So what if it IS “Islamofascism”?

Lots of debate in the blogosphere recently about President Bush’s use of the term “Islamofascism”, especially since Spencer Ackerman at The Plank argued that the term is harmful because it offends relatively moderate Muslims here in the United States. Drum endorses this view, and today, Mathew Yglesias (subbing for Josh Marshall), makes another pragmatic argument against it. In the comments to Ackerman’s piece, Stephen Schwartz, who originally popularized the phrase in Weekly Standard, gets into a typically blogospheric spitting match with Ackerman.

But even if the description is true, it’s far from clear that it means anything significant as to American foreign policy. If there was any regime with good fascist bona fides, it was Franco’s Spain–which we happily cooperated with for decades, and gave the US air bases. Franco’s party was called the Phalange, and lent its name and its ideology to Lebanese Christians–who were closely allied with Israel during the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The reasons for this, of course, have to do with geopolitics, the relevant power distributions in international politics, and–perhaps most importantly–these regimes’ views of their own self-interest. Using “fascism” in this or any other context doesn’t tell us much about what the United States should do.

I think that as a matter of political theory, there is something to the argument, as radical Islamists share important elements of fascist ideology (notably, an adherence to charismatic leadership, anti-Semitism, romantic reactionary ideology, and most importantly a belief in violence as a value for its own sake), but as a way of thinking about policy, it doesn’t do very much intellectual work. Given that we have a President who doesn’t do very much intellectual work, this should hardly come as a surprise.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

8 thoughts on “So what if it IS “Islamofascism”?”

  1. I'm certainly not an expert on Spanish fascism, but I don't see why the points James mentions should make us doubt that Franco and his movement were fascist, since support from older concervative elements, the monied classes, and the Catholic church all existed to significant degrees in, say, Germany and Italy as well, so they can't be disqualifying factors. What we can learn from Spain (and Paraguay and Argentina) I think is that a fascist government need not be a massively murderous one. In the case of Islam it seems pretty clear to me that the whole thing was based more on name calling and a desire to demonize one's enemies than careful analysis, which is one more reason to ignore it.

  2. I agree with Matt on this, for starters. It's essentially just name-calling and its significance is unrelated to its specific content. Everybody supposedly knows fascism is bad, so if you want to make them think Islam is bad, you link the two verbally. In the same unanchored way, when Brian Bosworth was playing college football the NCAA wouldn't let him do something he wanted to do, so he had a t-shirt made up that said "National Communist Athletic Association." "Communist" for him was just a curse word.
    But I want to raise two other points. First, both communism and fascism had pretty specific and significant economic content. As far as I know, that content is missing in the theocratic flavors of Islam bush was supposedly talking about. They do not propose to organize and govern people according to their economic functions, for instance, and they do not propose to subserve enterprises to the needs of the volk as embodied in the party which controls the state. From the little I know, these are not categories in Islam.
    Second, is it really his position that Islam is bad? The "islamo-fascist" designation is flip-floppy. It could be just a subspecies of Islam he's talking about, or it could be all of Islam. Of course that's one reason why he'd use the term, because these evangelo-fascists love coded and ambivalent messages (remember the Dred Scott reference that bush pulled out of nowhere). But that's also what has the moderate Muslims po'ed. So what Jonathan's calling the pragmatic argument here is much deeper, in my opinion.

  3. Is antisemitism really an IMPORTANT part of fascist idealogy? This was certainly true of the nazi variant, and also though to a lesser extent of those throughout central Europe (Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Lithuania, etc.), but it was a minor part of the Italian and Spanish varieties as far as I am aware. This is not to say that they were not anti-semitic, but it was of a more traditional, less deadly variety, not central to the ideology.
    The Franco regime was apparently quite willing to look the way as Jews entered Spain fleeing the Nazis. They weren't supposed to stay very long, though I recall reading a memoir of someone whose family remained in Spain for a year or more because they couldn't find passage to anywhere willing to accept them.
    I have often heard Jabotinsky's movement characterized as fascist and, while it may not have been good for the Jews, I would be shocked it was antisemitic.

  4. Could it be that the Republican language architects want to connect the misadventures of the Bush administration in the Middle East more to the US occupations of Japan and Germany and less to our cold war policies against communists like the occupation of Vietnam.
    The Republicans seem to be relying on the folk theorem: Fascist ⇒ Good Easy US occupation.

  5. After World War II, international law was rewritten so that the sovereignty of all nations was to respected, the legitimacy of all regimes accepted–except those on the Nazi model. One could argue whether fascism isn't a good deal less virulent than Naziism. But insofar as fascism and Naziism can be assimilated, it's maybe fair to say that the fascist regime are in international law a breed apart, less protected against external intervention than others.
    The Taliban regime never achieved international legitimacy. It was, for instance, recognized only by Pakistan and maybe another stray or two. Internally, it seriously jeopardized the fundamental well-being of most of its citizens. Externally, it made itself a launching pad for terrorist attacks on other nations.
    If the Taliban is exemplary of what those designated by label "Islamo-fascist" actually set about doing when in power, there's an argument in international law for the propriety of the label "fascist."
    (None of this is intended to gainsay the plain fact that in Dearborn Bush's desperate campaign rhetoric is considerably resented and does more harm than good.)

  6. More on Islamic fascism

    Katha Pollitt has an article in the Nation, which gives us a different perspective on the reasons why the use of the expression “Islamic fascism” or “Islamofascism.” Her argument is more political than mine, but it is worth reading. She

  7. The term "Islamofascist" doesn't seem any stupider than "Christianist": the latter term certainly alienates most Christians. Then again, Andrew Sullivan and Mark Kleiman don't generally manifest much interest either in subtle intellectual work or in persuading, as opposed to insulting, their political opponents, so perhaps the criticism of Pres. Bush here is on pont.

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