Uses The Word
Fascism To Mislead
By John Cox
02 October, 2006
The Florida News-Press
As a historian of Nazi Germany,
I have been intrigued by the widespread use of the term "fascist"
in public discourse over the last few weeks. Since early August, the
Bush Administration has undertaken a coordinated campaign to link "fascism"
with political Islam and with Muslim-based opposition to U.S. policy
in the Middle East.
President Bush claimed that
the arrests of terrorist conspirators in England were "a stark
reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists," and
referred to an "Islamic fascism ... totalitarian in nature"
in Lebanon and elsewhere.
This raises the question:
exactly what is fascism? What is served by the application of this term
to Muslim fundamentalists—does this help clarify history or deepen
our understanding of current events, which is the goal of historians
Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding "no." There may
be a superficial resemblance between European fascism of the first half
of the twentieth century—the heyday of those movements—and
al-Qaeda and other such groups. They each subscribe to right-wing beliefs
and favor violence to achieve their ends. But this is about as deep
as the similarities run, and there are many dozens of organizations
and ideologies of recent history that share those broad characteristics.
More instructive are the
many differences between fascism and political, fundamentalist Islam.
Nationalism is always at the center of fascism, while the Islamist groups
seek allegiance along trans-national, religious lines. Groups like Hamas
or Hizbullah do not glorify the state, another defining feature of fascism.
The European fascists (as well as fascist movements in Latin America
and elsewhere) were secular, and only occasionally invoked the symbols
or traditions of religion.
While some fascists, like
Mussolini, harkened back to the glories of Rome, fascism has always
had a modernizing thrust, shrouding its reactionary ideology in rationalism
and science. This also sharply distinguishes it from modern fundamentalist
Islamists, who exalt Islamic law (their interpretation of it, that is)
and long for a return to a "golden age" that never really
Further, the term "Islamic
fascism" implies that this new "fascism" is rooted in
the Islamic faith, which is patently untrue. And finally, we cannot
understand the popular appeal of a group like Hizbullah — which
draws much of its support for its nationalist resistance to Israeli
policy, especially during the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern
Lebanon that ended in 2000 — by simply labeling it "fascist."
There have, however, been
a handful of political movements in the Middle East that did resemble
fascism, such as Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath party. But Hussein's regime
was militantly secular, and it's also worth remembering that its semi-fascist
politics and heinous crimes did not prevent U.S. administrations of
the 1980s from providing it with political and economic support. And
the term "Islamic fascism" encompasses a large variety of
parties and movements that, like Hussein's Ba'athists and bin Laden's
al-Qaeda, have little in common, and are often sharply at odds.
So what is served by the
bandying about of this misleading term? It is hard to avoid the conclusion
that the true aim is simply to inflame opinion, at a time when support
for the war on Iraq is waning. Fewer Americans are willing to accept
the linkage, so often suggested by Cheney and others, between the Sept.
11 attacks and the war in Iraq. The horrifying human costs of this misguided
adventure are also harder for us to ignore. So with the November elections
on the horizon, it's time to try out a new strategy to market the war.
also is being used to bludgeon critics of the administration's war against
Iraq. Invoking the "fascist" menace, Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld recently accused his critics of "moral and intellectual
confusion." He and other Bush spokespeople have linked antiwar
sentiment with the appeasement of Hitler by European diplomats in the
1930s, a particularly outrageous parallel.
More than ever, we need reasoned
and informed debate and reflection. Overheated and cynical oratory does
not help, and we can appreciate the inhumanity of terrorism without
equating it with Hitler. And as a historian, I believe we should try
to learn more about the true nature and crimes of fascism and Nazism
— crimes that are diminished by the indiscriminate use of those
is assistant professor of European history at Florida Gulf Coast University.
Copyright 2006, The News-Press
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