[News] Islamic Fascism - The New Hysteria

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Tue Sep 12 12:22:13 EDT 2006


September 12, 2006

Islamic Fascism

The New Hysteria


THE CHIEFTAINS of the never-ending "war on terror" are peddling a 
newly updated enemy: "Islamic fascism."

After British officials claimed in August to have foiled an al-Qaeda 
plot to blow up transatlantic air flights, George Bush said the 
arrests were "a stark reminder that this nation is at war with 
Islamic fascists."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went a step further, citing Adolph 
Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s and accusing administration 
critics of appeasing "a new type of fascism." Likewise, Bush's loyal 
British ally Tony Blair talked about an "arc of extremism"--in a 
"specifically Muslim version"--stretching across the Middle East.

Bush and Co. don't bother with any evidence to back up these sound 
bites--for good reason. The notion of "Islamic fascism" depends on 
lumping together all Islamist organizations--from Lebanon's 
Hezbollah, which, like the government of Iran, is based among Shia 
Muslims, to the ultra-Wahhabist Sunnis of al-Qaeda, which regards 
Shiites as enemies and infidels to be exterminated.

No one seriously attempts to equate the tenants of the Muslim 
religion with the political phenomenon of fascism--historically, an 
extreme right-wing movement of the middle class that aims to smash 
all working-class organization and eliminate democracy. Fascism is 
nationalist and usually virulently racist--with the Nazis' genocidal 
policies the classic example.

Even right-wing ideologue Daniel Pipes cautions against equating this 
with Islam. "I applaud the increasing willingness to focus on some 
form of Islam as the enemy," he pontificated on the 
ultra-conservative Front Page magazine Web site, "but find the word 
fascist misleading. Few historic or philosophic connections exist 
between fascism and radical Islam."

Pipes went on to make the case for joining the war on Islam to his 
pet cause--the Cold War crusade against Communism. But none of the 
warriors-on-terror can answer his objection.

The rhetoric about "Islamic fascism" is a pack of lies--another 
attempt to repackage the increasingly unpopular "war on terror" by 
identifying a current enemy of the U.S. government with something 
that everyone can be counted on to oppose.

Identifying latter-day enemies with the Nazis a longstanding public 
relations tool of the U.S. government.

Washington politicians claimed that Saddam Hussein--whose secular 
Baathist Party was a sworn enemy of the Islamists--was the "new 
Hitler" before both the 1991 and 2003 wars on Iraq. Serbia's Slobodan 
Milosevic became a Hitler shortly before Bill Clinton launched the 
NATO war over Kosovo.

Even the radical populist Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, toppled in 
a U.S.-engineered coup in 2004, was branded a "new Hitler"--by none 
other than former Sen. Jesse Helms, the arch-racist who kept up close 
ties with Aristide's enemies in Haiti, the FRAPH death squads, which 
actually do resemble fascism.

Indeed, no U.S. political leader ever used the Hitler slur against 
the U.S.-supported right-wing regimes that really did embrace 
elements of Nazism--for example, the racist apartheid regime in South 
Africa or the Indonesian military dictatorship under Gen. Suharto.

And it's worth noting that when U.S. ideologues need to hark back to 
a war that was popular to demonize a current enemy, they have to go 
back more than 60 years to the Nazis and the Second World War.

* * *

THE HISTORY of Islam doesn't set it apart as more oppressive or 
violent than other religions.

On the contrary, the message preached by Mohammed bore many 
similarities to Christianity and Judaism, the other religions that 
predominated when Islam was founded and began to flourish in the 
towns and cities on the Arabian Peninsula (today dominated by Saudi 
Arabia) at the beginning of the 7th century.

In contrast to the rival deities of the nomadic herders, Mohammed and 
his followers looked to a single god (Allah in Arabic) and put 
forward a broad code of beliefs and obligations for believers, many 
of which accorded with Christianity and Judaism. Like other major 
religions, Islam stresses a respect for order, but also social 
justice--the poor are to be protected against oppression, but the 
rich are embraced, too, so long as they show charity.

