Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The trouble with the "Islamo-fascism" label

Wrong War, Wrong Word: a writer takes issue with the use of "Islamo-Fascism" to describe a disparate collection of Islamic movements that have little to do with "Fascism" beyond some totalitarian aspects common to all. I'm inclined to agree for the most part.

I disagree that the disparate Islamic groups have nothing in common, and I've used a term that I originally picked up from a writer named Coral Bell to describe what I perceive them as having in common: jihadists.

Unlike a concept of "Islamo-fascism", a concept of jihadism immediately places context in a Middle East setting rather than in an inaccurate context reminiscent of Europe in the late 1930s. The use of "jihad" has similar connotations to the "Islamo-" in "Islamo-fascism" of treating the extremism of these groups as a product of Islam itself, which is something that the Wrong Word article thinks is in appropriate, but I think implying that such extremism is derived from Islam is appropriate because I think it's true.

Let me explain that: it is true that obeying "the tenets of Islam" has brought a great deal of peace and civilisation. It is also true that obeying "the tenets of Islam" has bought death and destruction. "The tenets of Islam" are not set in stone, and are subject to interpretation. While both the opponents of Islam - those who think Islam itself is intrinsically evil - and Muslims themselves may claim that there is a single standard to which all Muslims adhere, this simply isn't true in reality. If it were true, there would be no differing sects of Islam.

So while Muslims of a peaceful bent can claim that "true Islam" doesn't condone death and destruction, other Muslims can take the tack of focusing on the more extreme Quranic verses and Hadiths demanding death to the infidels (which they interpret as "all who disbelieve") and claim that Islam not only condones violent extremism, but demands it. Both are Muslims, even though their beliefs are mutually incompatible, and I think it appropriate to describe the extremist sects of Islam as "jihadist" since they are Islamic, and the concept of militant "jihad" is the common thread linking their extremist opposiion to things they consider un-Islamic (which in some cases can include other Muslims, but that's a subject for another time).

"Jihadism" I think also moves things away from the Bush Administration's dangerous approach of viewing military action against "Islamo-Fascism" as the only appropriate response ( as it was when confronted with Fascism), and into a sphere where the conflict is viewed as an ideological one rather than a purely military one. This allows for a more measured response more in line with the earlier days of the Cold War rather than foolishly thinking - as the neoconservatives do - that the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in the 1980s was triggered by solely Reagan's militant stance rather than being primed by the decades of ideological undermining of the Soviet system which the West had very patiently performed.

The groups that I would call "jihadist" are the following: President Ahmedinejad and his supporters in Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad (sheesh, look at the very name, people!), the Wahabbist/Salafist sect of Islam. Obviously there are important differences between the groups, but they all share a viewpoint in which "Islam" is under attack, and it must be defended by any means necessary. I presume the exact nature of how "must be defended" translates into action would illustrate the differences between the various jihadist groups more clearly.

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