Monday, February 4, 2008

Islamofascism, a misnomer?

The odd conjunction of these two words--one a religious identity, and another a totalitarian, radical-nationalist, one-party governmental philosophy--seems to have dramatically increased in recent years, and it doesn't take a dedicated researcher to figure out that the term 'Islamofascism' is being promoted by Western right-wingers in order to frame a variety of political debates.

I can make some assumptions as to why conservative hawks find the term useful. Firstly, it tries to make connections between our current 'war on terror' and only seemingly untainted war effort of modern times, WWII. The advantages are rather obvious: comparing the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous minor offensives, to a war often seen as a grand conflict between 'good and evil', sainted for ending the genocide of Jews and Gypsies and murders of gays, deified in various novels and Hollywood blockbusters. If you make a comparison between our current predicament and the moral ambiguities of the Cold War--of blanketing Vietnamese countryside with napalm and Agent Orange, of bolstering actual fascist dictators in places like Nicaragua, Pakistan, Indonesia as long as they fought the commies for us--a conservative is likely to find no such high ground with which to excuse the methods of our anti-terrorist struggle. In his 'Axis of Evil' speech, Dubya was clearly trying to steer our metaphorical definitions of his conflict past the Cold War and back to our black and white memories of WWII. Iraq, Iran, and North Korea... two Eurasian and one East Asian nation served up on a plate, anyone?

But where to find this so-called Islamo-fascism? The presence of Islamic theocratic influence within a country, including the oft-mentioned Shariah law-system, does not necessarily mean that we can confine that country's government within this term, 'Islamo-fascism'. Do we consider the (single party, single religion, opaque voting procedures) Vatican to be a Christian Fascist state?

So let us look at a case by case basis:

One of my Republican friends once tried to convince me that the war in Iraq was justified in order to end Saddam's rule. That is perhaps the only justification that I do accept for that invasion, in fact, but my friend was not satisfied that I just accept Saddam as a despot... he also claimed ties between the Nazis and the Baathists. Again we see this obsession the Neo-cons have with trying to connect WWII and the present. Saddam, however, certainly was a fascist by most definitions, including one-party rule by Baathists who persecuted the (conservative, religious) Shiite majority and conducted a genocidal 'Arabisation' campaign against the Kurdish northern regions. Saddam was also a secular authority, and certainly not looking to share power with imams or allow shariah (rather than himself) to dictate laws. No Islamofascist to be found there... only an ordinary, garden-variety fascist along the lines of Mussolini or Mugabe. If anything, by toppling the secular dictator, the US may have all but assured a democratically-elected theocracy in Iraq's future.

Speaking of Iraq's future prospects, how should we term Hamas, the victor of democratic elections in the Palestinian territories? Islamist, they certainly are, but for the moment the Fatah party (currently-beloved of Israel and the West) is equally culpable in what has become more of a cold civil war. Also, if reports are to be believed, the Palestinians elected Hamas not so much for its radical 'foreign' policies, but for its practical and uncorrupt management of domestic services. It seems unlikely that the Palestinians would give Hamas a mandate to form a fascist movement, despite the dire problems that beset Palestinian nationalism. Israel could always aid the process of a fascist formation, of course, by imposing economic sanctions on the Palestinian state.

How about Syria? Fascist, but secular. Libya? Fascist, suposedly reforming, opposed by the Islamic radicals. Egypt? Fascist, secular. Democratic reforms, if instituted, are likely to benefit Islamic radicals just as in Palestine. Turkiye? Power is divied between a secular/fascist military establishment and a democratically elected, mildly-islamic party. The Central Asian republics are a variety of fascist states, and the Persian gulf is a string of monarchies. Those monarchies, emirates, and Pakistan--US supported--are perhaps as close as any to being 'islamofascist' states.

Iran might almost fit the bill, but as I mentioned earlier, I think there's a distinction between a theocracy and a fascist state. Certainly the theocracy of the Ayatollahs weighs in on the semi-democratic processes, a system where only give-and-take between moderate-conservatives, and arch-conservatives is allowed (quite similar to what Bush had in mind for America, it seems).

The fact is that fascism, totalitarian states of one sort or another (Venezuela is an example of a socialist sort of fascism, Robert Mugabe is an example of a nominally-democratic one) exist all over this world. Undeveloped countries are particularly susceptible: for lack of competing power bases such as free media, established centers of learning, private corporations, and religious establishments, and also because there has been no history of a powerful and free-thinking local role-models for citizens of those countries to draw on, various manners of imperial and colonial governments did their best to discourage democratic development.

So why should we worry about this 'Islamofascism'? Iran is hardly the worst human-rights offender in the world, despite the (impeachable) Mr. Ahmadinejad. Myself, I'm far more worried about the spread of plain, old, garden-variety fascism, of the sort that both Russia and China have managed to hold on to. The Russo-Chinese brand is fast catching on a role-model for countries from Central Asia to Central America, namely because it isn't Muslim, and thus isn't thrust as much into the limelight. Venezuela, Myanmar, and Zimbabwe are all just offshoots of the model, and for as long as the Russo-Chinese model can prove economically successful, the West is going to have much less success in promoting democratic government and liberal freedoms abroad. At the very least, the West needs a better PR/Marketing team than the last White House provided.

No comments: