Thursday, August 17, 2006

I’m not calling Conservatives "Fascists", but…

Today’s Washington Post has a thoughtful editorial by David Ignatius titled, “Are We Fighting ‘Islamic Fascists’”. He expresses a discomfort with the term currently being used by Bush, Snowe, Fox News, et al. I, too, am uncomfortable with the term, though not for the same reasons.

Ignatius’ contention is that the term implies that all Muslims are Fascists. While that would certainly be wrong (and silly) I don’t think that’s really being implied, though I think it’s indisputable that this administration has benefited from those Americans who cannot distinguish between Muslims of different sects, political backgrounds, and national origins. (Well, they’ve benefited when those folks are voters or soldiers. They’ve suffered when those people are their own policy makers, as have we all.) I don’t think that these officials and pundits actually believe that all Muslims are Fascists or are trying to make us think so. In fact, I think they’re trying, half-heartedly perhaps, to draw a distinction between the Muslims they like and those they don’t. If I’m not mistaken, the term was coined by Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for Slate and various other publications. Hitchens himself is a former Troskyist (he argues that “Troskyite” is a pejorative) turned Neo-Con (shouldn’t that be a pejorative by now?). He is far too educated and cosmopolitan to believe all Muslims are Fascists. I have to wonder, though, if he chose to call these terrorists Muslim Fascists rather than Muslim Stalinists because, though a Troskyist would have every reason to detest Stalin (perhaps even more that Hitler) the notion that these terrorists might be motivated by any breed of communism hits a little close to home. I think the administration would have loved to sell us the Muslims Stalinists label, as it would have cemented a connection between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein that never existed outside a political theory class. Also, bringing back elements of the Red Scare would have reinforced their domestic agenda, which benefits from painting any government action intended to mitigate the widening income inequality as a sure path to Soviet-style damnation. So why go with “Fascists” rather than “Stalinists”?

For one thing, there’s the anti-Semitic connotation. These “Muslim Fascists” are certainly anti-Semitic and benefit from blaming Israel for all the woes of the Middle East. From an academic point of view, there isn’t a whole lot of distinction to be made between the anti-Semitism of Fascism and that of Stalinism. While the Nazi breed of Fascism was the most overt in its anti-Semitism, Stalin may be responsible for as many Jewish deaths as Hitler, and not all Fascist were as obsessed with Judaism as Hitler was. Franco gave refuge to Jews who escaped Germany because he said he would rather face Hitler for helping Jews than face God for not helping them. However, in modern American political parlance “fascism” and “anti-Semitism” have become almost synonymous, largely because of the manner in which we’ve been taught to see WWII. We’re told it was a war to stop Hitler from killing Jews, despite the facts that we didn’t know the extent of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism was rampant in the United States at the time. Given this false narrative, it’s inconvenient to remember Stalin’s treatment of Russian Jews, since he was on our side in that war.

Are the “Muslim Fascists” more like European Fascists than Stalinists? It’s not that cut and dry. A large part of the ethos of Muslim fundamentalism is the argument against Western decadence and appeal to economic populism. Iran’s President Ahmadinejad isn’t a sloppy dresser by accident. It’s a calculated move to show of his common man bona fides. This harkens back to Stalinism’s communist roots more than Hitler’s contention that the Jews weren’t giving Germans a big enough piece of the pie. Saddam Hussein was public about his admiration for Stalin.

The definition for Fascism that Ignatius uses does make a case for the term. He sites Ernst Nolte’s definition: a “resistance to transcendence”. Stalin, unlike the Fascists, was not opposed to change. He wanted to force change and maintain an iron grip on the nature of that change. This might be the only distinction between the far left and the far right, and it ultimately reinforces the notion that the political spectrum is circular, because Fascism’s desire to prevent change at all costs does impose a controlled change in the same way Stalin’s forced “progress” imposed a controlled change. The myth that change can be prevented makes Fascism into Stalinism, and the myth that change can be controlled causes them both to fail. Muslim fundamentalism carries this same virus. It, too, is a doomed political project. Change (though not necessarily some positive Hegelian progress) is an inevitability, and it doesn’t matter if you are from Germany, Russia, or Iran, it refuses to be managed, forced, controlled, or prevented.

