Christopher Hitchens: Islamo-Fascism is the right term to useRoundup: Media's Take
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?