Islam's early history does differ in one respect. The early Jews and 
early Christians were persecuted victims of empire, but within the 
lifetime of Mohammed, armies marching under the banner of Islam began 
a military campaign that quickly spread the religion across a huge 
area of the Middle East and beyond, eventually stretching from Spain 
in the west to South Asia in the east.

Right-wingers point to this to claim that Islam is uniquely 
militaristic. But the successes of Mohammed's followers were, first 
and foremost, political conquests against outposts of the two great 
empires bordering Arabia--Byzantium and Persia. Jews and Christians, 
who often made up the majority of the urban populations, welcomed the 
Arab armies, since the Muslim conquerors respected their religious beliefs.

For centuries to come--while Western Europe remained stuck in what 
historians call the "Dark Ages"--the Islamic world, though far from 
egalitarian, was the center of intellectual inquiry, preserving and 
advancing the scientific breakthroughs of the ancient world.

Against this backdrop, the claim that Islam is more prone to violence 
than other religions is obviously false.

The history of Christianity appears especially grim by 
comparison--from its bloody "crusades" in the Middle East; to the 
Catholic Church's sanction for the Spanish Inquisition to use torture 
to convert Muslims and other "heretics"; to its hand-in-glove 
relationship to all kinds of political tyrannies, including the 
fascist regimes in Italy, Germany and especially Franco's Spain.

Bush's hypocrisy in condemning Islamist "extremism" stands out in 
especially sharp relief, too. This is the man who has continually 
invoked his own God in defense of the "war on terror" launched after 
September 11--including using the word "crusade," surely a calculated 
insult to Muslims.

"Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and 
we know that God is not neutral between them," Bush said in his first 
post-9/11 speech to Congress. As Socialist Worker pointed out at the 
time, had Osama bin Laden uttered those words, he would have been 
denounced for inciting terrorism.

* * *

UNFORTUNATELY, A number of radicals have accepted elements of the 
Washington-sponsored campaign against Islam. One especially potent 
issue is Islam's treatment of women.

Islamic doctrine does maintain that women are the inferiors of 
men--and mandates codes of behavior and conditions for women that, 
especially under certain currents, range to the barbaric. This is one 
of the most obviously backward aspects of Islam.

But there should be no debate about the fact that Christianity--in 
whose name women were burned at the stake as witches not so long 
ago--is not fundamentally different in its attitude toward women.

If the position of women in Western countries today is more advanced, 
this is not because of the influence of Christianity, but in spite of 
it--the result of political struggles that won new rights for women 
and contributed to a growing secularization of society.

The political and social gains achieved by women were always in 
opposition to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and other brands 
of Christianity. And by the same token, the rollback of women's 
rights over the last several decades is a direct consequence of the 
growing power of a self-identified Christian Right, for which 
enforcement of women's inferior status is a high priority.

Thus, when conservatives like George Bush complain about Islam's 
treatment of women, no one should forget their attacks on women's 
rights at home, or their real motives in "supporting" them abroad.

Liberating women from the tyranny of the Taliban government in 
Afghanistan became one of the chief ideological justifications for 
the first stop in the U.S. "war on terror" following September 11. 
But the new regime installed by the U.S.--dominated by the warlords 
of the Northern Alliance notorious for their record of mass rape and 
murder of women--enforced conditions that are little changed, if at 
all, for women.

Such hypocrisy didn't start with the Bush administration. As 
Socialist Worker columnist Sharon Smith wrote in her book Women and 
Socialism, "Imperialists and their apologists have claimed European 
cultural superiority as a justification for dominating Muslim 
societies since colonialism began...