But if Fascism is a “resistance to transcendence”, shouldn’t that term apply to American conservatism? So much of the conservative philosophy is built on the notion that we should be moving backwards; the appeal to “traditional values”, the call for originalist constitutional interpretation, the demands for older definitions of marriage and Christmas (though very specific and not the oldest). If anything, Neo-Conservatism saves Conservatism from being Fascism; while conservatives reject change, neo-conservatives demand exporting their “traditional” values in the form of an imperialist project. Neo-conservatives are the Stalinist wing of the more Fascist party in American politics and they’ve been given the reigns of international policy while the more traditional conservatives have held on to domestic policy. It’s Fascism at home and Stalinism abroad. Seen in this light, of course this administration doesn’t want to paint Muslim extremists as “Stalinists” or the current Iraq conflict would be battle of Muslim Stalinists vs. American Stalinists, and that has Crusades written all over it. Instead, they want to paint it as a conflict with Muslim Fascists because, even if the administration doesn’t admit that they have imposed a Stalinist takeover of a country that never attacked us, they can still take comfort in the fact that Stalin was successful against German Fascism. Perhaps the administration’s refined goal in Iraq is less a free-market utopia and more a stable reflection of Cold War East Germany. ‘Cause the world needs another one of those.

Of course, the success of post WWII West Germany and Japan was not due to forced and controlled change replacing forced and controlled rejection of change, but to an embrace of modernity and liberalism. Is it any wonder, then, that this administration has failed so miserably in Iraq? How can the representatives of a party that resist “transcendence” at home successfully sell liberalism in Iraq? How can they convince Iraqis we’ve come to bring freedom while trying to limit freedoms at home through fear mongering and flagrant violations of the law and Constitution? When I hear about unauthorized wiretapping and signing statements that declare that Congress’ will is to be ignored by the executive branch, I don’t think to myself, “Now those are the people who will make me free of tyranny.” So why should an Iraqi citizen, all too knowledgeable about the nature of tyranny, welcome an invading army helmed by these people? If the administration’s goal is to make Iraq slightly more modern and free than Hussein’s government, I think the Iraqi people can be forgiven for holding onto their flowers and candy as the tanks rolled in.

But there’s one more reason why the administration and its neo-con supporters favor the term “Muslim Fascist” to “Muslim Stalinist”; it’s got more punch. I expect that, in the privacy of the Oval Office, Bush still thinks of “Muslim Fascists” as the “Bad Muslims”, and thinks of family friends from the House of Saud as the “Good Muslims” despite their human rights record. But if he’d started publicly referring to “Bad Muslims”, besides the inaccurate inference that he’s calling all Muslims “Bad” (remember, Saudi Prince Bandar is Bandar Bush, so I’m sure our president thinks he’s more with us than against us), it would reinforce the entirely accurate notion that Bush is a simpleton. So what term could the conservative punditocracy come up with that Bush could use instead of “Bad”. “Stalinist” is just too academic. Plus, we’re in a hot war, and it’s making the cold one look good by comparison, so why remind people about that. No, “Fascist” is certainly “Bad” made over.

That’s why I won’t call conservatives or Republicans “Fascists”. It’s not because they don’t fit Nolte’s definition of resisting transcendence. If that were enough then the Republican party would be the American Fascist Party just as much as Muslim extremists are Muslim Fascists. But the word has connotations that go beyond its technical definitions, and obscure the point. It implies evil. Resisting transcendence is certainly philosophically bankrupt and is evidence of ignorance, but that’s not necessarily evil (just stupid), so why conflate the two ideas? In cases where I think there is a genuine immorality, I’ll just say so. Dick Cheney strikes me as an evil man. And in cases of stupidity, I’ll say that, too. George Bush is a fool (and might also be evil, but those are different qualities). In cases of ignorance or philosophical error, I’ll say that. Republican regressivism is ignorant and based on demonstrably false premises. But “fascist” is just an ad hominem attack now, in that it implies more than it means, confusing the issue.

So which is Bush trying to say? Are Muslim fundamentalists ignorant, incorrect, or evil? I wish he’d be more specific. That way we’d know just what the pot is calling the kettle.

1 comment:

@bdul muHib said...

I have no idea who Muslim Fascists are- as you pointed out, this is a historical and silly misuse of the term. But for Islamists, or Islamic Protestants, wanting to return to the original ideal of their faith- well, many in the House of Saud fit the bill.

I don't think the Islamic Protestants are anti-Semitic on average, and the subgroup of them that are are so only to the extent that one can hate oneself, as Arabs are Semites as well. So let us say a wing is anti-Jewish. I think this distinction is important because to say otherwise ignores the great common bonds of culture and language between the two groups. It also attempts to put a knee-jerk reaction into the European-influenced mind, that Anti-Semitism is somehow worse than any other form of racism. All racism is evil, period.

And there is certainly a fair bit of that, against Jews, and against Christians, in the Middle East. But that's not the driving force for most Arab Muslims, or for the Islamic Protestants. For most, it's the same perspective as myself- being anti-Israeli, or more specifically, anti-Israeli government (if they were pressed on it). They still might say ignorant and despicable things about the Jews, but that arises from a perspective of Israel coming in and taking their lands and killing their people in acts of localized genocide and widespread ethnic cleansing. The source doesn't excuse the racism and religious bias of Arabs- but identifying the cause helps us address the root of the problem.