Thursday, August 24, 2006
We Get Letters
I have always thought that Islamofascist was a very foolish way to frame these types of discussion because it implies a false similarity where none exists. The same is true with how Islamic fundamentalism attempts to make a false comparison to Christian fundamentalism. As for Islamist, it's a made-up term that is so broad that it encompasses everyone from bin Laden to the Turkish AKP but is still too narrow to include Saddam Hussein.
One of my suggestions would be that in using labels in public discourse the terms should serve to illuminate rather than obfuscate the discussion (especially if one wishes to end comparisons to WW2). While I think fascism is an acceptable enough description to apply to Baathism, I think that a far better way to go about labels is to start using terms like Khomeinism, Qutbism, Salafism, and so on. Saying that someone is a Khomeinist, for instance, tells you a great deal about their political views, how they think society should be ordered, and so on. Not so much with the Islamofascist label. During the Cold War people were able to understand and recognize distinctions between Trotskyism, Leninism, Stalinism, and Maoism within communism even if they didn't view these ideologies as being all that different WRT how various communist groups and states viewed their capitalist opponents.
The writer makes a good point about the broad brush approach, and how it muddies, not clarifies, the picture. It succeeds in creating a category that roughly translates into "Muslims with authoritarian views we don't like." While in some ways the groups most frequently included under the "Islamofascist" umbrella do share some traits in common with "fascism" per se, there are, more importantly, fundamental differences in the world views, tactics, aspirations and objectives of these various actors.
Failing to differentiate highlights our ignorance and creates the impression that we don't take these differences seriously. We should, though. For one, if we don't, we risk alienating many potential allies in the Muslim community for no discernible value in return. We begin to resemble the caricature of the mobs that attacked Sikhs in the wake of 9/11 because of the head gear that is vaguely reminiscent of that worn in some Muslim cultures, and of the nation led by the President who signed off on an invasion of Iraq without knowing about the fact that the Sunni and Shiite sects even existed. In short, it undermines our credibility by reinforcing the image of contempt and disdain for an entire group of people numbering over a billion - a group whose cooperation is kind of important at this time.
Further, these differences represent an opening for us to deal with each group separately, as different means can be employed to contain, counter and deal with the particular ideologies, and manifestations thereof, that run counter to our interests. In some cases, it may even be possible to use the differences themselves as leverage.This lack of clarity, however, is telling of the motives of many who use the "Islamofascist" phrase: conflating groups like al-Qaeda with groups like Hamas has its advantages if one is looking to compel a certain course of action vis-a-vis Hamas. But is that the best vantage point from which to make informed strategic decisions? I don't believe so.