Monday, February 5, 2007

Is There Such a Thing as Islamofascism?

Islamofascism is a controversial term. Much of that controversy stems from the confusion that exists about the actual meaning of the word that is the back end of the term- fascism. I have been wondering about the term myself. To avoid any misunderstanding I have generally used the term Islamisism for the brand of radical islam that seeks our demise and referred to its proponents as Islamists. I ran across an old article in a New Yorker magazine recently that may change my practice on this score. In the article entitled The Devils Disciples, Can you Force People to Love Freedom? Louis Menand was reviewing a pair of books dealing with totalitarianism and terror. He wrote:
“One writer who identified terror as the essence of totalitarianism was Hannah Arendt. Arendt started writing “The Origins of Totalitarianism” in 1945, the year Nazi Germany was defeated. …, Arendt was a philosopher. She was interested in the politics of totalitarianism, but she was also interested in the metaphysics, in totalitarianism as a mode of being in the world. Terror, she argued, may be experienced as arbitrary, but it is not arbitrary and it is not lawless. Every despot exercises power arbitrarily; all dictators are outside the law. The distinctive feature of totalitarian societies is that everyone, including (in theory, anyway) the dictator, can be sacrificed in the name of a superhuman law, a law of nature or a law of history.
…or a religious dogma. I recognized this arbitrary nature of terror immediately. I have seen its foot prints in visits to Babi Yar and the Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem I watched it crash into the North Tower and slaughter Daniel Pearl on the Internet. All of these events have their own unspeakable individual character but they all share the lunatic devaluation of human life that is born of a totalitarian belief system. I have also have had to face the hard fact that a five-year old boy could in a matter-of-fact way explain to my five-year-old daughter that because she is Jewish he really ought to kill her. Menand continues quoting Arendt:
“Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men but toward a system in which men are superfluous,” she said. In Nazism, everyone is subordinate to the race war; in Bolshevism, to the class struggle. Man-made laws and political institutions are temporary shelters for vested interests, to be flattened by the winds of destiny. And the winds never cease. Hitler did not talk in terms of his own lifetime. He talked in terms of “the next thousand years.”
Here was the answer to the questions that had burrowed into my consciousness and had been living a parasitic existence in me ever since that night twenty years earlier. The Islamist version of utopia is the total abnegation of the human soul in submission to a literal and dogmatic reading on the Koran. It presumes that a perfect world would have no place for Jews, Christians or any other kind of believer. It even excludes other Moslems who interpret the Koran in less fundamentalist ways.

I have always felt (although until recently I had no idea why) personally offended when in the wake of 9/11 so many seemed to be asking “why do they hate us?” in such an anguished way. It seemed to me that this very question contained an excuse for the barbarity of the terrorists. There are quite a few purportedly moderate spokespeople for the Islamist point of view who talk about anger and rage in the Moslem world as if it is a reasonable justification for the barbarities visited on the world by Islamic terrorists. I do not doubt that many in the Moslem world feel anger and rage, what I question is its provenance.
Menand goes on:
The mysterious part of totalitarianism’s appeal—and here we return to the Problem of the Loyal Henchmen—is that its official ideology can be, and usually is, absurd on its face, and known to be absurd by the leaders who preach it. This is because the mob is made up of cynics; for them, everything is a lie anyway. And the masses’ hostility is free-floating. It has no concrete object: the masses are hostile to life as it is. The more extreme and outrageous the totalitarian ideology, therefore, and the more devoid of practical political sense, the more ineluctable its appeal. Totalitarian rule, Arendt argued, is predicated on the assumption that proving that a thing is true is less effective than acting as though it were true. The Nazis did not invite a discussion of the merits of anti-Semitism; they simply acted out its consequences. This is why documents like the memorandums for which Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” continued to be believed even after they had been exposed as forgeries, and why the Moscow Trials were defended even by people who knew that the “confessions” were fraudulent. It’s why some of the defendants in those trials went uncomplainingly to be executed for crimes they had not committed.
The idea that the anger and disenfranchisement of the “Arab street” is in some way a comprehensible rationale for the callous barbarity of the attack on innocent civilians is an offense to humanity. Ironically, the very enormity of the crimes they commit and the wildness of the pretext they do it under, are taken by those who do not understand the game they are playing as proof of the authenticity (even righteousness) of what they do.

