"Islamist" or "Islamic fascists"?

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In my last entry, I made a (very brief) argument for referring to Islamist radicals as "Islamic fascists." Han, an astute commenter who has obviously thought through this issue, demurred: he thinks "Islamic fascism" is an attempt to cram their non-Western ideology into our own Western categories.

Below is a response to his objection -- not a refutation, because I don't think we disagree about the nature of Islam, or the threat that Islamic radicalism poses to the West. Han's words are in italics.

I define historical fascism as a theory of organising society premised on supreme authority invested in one leader,

Al Qaeda's avowed goal is to re-establish an Islamic caliph, ruling all Muslims around the world. Bin Laden probably saw himself in that role of supreme leader; we have to assume that it remains one of their objectives.

regulation of industry,

Point well taken: besides oil, the Muslim world (particularly the Arab part of it) has little industry worth mentioning. But presumably the economic sphere would not fall outside the caliph's authority.

a generous welfare programme,

Hamas and Hezbollah have extensive welfare infrastructures. To a lesser extent, Al Qaeda was known for its almsgiving until it was forced to keep a much lower profile.

cross-class solidarity based upon nationalism,

Islamic radicalism fits the bill here, too -- they just have a different idea of what constitutes a "nation." More on that in a bit.

and nationalisation/single party control of civic organisations.

Again, it's difficult to imagine that a caliph (or any Islamist religious authority) would consider civic organizations to fall outside his purview.

The universalist aspirations of the Islamists just doesn't fit the bill. They are not nationalists, and they seem generally unconcerned with the problems of industrial society that Fascism (along with Communism, Social Democracy, &c.) was attempting to solve.

Islamism is very much a reaction to modern industrial (and information-age) society. In part, it derives its legitimacy among the Muslim masses because it poses as the defender of traditional values and family structures, much as Mussolini and Hitler clothed their radical intentions in conservative garb.

Unlike the fascists, who believed in control of church by the state, the Islamists seem to believe in control of the state by the mosque.

I respectfully disagree with this statement, for the same reason that I believe the Islamists are nationalists. Their conception of national identity is based, not on blood, language, or soil, but solely on whether an individual accepts their interpretation of the Koran. They do not believe in "state sovereignty" because God alone is sovereign and does not delegate that authority to earthly powers, contrary to what St. Paul said about the role of the state as God's inperfect instrument of justice on earth.

Further, they make no distinction between "state" and "mosque" because the Koran makes no distinction between divine law and civil law. Jesus said that we owe ultimate allegiance to God, but we have temporal duties to the state as long as we are living. As Pryce-Jones points out, the Koran sanctions Islam and the family as the only two divinely-blessed institutions. There's no room for "civic institutions" such as unions, associations, corporations, etc. They might exist, but to a Muslim they have no real meaning or value in themselves, and they all must be ultimately subsumed by religious authorities or families.

...[W]e ought to accept the Islamists' claims that they represent true Islam....The left likes to imagine that despite what they say, the Islamists are really just doing some class struggle, and the right likes to imagine that it is fighting the Cold War again.

Correct on all counts. The secular Left is completely incapable of understanding radical Islam, because of its cramped and inadequate view of what human beings are. The Right would like to recast Islamism as Marxism because 1) it was a recent enemy and the public remembers it; 2) right-wingers are sensitive to the charge that they are trying to start a "religious war"; and 3) we eventually beat the commies, so it's comforting to think that by applying similar strategies, we can beat the Islamists.

As to whether the Islamic radicals represent "true Islam," Han may well be correct to agree with them. We might be disagreeing about nothing more than ideological forensics: he thinks the tendencies which I describe as "fascist" are intrinsic to Islam, and contain no imported ideas because they were there from the beginning. I think the tendencies were there from the start, but they were mixed with Western fascist ideas in the first half of the twentieth century, making the nasty brew that has wreaked its vile mayhem around the world.

Ultimately, we do agree on one thing, unless I'm misreading Han -- that Islamic radicalism, by whatever name, is a totalizing movement that represents an existential threat to the West.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Eric Johnson published on August 13, 2006 8:56 AM.

Calling Islamic fascists by their rightful name was the previous entry in this blog.

Pro-terrorist Demonstration in Lafayette Park (August 13, 2006) is the next entry in this blog.

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