"During the British occupation of Egypt, British Consul General Lord 
Cromer declared that Egyptians should 'be persuaded or forced into 
imbibing the true spirit of Western civilization.' Cromer targeted, 
'first and foremost,' Islam's 'degradation of women'..." But this 
champion of women's rights in Egypt was, back in England, a "founding 
member and sometimes president of the Men's League for Opposing 
Women's Suffrage."

In the face of such double standards, past and present, it is 
understandable that Muslim organizations--supported by men and 
women--would embrace and defend Islamic religious practices, viewing 
this as an act of resistance to imperialism.

* * *

IT IS also important to distinguish between different developments in 
Islam and how the currents known today as "fundamentalism" first arose.

The first "fundamentalist" Islamic state didn't appear until the 20th 
century, when Saudi Arabia was established, with the backing of 
Britain, after the First World War. The Wahhabi sect unified warring 
tribal leaders behind a religious movement that claimed to be 
"purifying" Islam. Its interpretation of Islamic law, imposed under 
the new state, included stoning women who commit adultery, amputating 
the limbs of thieves and public beheadings for other crimes.

Wahhabism became the inspiration for Afghanistan's Taliban, a 
favorite target of the Islam-bashers. But Saudi rulers often escape 
criticism--since they are crucial allies of the West.

Likewise, when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the U.S. armed, 
trained and supported the Islamists of the mujahadeen--among them, a 
Saudi businessman named Osama bin Laden.

Another example of Western support for Islamist forces is Palestine. 
Israel backed the Islamist predecessor groups that gave rise to the 
militant Hamas organization--as a hoped-for counterweight to the 
secular nationalist Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Obviously, that relationship has changed. With the failure and 
decline of Arab nationalist organizations--symbolized by the PLO's 
commitment to the Oslo negotiations that conceded on many Palestinian 
demands and by the corruption and authoritarianism of nationalist 
forces where they did attain power--Islamist movements have gained 
support for their willingness to organize a resistance to U.S. and 
Israeli power in the region.

Thus, Hamas' wide support among Palestinians is not primarily a 
product of its commitment to Islamic religious tenants, but because 
Hamas represents a political alternative that has been willing to 
stand up for Palestinians' national aspirations.

Likewise, Hezbollah in Lebanon--another U.S. and Israeli 
scapegoat--has growing support beyond its base among Shia Muslims 
because of its role in driving out the Israeli occupation in 2000 and 
its success in resisting a renewed assault this summer.

Another case in point is Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who 
won election last year as a representative of the conservative Shia 
Islam establishment. Ahmadinejad is bitterly denounced by Western 
political leaders as a reactionary, especially because of his fiery 
denunciations of Israel, which have included anti-Semitic slurs such 
as questioning whether the Nazi Holocaust of Jews took place.

Middle East experts Juan Cole and Michael Schwartz warn that the U.S. 
media coverage is regularly distorted to make Ahmadinejad's speeches 
seem for more anti-Semitic than they actually are.

But whether or not this is the case, it is clear that Ahmadinejad's 
support within Iran rests on his willingness to challenge the U.S. 
and Israel. His campaign promised some populist reforms, but attacks 
on workers and a crackdown on political opponents after his election 
sent his popularity plunging. He has only rebounded somewhat by 
talking tougher about the U.S. and Israeli wars in the Middle East.

Thus, the support for this representative of conservative Islamist 
orthodoxy in Iran is based on his opposition to imperialism, not 
popular enthusiasm for the right-wing aspects of his political program.

There are many other examples of Islamist political forces and the 
varying degrees of their dual character. But even a brief look is 
enough to dispel the myths about "Islamic fascism."

When the rulers of the American political establishment start 
denouncing fascism, don't be deceived--they're out to promote an 
agenda of imperial conquest. No one who opposes U.S. wars and 
occupations should concede an inch to this lie.

Alan Maass is the editor of the 
<http://www.socialistworker.org/>Socialist Worker. He can be reached 
at: <mailto:alanmaass at sbcglobal.net>alanmaass at sbcglobal.net

The Freedom Archives
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