Islamism, Islamofascism, and Islam?
G. Murphy Donovan
Internet journalism could be the ideal public forum. Anybody with a computer can write, read, or comment on what is written. Disqus.com now captures commentary, authors, and content links. Print journalism, in contrast, looks like a one-way mirror. Conventional journalists write, you read. Problem? Write the editor where most mail gets tossed in the circular file.
All literature should be a conversation of sorts. With the internet, critical readers and real-time feedback, over time, should make for better writers. Maybe even better ideas. Of course, the democratization of essaying is not without hazard.
You have a regular opportunity to make a fool out of yourself in public. Alas, the internet is also a bit like a school report card, a military record, or a rap sheet - matters of permanent record.
Then there are trolls! Loosely defined, a troll is a reader who surfs the web looking for an argument. Their commentary is often, but not always, abrasive, rude, and hostile. Comments, like content, usually have editors to screen the obvious abuses. Sometimes the commentary is simply arbitrary. Nonetheless, objection to a single word might spawn a comment thread or a fusillade of like-minded vitriol.
“Islamism” is one of those words.
Words matter. Alas, neologisms come into the language all the time, especially when the drama index is high. Ironically, polemicists on the Right and Left abhor words like “Islamism.”
Liberals think the word unfairly links radicals or terrorists with religion. Some on the Left, team Obama for example, would have you believe that mayhem in Mohamed’s name has nothing to do with Islam, a little like claiming that the Crusades were sponsored by Rotarians. The thought police at the White House, at CIA, and even at the Associated Press (AP) have stricken words like Islamism from their vocabularies by fiat.
The American Left, traditionally believes that candor, or the action that truth might require, will make a problem worse. Appeasement is an honored liberal idiom.
American conservatives, on the other hand, suspect the “ism” is a hedge, a reluctance to say that Islam itself is the problem. Alas, blanket attributions, give a part of culture too much credit, implying a kind of terror, rhetoric, and religious monolith.
With the Right, ends are confused with means. The objective of imperial Islam may be monoculture. Yet, with 1.5 billion followers, realities will always be at odds with utopian dreams. The Shia/Sunni schism, for example, has plagued the Ummah for 1300 years. To suggest that all Muslims are militant radicals, or terrorists, is a little like confusing bulls with dairy cows.
No matter the culture, the majority are usually inert anyway. Or as Kafka put it, “It is often safer to be in chains than to be free.” Hyperbole aside, the loudest voice in any culture, including Islam, is likely to be stasis or inertia.
Islamism, as opposed to Islam, suggests movement and militancy. You might think of Islamists as Muslim crusaders. Such distinctions are self-evident when militants are parsed from the so-called “moderate” majority. That majority in turn are happy to be separated from the swords, shooters, and beards. Unfortunately, none of these distinctions do anything to moderate the menace.
If only ten percent of Muslims (150 million) are militant, then the threat is substantial by any measure.
Neologisms are born when ordinary language fails to capture a phenomenon or an idea. Terms like Islamism and “Islamofascism” fill a void of meaning. Yes, the majority are not terrorists. They are worse! Passive aggressors, not moderates, might be a better description for most of the silent Muslim majority.
How many Russians were Communists and how many Germans were Nazis in the beginning? The numbers never have to be large. Militancy and terror are usually a minority and minorities still prevail. A kinetic vanguard can always depend on the silence and apathy of majorities. The Islamist menace is no different today.
Indeed, the propagandists and the swords are the lesser of two evils. We know what they believe, what they fight for, and we see what they do on a daily basis. Militants make no secret of their religious motivation.
Whatever the number of radicals, they will never be as numerous, or as guilty, as the larger Ummah which is routinely disingenuous, routinely apathetic, routinely absolved, routinely hypocritical, and routinely given a pass on accountability.
Most Americans and Europeans believe that most Muslims are innocents. How is this different than what most Muslims believe? Sadly, the great crimes of any century are more a function of apathy and appeasement, and less a product of militancy.
Apathy and denial about the Islamism problem is as much a problem in the East as it is in the West.
A malignant force, once set in motion, tends to stay in motion unless confronted by an equal or superior force (hat tip to Isaac). The real strength of Islamists is the apathy of 59 Muslim nations worldwide, a sixth of the world’s population. Islamofascism is an Ummah community problem. The secular West cannot save the Islamic East from itself.
Calling Islamists criminals, militants, radicals, fundamentalists, or even terrorists might be necessary but not sufficient. These are half-truths, euphemisms at best. Proselytizers, apologists, and jihadists must be linked precisely, directly, and routinely to the ideology, communities, and culture of origin. That culture is Islam! Culture is the primary culprit midst DCI James Clapper’s host of “nefarious” characters.
So let’s be clear when we speak of the enemy, the foe in all those small wars and the larger global jihad. As long as contemporary Muslim wars last, there are probably three relevant semantic distinctions to be made.
Islam is the big tent, the culture, for the most part an apathetic, apologetic, passive, or mostly bovine majority. Islamists are the proselytizing militants or financiers, missionaries, domestic or immigrant clerics who believe they act in the name of God, a prophet, or a “great” religion. Islamofascists are the kinetic Muslims, those who oppress or kill in the name of Mohamed, the Koran, or imperial Islam. The terms are related, though not necessarily interchangeable.*
The necessity to distinguish militants from moderates is not trivial. The so-called moderate is the more difficult problem, demographically and ideologically.
Islamism is in the end a political, religious, cultural, now kinetic, quest to reverse the vector of Emanuel Kant’s social optimism. There is more than a little history to support irredentist cultures. The passage of time is not progress. Dark ages are still possible. The vector of history moves forward – or backwards. Contemporary Islamism and Islamofascism is a very large sanguinary bet on door number two, the recidivist option.
And yes, Islamists claim that their aggression is actually defense, a victim’s posture. Let’s allow that historical delusion in the name of consistency. Muslim scholars and clerics have been looking to the past in search of the future for centuries.
Recidivism withal, if not political naiveté, is the fatal flaw of all utopias, especially fascism. Unfortunately, the predicate of all fascism, religious or secular, is also coercion, if not brute force. The Islamic State and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, like their National Socialist doppelgangers, are the logical products of a viral Islamism unchallenged.
There is no question that imperial Islam will fail – implode or be defeated. The question is how much masochism, denial, and damage the Ummah and the non-Muslim world will endure before that day arrives.
* Some of the best defenses for using terms like Islamism and Islamofascism often come, ironically, from serious writers on the American Left. See Christopher Hitchens seminal essay in Slate or almost anything written by Paul Berman on the subject. Daniel Pipes, on the Right, recently hosted a symposium on the subject which pretty much covered the semantic landscape on Islam.
* Icon translation: “I have been ordered by Allah to fight against the people until they testify…etc.”
About the Author(s)
Just a point of personal preference, I have never like Islamofacism. I think it gives the movement too much credit. It is true that Fascism is somewhat ill defined, with the two best known examples, Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany having only two or three things in common; like extreme nationalism, an external threat that justifies a militaristic government, and some state interference with private property rights. Perhaps ISIS, as an attempt to build a functioning state, comes the closest to meeting these requirements, but most of the rest of the Islamic Terrorists, like AQ, have more limited goals. Those organizations, based off their own interpretation of the Islamic scriptures, seek more limited goals. For those groups I would use the term Islamotheocrats - people who believe that religion should be the guiding principal for worldly affairs. Arguably, there is no way to separate the guidance in the Koran from the secular administration of worldly affairs, but the same could have been said about Catholicism in the 15th Century.