Tuesday, 23 October 2007

A look at 'Islamofascism'

In a recent Slate article, Christopher Hitchens tried his hardest to defend what has so far only served as a term for political — not objective or scholarly — use: 'Islamofascism', a mix of Islam, which some people fear, and fascism, which virtually everyone dislikes (I'd like to think so, at least). The word is a neologism, a pejorative term has taken the political right by storm.

Let's just look at definitions for a minute; maybe the dictionary can help sort this out. The OED defines "Islam" as:

noun 1 the monotheistic religion of the Muslims, regarded by them to have been revealed through Muhammad as the Prophet of Allah. 2 the Muslim world.

and "fascism" as:
noun 1 an authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government. 2 extreme right-wing, authoritarian, or intolerant views or practice.

Adolph Hitler was a fascist; he advocated a specific system of government; Osama Bin Laden leans towards a theocracy following a twisted version of Islam (his terrorist orginization, Al Qaeda, and its followers are but fractured cells of fear- and hate-fueled Muslims who use terrorism to accomplish political and (pseudo-)religious means). But both figures inspire fear and hatred, making 'Islamofascism'. It is more than a stretch to call Al Qaeda fascist. Even the semi-theocracy of Iran probably couldn't be considered fascist.

Fascism is a centralized, authoritarian system of government; fascists are those who advocate such a government. So how are Osama and his crazed followers fascist? 'Islamofacism' is clearly not the right term to describe these terrorists. As despicable as they are, as a whole, the terrorists we are talking about are neither advocating what could be considered fascist governance nor are part of such a government.

The person who claims to have first used the word, Stephen Schwartz, wrote in the Weekly Standard, a conservative American publication, professing to the word's lack of objectivity while explaining it in his terms. Schwartz put the meaning of 'Islamofascism' in clear terms:
In my analysis, as originally put in print directly after the horror of September 11, 2001, Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology.

Why not just use Islamic extremism, or a more descriptive and accurate term than 'Islamofascism'? Because 'Islamofascism' (yes I will continue to put it in inverted quotes) is yet another political buzzword in the 'war on terror's lingual campaign towards spin supremacy.

There always has to be a 'war on' something. War is an emotionally-evocative and politically-charged word, as is terrorism (see definitions). 'Islamofascism' is yet another way to tie Islamic extremism to the so-called war on terror; it's just another lingual technique with political motives that advocates use to slant the debate (see surge), or as Jack Shafer, also writing in Slate, calls it, 'unspeak'.

US President Bush has used the word to describe Muslim terrorists, which inflamed religious sentiment in areas of the world that often need no more inflammation — i.e. the word was perceived as advocating a 'war on Islam', another reason against its use. In addition, calling the extremists a "fundamentalist empire" as Bush did is entirely misleading. There is no one enemy, despite what the White House would want us to believe. The conservative historian Niall Ferguson has denounced the term as "misleading" because it is meant to connect the "Great War" of WWII with the non-war of the 'war on terrorism'; it is an emotional, feel-good idiom that also serves for political use.


Wil Robinson said...

Great post...

I've been concerned with the same political use of the word.

It seems anything related to fascism or Nazis is a quick and easy fix to label something "bad." All you have to do is compare something to Nazis, Hitler or fascism and everyone jumps on board and declares it to be evil, solely on the basis of a label.

Do you ever get the feeling that George Orwell is just laughing at all of this?

clearthought said...

Nice to see you're back, Wil!

Yes political labeling has reached its high point; it's almost propaganda at this point.

Speaking of Orwell... George Orwell is all the more relevant now as he was in the early- and mid-20th century. Orwell's words on political language as well as other aspects of the state are still important.