Saturday, May 07, 2005

O wad some pow'r the giftie gie us

I think we have all seen this curious term, Islamo-fascism. What does it mean? Looking on the Internets, briefly, I get a wild assortment of ideas, along with claims that Saddam was one, that the Iranian Ayatollahs are Islamo-fascists, that Osama is Islamo-fascist, that the Wahabis are Islamo-fascists, and, occasionally, that Islam itself is Islamo-fascist in nature.

Well, now, fascism was a historical movement, mainly European, which was nationalistic, dictatorial but populist (the dictator deriving his authority from his bond with "the people", often employing a crowd-cohesion tactic of scapegoating), state-capitalist i.e. an alliance between a political and economic elite such that government and corporate capitalism were inextricably intertwined; exalted all things military, finding its most usual expression in a fondness for states of emergency and states of siege and military suspensions of constitutional rule as tools of governance. Fascism is secular--secular in the sense that religion, although often promoted for purposes on national cohesion, is under the thumb of the dictator.

Mussolini, prototypically, and Hitler and Franco secondarily, are our usual models for fascism. Most students of fascism would add an assortment of Latin American strongmen--PerĂ³n in Argentina, Stroessner in Paraguay, Batista in Cuba, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Hernandez Martinez in Salvador, Ubico in Guatemala, Andino in Honduras, the Somozas in Nicaragua, and, of course, Pinochet in Chile. Various African dictators can very likely be reasonably added to this list. Possibly Syngman Rhee and Chiang Kai-shek and others, in Asia.

If all or most of these guys were fascists, then I think you can make a case for adding Saddam Hussein and Khadafi to the list, along with Nasser and Mubarek--but only as long as you do not stick the prefix Islamo in front of the fascist part.

Maybe we can call these four fascists pure and simple. But such people are not who we are really worried about. Historically, most of the people on the list above--maybe all but Hitler and Mussolini-- have been our allies. We were rather fond of fascists, during the Cold War.

But how does radical Islamism map onto fascism? Not very well. Islamo-fascism is a term of abuse, not of insight. Every single one of the people listed above was profoundly secular--and while willing to whip up religious fervor for his own purposes, insisted on complete docility from religious leaders. This is important.

To call the vision of Islam held by Osama or the Ayatollahs fascist is equivalent to calling medieval Christianity fascist. It makes no sense. It's like calling Communism fascist, because, hey, it's totalitarian, right?

Let's turn this around. Unfairly, but just for purposes of illustration.

Suppose we say that both the Neocons and the Christian Taliban are fascist. Would that make any sense? They uneasily share control of the Republican party at present, which makes them dangerous, but does it make them fascist? Of course not. To call them fascists is merely a way of saying we don't like them.

But wait, you say. Not so fast. Both insist on conformity to some kind of nightmare vision of Americanism. They represent the worst of the American character. Yes, I think that's true--but their nightmare visions represent _different aspects_ of Americanist ideology, and while incompatible beliefs can live inside the same party, and indeed inside the same head at times, they remain, in the hard realism sense, incompatible.

What are the things we might call fascist, if we were to succumb to that temptation?

You might be a fascist if:
You express a thin-skinned overreaction to everything from rejection of your beliefs to mere indifference to them, as if such non-acceptance were an intolerable insult. You are prone to schoolyard bullying, or believe in its international equivalent. You tend toward either (or both) malignant cultural/social/political cynicism and bizarre gullibility--the gullibility of a salesman who has first sold himself on his own product with a level of desperation required by whatever its degree of actual cheesiness. You have a devolved and external religiosity, demanding, like Islamism, outward and public expressions of piety, to ease internal doubts perhaps--and the insistence of those doubts perhaps behind the intensity of the negative reaction to perceived impieties. You are intolerant of other views, even if these other views are live-and-let-live in nature. You have a definite willingness to snuff out all sources of doubt--including, if need be, scientific knowledge, when its conclusions represent a threat to your belief system. You might on the one hand, have a pocketbook corporate interest in censoring the scientific consensus on global warming, and on the other hand a Christian Taliban desire to install Intelligent Design, a tarted up version of creationism, as an official alternative to evolution in the schools. You may be, at this very moment, touting William Dembski and Phillip Johnson as the new Lysenkos. (In Lysenko's favor, we can say that he was, unlike Dembski and Johnson, actually a scientist.) You are definitely inclined to whiny national self-pity. You are prone to inflated, bombastic, and continual national self-congratulation, and you are correspondingly prone to rage at those who do not whole-heartedly join in. Overt hatred informs your fatwahs diatribes directed against those who rain on the national self-congratulation parade, from Jane Fonda to Ward Churchill. (Mr. Churchill has not had to go into hiding like Salmon Rushdie, in fear of his life, but the day may come... And not just for the likes of Churchill. You non-fascists might listen to Ann Coulter's proposed solution to the liberal problem, for a bracing wake-up call.)
The Pledge of Allegiance is important to you, and you are,well, maybe downright needy is the word I am searching for, when it comes to demands for expressions of Americanist fealty. You are are unforgiving of perceived slights to your icons.
Punitiveness and vengefulness are tightly bound up in your concept of justice.

--End bogus fascism test--

All of this sort of thing may trace to a national insecurity--we have had to invent ourselves as a nation. We are not an ethnic and religious given, the way being French or English always has been. So we are--understandibly enough--obsessed with who we are. But our strange crusades against un-americanness within, and threats to Our Way of Life from abroad, have to be like a crusade against nightmares--not likely to be effective, but not likely to be ended by mere failure. It's not surprising that our various culture-war crusades are lifetime deals--the War on Drugs was declared by Richard Nixon in 1968. The fact that we still have Americans taking illegal drugs and entrepreneurs selling them to us does not in any way discourage the Drug Warriors. The previous Attorney General let it slip that he foresees the War on Terror lasting 50 years. The kulturkampf boys are in it for the long haul.

But to get back to my point. My disordered laundry list, above, of ways we tend to go off the rails (bad metaphor, sorry) could be used by the very people who have so bady gone off the rails, as evidence of fascism--if we ran across people like us this in the Middle East. But while it is very definitely pathological, in my opinion, it is not fascism, nor is Islamist fundamentalism fascism.

There is not a single item in this gruesome laundry list I cannot see in at least a shadowy form in myself, at least occasionally demanding expression. If I have left any political pathology out it may be because it is one of the few not resident in my own head. I don't think I am alone in this--being filled with views that are both contradictory and inherently not very commendable. The nice thing (or the bad thing, depends) about being a Buddhist is that it insists that you sit down and gaze steadfastly at all this disagreeable stuff (usually lumped, by Buddhists, under the 3 main categories of attachment, hatred, and delusion) in yourself, till you get tired of it. And you quickly do. Or I do, anyway.

Unfortunately, it tends to rebound.

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