The rage, when looked at honestly, is nothing more than that same invincible, fervent stupidity that filled the air at the nazi rallies in Munich or that propelled the Bolshevik protesters into the streets of Moscow. This wild arousal state crowds out reason and hope. It pumps up its own excitation and then demands revenge on the world for the distress it has caused itself. Daniel Pearl’s death tape is the perfect illustration of the end result. It is actually mostly propaganda and screed. It is an obscene blend of lies, fabrications and outrageous distortions. It intimidates by showing Daniel Pearl being forced to “admit” to being a Jew and making him dwell on his Jewishness. Then at the end, after his head is hacked off and held up as a trophy, a threat scrolls onto the screen. This will be repeated “again and again” it promises. That phrase, “again and again” forms a mocking echo to the Israeli Slogan “never again”.

In much the same way that Hitler told the world what he had planned in Mein Kampf the Islamofascists are being very honest with us.

Even if you choose to ignore (as many do) their continuous intentional murder of innocent children in Israel and other non-Moslem countries (Beslan, passengers on jetliners, hotel guests in Kenya and Bali, Christians at prayer in Pakistan, the trains in Madrid etc.) you must look at what they do with their own children and tell me how a society that allows babies to be used as a cover for smuggled explosives, encourages 14 year olds to blow themselves up in crowds of innocent bystanders and takes the body of a an infant who died of natural causes way from its grieving parents so that it can be posed as the victim of an Israeli bombing raid, can be anything other that the prototype of a fascist, totalitarian terror society. The actions of Islamofascist terrorists speak to a total break down of ethical values and a perfect paradigm for what Arendt was talking about when she wrote, “The distinctive feature of totalitarian societies is that everyone, including (in theory, anyway) the dictator, can be sacrificed in the name of a superhuman law, a law of nature or a law of history…,” This, to me is the best, most complete explanation I have yet heard of the state of mind in which a society seduces its children to become suicide bombers .

They are spreading the infection of hatred and bigotry in their media. They are teaching sectarian murder in their schools- not just colleges and high schools but in kindergartens and elementary schools. The obscenity of pictures we see with toddlers dressed up in suicide belts and seven-year-olds with Kalashnikovs surpass child abuse. The glee with which they feed their own children into the terror machine is a crime against humanity.

Now I understood better how a child like my neighbor Amir could have nice parents like Hamid and Haideh and still be carrying such a bloody idea in his little heart. I also see better than I ever could have before how easily Daniel Pearl , Leon Klinghoffer the wheel chair bound tourist shot to death and dumped overboard from the Achille Lauro, Israeli Olympic athletes, schoolchildren on a Jerusalem bus, three thousand office workers, airline passengers pilots, stewardesses and pentagon staff, or even my own daughter (or yours)can become a victim.
It all reminds me of the scene in the movie Goldfinger in which, James Bond is tied to the table and the laser beam is working its way through the steel deck of the table and heading straight for his groin. Bond in an uncharacteristic nervous moment looked up at the villain and said.” I won’t talk” Goldfinger says, “Don’t”. Bond then asks, “Do you expect me to talk?” To which Goldfinger smiles and says, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die.” and leaves.

There should be no reason for anyone in the west to have to ask Al Qeada, Hamas or Hizbolla, “What do you expect of us? The answer will be the same. They would like to distract us by encouraging us to worry about why they hate us- If we want to survive we have to focus on what we can do to thwart their intentions.

For Israel, the spurious arguments about precedence in the land in the post World War II period and the purported Israeli atrocities are absurd on their face. They are equivalent to the latest editions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion published in Saudi Arabia. They are the nonsensical prattling of the totalitarian Beast. Those who listen to its chatter are deaf to the sound of its breath behind them.


