Thursday, November 01, 2007

Clarification of language

A minor dispute over language has broken out in the blogosphere over the use of the term "Islamofascism." And back in the real world, some objection was raised to "Islamofascism Awareness Week," organized on campuses by David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture. At one point, Binah also objected to this term, although on fairly narrow grounds. Christopher Hitchens defends the term here, and I want to register my basic agreement, with some qualifications.

Sometimes such criticism is both patronizing and ignorant. For example, the pathetic and ridiculous Tony Judt has attacked even the use of, not just "Islamofascism," but the term jihad.

Objection here to "Islamofascism" was in connection to the influence European fascism had on secular Arab nationalism earlier in the 20th century. Secular, modernizing dictators like Nasser, Ghaddafi, and Saddam were under the strong spell of Mussolini and Hitler, as were many of the Third World populist demagogues of the postcolonial era. Later, after the late 1950s, they were seduced by Soviet and other types of Marxism. But such secularist, modern ideologies have been in decline since the 1970s and, in the Arab world, were effectively dead by the time Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.

Hitchens is using "Islamofascism" more as an analogy or parallelism and compares it to clerical fascism, a phenomenon important in Catholic countries from the end of the 19th century until the end of World War Two. Neither created nor approved by the Church, clerical fascism (which is a fair term for someone like Franco) was generally led by more junior and renegade clergy, but mostly by lay Catholics. (Americans should think of Father Coughlin.) Its politics was more strictly reactionary than fascism of the Benito-Adolf type. Insofar as a cross-civilization analogy is possible at all, the shoe fits - on bin Laden, Nasrallah, the Iranian theocracy, et al. The fact that these leaders are often not traditional hierarchs within their religious establishments, but in fact, usurpers and renegades, only reinforces the point.

At a deeper level, all such analogies break down, because we're comparing two different civilizations in crisis, with different histories and different relations between religion and political power. Both claim to represent the Near Eastern monotheistic heritage and both were, in their greatest periods, also strongly influenced by classical Greco-Roman antiquity. But large differences remain. Christianity started as a persecuted minority in the later Roman empire and spread mostly through missions and voluntary conversion. The early Church did fuse with the Roman imperial structure to create what we know today as the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Even then, however, "holy war" was not in their vocabulary until the arrival of Islam. (Christians fought wars, but did not think of them as "holy." War was just another bad thing - like sex or money - in a fallen world controlled by Satan.) Jihad has acquired many meanings over the centuries - from a vague notion of defending Muslims or Islam, to "inner struggle" - but its classical meaning is spreading Islam as a religion and Islamic political rule by force.* Christians picked up the idea of holy war from Muslims and from it eventually formulated the Crusades as both an imitation of jihad and a reaction to it.** Christians only abandoned religious coercion after some centuries of religious wars. Most Christian religious violence historically has been directed at other Christians, not at non-Christians. It usually started with attempts to impose a self-styled orthodoxy, often in alliance with a secular ruler who viewed himself as champion of that orthodoxy.

Muhammad, unlike Moses or Jesus, arrived into his promised land, on this Earth, in command of political power and an army. Ideally, spiritual, political, and military leadership in the Islamic world are fused in one person, a caliph or successor to Muhammad. After a few centuries of their own internal conflicts, Muslims found themselves without a single legitimate caliph, but some form of the ideal has remained even until today.

The modern wave of Islamic radicalism started in the 1920s with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. All radical Islamic groups, figures, and ideas today can trace themselves back to that moment. They're not secularizing or modernizing like Mussolini and Hitler. But they represent a crisis of political and religious reaction, as Muslims stand at the threshold of the modern world - a world largely created by their erstwhile rivals, the Christians, with significant pieces contributed by a despised minority, the Jews.† The Muslim Brotherhood and its derivatives, while rejecting the secularizing component of fascism, welcomed its reactionary and antisemitic features. Later on, the Muslim Brotherhood and its derivatives, while opposed to godless communism, were nonetheless strongly influenced by Soviet antisemitic and anti-Israel propaganda. People aren't always willing to admit where they pick up things.

With such qualifications in mind, "Islamofascism" is fine - imperfect, but it gets the point across, of violent religious reaction that turns into a brutal tyranny if it acquires power. And the term jihad is not only completely defensible, it and its derivatives are precisely the words Islamic radicals themselves use. There's no reason why everyone else can't.
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* That includes its cognates, such as mujahed, one who struggles or fights. A different word, shaheed, originally the Arabic translation of martyros, Greek for "witness," later acquired the connotation of one who dies in spreading Islam or Islamic rule by force.

** The First Crusade was declared in 1095 by Pope Urban II.

† Although many "Christians" in the West nowadays don't think of themselves that way. Some (like Hitchens) even think of themselves as atheists. But civilizational conflict brings out deeper truths. Even if Hitchens and others like him technically are atheists, they're Christian atheists. Anyone who's spent time in the Middle East will understand: over there, your religion is your nationality - it doesn't matter if you are believing or church-going or not. Many Western people have a hard time wrapping their heads around this fact. Five hundred or a thousand years ago, Western people (all Catholics then, except for a small minority of semi-tolerated Jews) would have understood without even thinking about it.

Charles Maurras, the head of the clerical fascist Action Française before World War II, put it perfectly when he admitted to being an atheist, but added that he was a Catholic atheist.

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2 Comments:

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Muslims Against Sharia said...

Muslims Against Sharia congratulate David Horowitz FREEDOM CENTER and Mike Adams, Tammy Bruce, Phyllis Chesler, Ann Coulter, Nonie Darwish, Greg Davis, Stephen Gale, David Horowitz, Joe Kaufman, Michael Ledeen, Michael Medved, Alan Nathan, Cyrus Nowrasteh, Daphne Patai, Daniel Pipes, Dennis Prager, Luana Saghieh, Rick Santorum, Jonathan Schanzer, Christina Sommers, Robert Spencer, Brian Sussman, Ed Turzanski, Ibn Warraq and other speakers on the success of the Islamofascism Awareness Week.

Islamofascism (or Islamism) is the main threat facing modern civilization and ignorance about this threat is astounding. We hope that this event becomes regular and reaches every campus.

A great many Westerners do not see the clear distinction between Islam and Islamism (Islamofascism). They need to understand that the difference between Islam and Islamism (Islamofascism) is the same as the difference between Christianity and Christian Identity Movement (White Supremacy Movement).

Original post

 
At 1:32 PM, Blogger Binah said...

So someone from Muslims Against Sharia left a comment on this posting. I assume this is for real - their organization looks for real. Check it out: http://muslimsagainstsharia.blogspot.com/

 

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