Bill Long 9/2/06
The Latest Republican Buzz Word
Two years ago, in an attempt to discredit the French for their less than hearty support for our invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration orchestrated a campaign of anti-French rhetoric. You remember it. There was even some talk of wanting to replace the word "french fry" with something less descriptive of the potato's origin. Republican politicians fanned out across the country trying to marshal support for the notion that anything French was bad. But, of course, it didn't work. Americans had too much good sense when it comes to cuisine, wine and other pleasures of life to dump references to France because an unpopular Administration was piqued at Paris. So, the Republicans quietly withdrew their criticisms against the French and began to look for more inviting rhetorical targets which would bolster sagging credibility.
Now, the Adminstration has taken the bait of the "neocons" who have been using the "Islamic fascism" or "Islamism is fascistic" or variations of this theme for years in order to try to ramp up support for the war in Iraq and for Republican candidates in the Fall 2006 elections. The attempt to manipulate the electorate is so patent that it is a wonder that even in Salt Lake City, where Donald Rumsfeld used the term or in Pennsylvania, where incumbent Senator Santorum used the phrase, these politicians wouldn't have been laughed out of the house.
The use of this terminology, such as when President Bush talked recently against a "war against Islamic fascism" is vintage Bush, however. It tries to divide people rather than unite them; it seeks to appeal to our fears rather than hopes; it seeks to create the very kind of authoritarian climate which the word was supposed to attack. In fact, one of the reasons why this term will not catch on is that too many people have already accused the Bush Administration of fascistic-type tactics for there to be a credible argument that someone else ought to be condemned for fascism.
The Term's Inappropriateness
If anything needs to be said about why the term is inappropriate to describe some kind of Islam, the following two reasons should suffice. First, the term fascism arose in the context of Western political movements in the 1920s which highlighted the importance of the state over all. Everything needed to be submitted to the authoritarian vision of the "big man" who had put himself or somehow gotten himself in charge of the state. But Islam in our world is not a state-based phenomenon. It is an international phenomenon, indeed a universal one. Its basic principle is the the universality of humanity under the one God, Allah in Arabic. Second, the fascistic movement was secular. It wanted to use the instrumentalities of the modern secular state to suppress dissent and centralize power in the hands of one individual. As can readily be seen, there is no comparison between the fascists of the 1920s and 1930s (usually Mussolini, Franco and Hitler are placed together in this role) and the modern Islamic world. Indeed, most Americans would be hard-pressed to name more than two Islamic leaders in the world. And, furthermore, hasn't the entire effort of the Bush Administration to revise the Patriot Act, for example, been based on the notion that the "modern" terrorism is a stateless philosophy and action?
Thus, as far as I can see, the only reason to connect Islam and fascism is to try to come up with some kind of emotionally-laden term that will energize the American populace to direct its hatred toward the Middle East. Make no mistake about it. The Administration is trying to get us to hate, to muster up every ounce of venom we have to fight people in far-off lands. Some political scientists have argued that the only way that the United States can operate is if it has an enemy. When we had the Soviet Union in the 1940s-1980s we embarked on the longest period of sustained economic growth in our nation's history. Why not substitute the "radical Muslims" or "fascist Muslims" now for the Communists?
I think that our society may have evolved to such an extent, however, that we can try out a different idea. That idea would be that instead of trying to create more conflict in the world, we might actually become the instrument of policies of peace. This might not work, however, because there is so much emphasis in America on acquisition of more goods. Ultimately when the nation wants to acquire more, it has to go and take more from other people. Plato knew this, and laid this out briefly in Book II of the Republic.
The lesson we learned from the late 1990s is that no amount of acquisition satisfies us. We may have a house, but then we want a bigger one. We may have a private plane, but now we want a private jet. In fact, as one person recently told me, within a few months several aircraft companies will come out with private jets, price tag in the range of $1 million (private planes now cost around $125,000-$400,000), so that private individuals can begin to bypass the commercial air traffic system. The desire for acquisition is something that is in direct conflict, I think, with pushing for lasting solutions to problems around the world because the underlying issue, unspoken in all our negotiations, will be, "how much more can we get" as a result of these negotiations? I don't know if the competing value of "doing good" in the world will come to the ascendancy in America, but I believe that it has a growing appeal. The dullest people to talk to at a cocktail party are those who only can speak about redoing their deck or acquiring new goods; the most interesting people are those who are committed to setting up systems elsewhere that might help to identify and solve medical problems or work out peace between hostile peoples. Unfortunately, however, at this moment of our history, we are the ones seeking to divide and take. It is a sad moment for us.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long