word he said. All I can remember about this video is that he wore a watch on his wrist, a fact picked up on by a number of pundits at the time. Closer examination revealed that the watch was almost certainly a Timex. A $65.00 Timex Ironman Triathalon Sportswatch. Timex is a symbol of Western capitalism, the same crass "godless" material culture that Islamic radicals like bin Laden rail against.

That Timex gives me confidence that we'll win. Think about it. The terrorists communicate with one another via encrypted cell-phone, email, text message. They claim credit for each new atrocity against innocent civilians by posting a message on one of the known militant websites. They propagate their ideology by releasing videotapes to major multinational news networks, like Al-Jazeera. Their beliefs may be straight out of the seventh century, but their jihad against the west is only made possible by utilizing the very system they want to destroy. The forces of globalization are inherently democratic, and everywhere globalization spreads, democracy eventually follows.

So, the "Islamofascists" may rail against the West, but they cannot avoid being caught up the globalization system. The great backlash against globalization is only made possible by utilizing the technologies of globalization, which in turn undermines the backlash. Bin Laden condemns the West with his mouth, but sings its praises with his watch. The Islamic "anti-globalization" forces can't fight against the West unless they adopt the technologies of the infidel, but if they adopt the technologies of the infidel, they can't help but be exposed to the values of the infidel; most damaging for their cause, if they adopt the technologies of the infidel in order to defeat the infidel, they acknowledge their own technological (and ideological) inferiority. That is why, in the long run, we'll win.

I kind of wandered from where I was originally intending to go with this post over the last couple of paragraphs. The point I set out to make is that "Islamofascism" is a very misleading term. So, why do some people, particularly on the right, stubbornly persist in calling our ideological opponents in the war against terrorism "Islamofascists"? At first, I thought the only reason it was used at all is that fascism is being misunderstood to simply mean barbarity. Now, yes, fascism was barbaric. But so are communism, imperialism, colonialism, rascism, anti-semitism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry. Yet no one thinks to call Islamic radicals "Islamocommunists", which is just as misleading as "Islamofascist."

I wonder if there isn't a darker explanation, though. A Wikipedia search for "Islamofascism" also turned up the older word "Judeofascism." This is a term long used by anti-Semites to attack Israel and Jews in general as being no different than the fascists, the Nazis. It is a way to dehumanize Jews, even, on an unconscious level, at least at first, to rationalize inhumane treatment of them.

I wonder if this isn't also the case with "Islamofascism." The word makes no sense when one approaches it from a knowledgable perspective. Yet, this word originated on the hyper-blowhard right-wing fringe of American politics. To this day it is used almost exclusively by right-wingers. Why? Because it fits their view that all Muslims, or even most Muslims, are no different morally from the Nazis? Bill O'Reilly himself made the claim that making students at Chapel Hill read a book about the Qu'ran was the same as forcing students during WWII to read Mein Kampf. (,10987,335965,00.html) Gee, that's not too subtle. Then we have Ann Coulter saying "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Now, she wrote these words two days after 9/11, but she still stands by them to this day.

When you start thinking of the terrorists as "fascists", how long will it be before someone somewhere justifies mistreating suspected terrorists? About as long as it takes to say the words "Abu Ghraib." After all, they're not really POWs, entitled to Geneva convention protections and innocent until proven guilty. Rather, they're "Islamofascists" and "enemy combatants" who we are justified in locking up in Guantanamo Bay or torturing at Abu Ghraib or Bagram, justified in depriving them of all the basic human rights our new attorney general has labeled "quaint." Perhaps I'm reading too much into this, but while semantics may seem like a trifling thing, the process of dehumanizing the "other" is how atrocities are always justified.

Well, then, what should we call these Islamic radicals? Well, how about "Islamic radicals"? It's accurate. Or "Jihadists" (alternatively, "Jihadis"). These are all words the experts use. I prefer the term "Islamoreactionaries." Like reactionaries elsewhere, these reactionaries want to turn back the clock to a nostalgic golden age of righteousness, in this case the seventh century. Of course, if we insist on calling them something derogetory (I admit, they certainly deserve it), the Romans came up with just the word more than 1,500 years ago when their culture was also under assault from outside forces: barbarians.

Last Words

"The truth is that men are tired of liberty." Benito Mussolini

"The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it [be]comes strong[er] than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism - ownership of government by an individual, by a group, or any controlling private power." Franklin D. Roosevelt

"The strategic adversary is fascism... the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us." Michel Foucault

"I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word." Martin Luther King, Jr.


Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practice anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)