Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Friday, September 01, 2006
I admit to being fascinated by the current debate over the name of the enemy. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and probably a bunch of other places - personally, I've been following it in The Corner, as if you couldn't tell.

As far as fascism goes, my guide is Stanley Payne, who authored a well regarded history of fascism. If I recall correctly, the key components to fascism are:
  • state leadership of all sectors of society and economy, but no elimination of private property;
  • wartime-like mobilization of the population as a whole even in conditions of relative peace;
  • a social vision of an "organic" society in which classes exist but cooperate to move society forward;
  • a cult of youth and feeling, and especially of violence, and a consequent denigration of tradition, rationality and bourgeois order;
  • a hypertrophied adolescent masculinism and denigration of the feminine;
  • hyper-patriotism, ultra-nationalism and the glorification of the military, even tending to develop a cult of martyrdom; and
  • the fuhrerprinzip.

I've probably left one or two items off of that list, but it's a good start, I think. Different movements classified as "fascist" had their own special traits. Something akin to Christian fascism did develop in Romania and, I would argue, in Spain, but that would not be a fair way to describe Italian fascism, to say nothing of Nazism which was aggressively pagan and anti-Christian. Japanese militarism was accompanied by a unique racial ideology, as was German Nazism, that was not common to the southern European fascist movements. But we call these different groups fascist because they have a common denominator, whatever the distinctions between them.

So: are our current enemies properly described as "fascist" or "Islamo-fascist"?

Well, the economic ideology of bin Laden is obscure to say the least, as is his political vision. I see no evidence that any of the entities that get called "Islamo-fascist" have embraced the fuhrerprinzip, nor that they have proposed any mechanism or have any plans for the total mobilization of their various societies. Iran, for example, has a political structure far more similar to that of the Soviet Union than to that of fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, and it is far from completely mobilized - they spend about 3% of GDP on the military. The Baathism of Saddam Hussein was indeed derived from European fascist models, but the Baath was historically the enemy of Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. The ugly dictatorships in Syria, Iraq (under Saddam) and, for that matter, Pakistan and Egypt have at various times made alliances of convenience with Islamist groups and have in numerous cases actively sponsored their activities, as, for example, Syria does today with Hezbollah and Pakistan did with the Taliban and the Kashmiri terrorist groups. But a distinction must be made between patron and client.

On the other hand, Islamist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas do articulate an "organic" vision of society, albeit one that makes no meaningful reference to economic reality; they have developed a cult of martyrdom and embrace a hyper-masculinist ideology; they are driven by romantic ideas and their actions are sometimes rooted more in fantasy than in strategy; they are fundamentally youthful movements; and, interestingly given that they are religious in nature, they are basically anti-traditional as fundamentalist religion usually is.

So: are they fascist? I think that designation probably obscures more than it clarifies. What is probably more true is that their appeal is akin to the appeal of fascism; that they are popular for some of the same reasons that fascism was popular where and when it was.

But what I think is interesting in the debate is that the Corner-niks seem to be looking for some word, some concept, that will correspond to the Axis of Evil that President Bush famously identified in 2002 - something that will make it clear how the Iranian regime and bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are all parts of the same whole that is out to get us. But, in truth, the only thing that unites these disparate groups is . . . Islam. You could say, if you choose, that what unites them is "bad Islam" as opposed to "good Islam" and dress that good/bad distinction up any way you like. But *if* they are parts of a whole, *that* is the whole they are part of. There is no way I can see to square that circle, to name our enemy without making it either smaller or bigger than the folks in The Corner and, for that matter, the Administration would like.

The notion that World War II was a grand ideological conflict is belated anyway, I should mention. We were not fighting "fascism" in the abstract - we were fighting Hitler's Germany and Tojo's Japan, and we were only fighting Italy because the Duce chose the wrong side. And all of our alliances were at least in part of convenience; Roosevelt hated the British Empire, and dreaded the thought that the war against Hitler would be used by Churchill to extend its life and scope even as World War I had done, and Churchill, needless to say, hated Soviet Communism nearly as much as he hated Hitler. And our primary ally in Asia - the Kuomintang of China - had fascist tendencies. Even when we talked about the enemy in ideological terms, fascism, Nazism and Japanese militarism were the words we used for our respective opponents. The Communists were the ones who made a fetish of the word, "fascist" as the ultimate epithet - and they were as likely to hurl it against Trotskyites and other "social-fascists" as they called them as against the Nazis. It does nothing to detract from the idealism of that conflict to point out that our enemies were regimes that were trying to conquer the world - and had a decent chance of succeeding.

So who are we fighting? Certainly al-Qaeda. Certainly regimes or movements that support al-Qaeda. As well, we are newly aware of the potential danger from nuclear terrorism, and we are newly serious, or at least I hope we are, about preventing the continued spread of nuclear technology to hands that might be undeterrable - but that effort might involve as much hugging unpleasant characters and regimes, like that of Pakistan, as it does fighting them. Beyond that? We could say, with the paleo-right, that beyond that . . . nothing; we're not fighting anyone beyond that, and have no aims beyond wiping out al-Qaeda and getting better control over nuclear technology. Or, alternatively, we could say we are fighting "Islamic fascism" or "Jihadism" or "political Islam" or "Islamic extremism" or "Islamic militancy" or "Islamic terrorism" or what-have-you, and it doesn't much matter. Whichever phrase we use is close enough for government work, and whichever phrase we use there are only two bits of semantic content. One bit tells you that were fighting against some kind of violent political tendency; the other bit tells you that this tendency is to be found among Muslims. In other words, naming the enemy as such tells you we are engaged in a war for the soul of a civilization - but not our own.

Whether one can wage that kind of a war is a real question in my mind five years into the War of September 11th. I will content myself for now with pointing out that this was *not at all* the way we thought of World War II or the Cold War, the two conflicts which so many conservative pundits continually compare this one to. In World War II, the enemy was *out there* and we were out to *destroy* him. In the Cold War, the enemy was also *out there* but his tentacles reached here, and so we had two missions: to kill those tentacles and to stand guard at the walls, in each case to keep the enemy *out*.

Keeping Iran *out* in the sense of keeping them from attacking us directly should be pretty easy. We could squish them pretty thoroughly if they tried. How much a small nuclear arsenal changes this equation is a good question, and one I think no one should be too confident in answering, which makes it hard to say how much blood and treasure we should spend to avoid having to answer it. But of course, since 9-11 most of the terrorist attacks have come not from without but from within; the terrorists in London and Madrid were home-grown. It is in confronting the enemy *within* that this whole business of *naming* the enemy actually becomes important. What kind of language *separates* the terrorist recruiter from his community, as opposed to binding him to them? *That* is a good and interesting question, and one that I don't know the answer to. I suspect that "Islamic fascist" is probably the wrong answer, but that's just a hunch; I just don't think "fascist" sounds like anything more than "bad" to most people's ears, and Muslims probably hear the phrase and think it means "Muslims are bad" and nothing more. But the difficulty is that any language that would be both *precise* and *meaningful* to this audience probably has to be a native idiom, and there's no way that the authorities in London or Paris or Washington will be very persuasive using that idiom. In the Cold War, the enemy within was still *us* and we knew how to talk to and about them. In this war, that is not entirely the case, and we don't entirely know. But the exercise of trying to come up with the right language in this context seems to me to be a whole lot more productive than trying to come up with language to please ourselves.