Unknown said...

Very well done indeed. I have pointed out that, in the literature on fascism, there has long been a clearly identified type called "clerical fascism." You can find this spelled out in an old book edited by Eugen Weber called "Varieties of Fascism."

I was always a bit annoyed to find people sounding off against the use of "islamofascism" since it had such a distinguished scholarly pedigree (there are several very good books by A. James Gregor that expands the discussion if you're interested).

You've gotten there the hard way, by reasoning it out from first principles, and it's very elegantly done. Thanks.

Michael Ledeen

Jewish Odysseus said...

"Why do they hate us?" Yes, this question really irritates me, too...

YBM, I really like your reference toa "The Beast." It relates to an essay I've been working on about the value of "the hunting instinct" to our civilization. I wd argue that our generally pathetic response to The Beast's attacks is largely due to the atrophy of that ancient instinct. And The Beast senses this, AND GROWS BOLDER.

There is a well-known phenomenon in nature, when a creature like an elephant or buffalo, even a wild boar, goes "rogue." A rogue animal becomes vicious and aggressive to humans: an elephant will hide near fields and then charge out to trample some women trying to pick some manioc. And then move on to the next village, and kill some people there.

There is only one solution to the problem of a rogue animal: it must be killed as soon as possible.

"Why do they hate us?"

After a rogue is killed and examined, almost invariably a very good reason is found for its unusual behavior: a festering bullet wound, worn-out teeth, or impacted barbed thorns in the snout. And yet, when a rogue arises, do we step back and ask, "Why is it angry? Can we do something to address its grievance?"

No, we dispatch a hunter to kill the rogue. The end.

Islamofascists must be seen as "Rogue Muslims." They are out-of-control killers who must be killed so we can all be safe[r]. Of coure, in nature much fewer than one beast in a thousand becomes a rogue...It looks like the rate among Muslims is about one in 10.

By all means, let us set forth to destroy this Beast before it destroys us.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those people who Dr. Ledeen is upset with: I find the term, "Islamofascism," to be so particularistic, partisan, and pejorative that its use becomes counter-productive. The recent use of the counter term by the political Left, "Christofascism," to describe what is center-right and thoroughly democratic views is a case in point: our conservative blogosphere's usage of 'Islamofascism'--to describe the evolved fascism into another homicidal/suicidal ideology in the 21C--will be self-defeating. The term is wonderful as propaganda, but despite Dr. Ledeen's assertion of its academic credibility, it is a term which is too easily trumped by accusations of being an example of Islamophobia.

A better term, I believe, to describe the new form of fascism in Iran is "theofascism." Dr. Ledeen's original term, "clerical fascism" is also accurately descriptive and not so easily discredited as "Islamofascism" will be. Arendt coined "clerico-fascism" in her work on totalitarianism, but her term never caught on.

Perhaps it's simply too late for a more accurate term which will not alienate the political Left from our efforts to effect regime change in Iran. The conservative blogosphere loves "Islamofascism," but I believe its use will eventually become an inhibiting factor to realizing any regime change in Iran.

But if a scholar of Dr. Ledeen's stature wants to keep the description as "Islamofascism,' then so be it. Let's not be surprised, though, when the term is eventually derisively dismissed by apologists for the toxic ideology as being latent Islamophobia.

Warmest regards,
Don Kirk

M. Simon said...

I have quoted liberally from your essay (and some others) in Reality Based.

BTW excellent.

Re: Don Kirk. The Left is not going to get on board. The best that can be hoped for is to move the left more to the right.

Why? Well the left is stuck with more unreason than the right. Proof? They still embrace socialism. A totally discredited economic philosophy. Another case of hope triumphing over experience. i.e. Socialism is faith based. Capitalism is based on experience.

There have been numerous examples of various forms of socialism and they all fail sooner or later. Thus real socialism has never been tried. At the same time capitalism in various forms almost always succeeds. I think there is a clue there.