Sunday, September 10, 2006

Dropping the F-Bomb, Part I

Did you say, "Islamo-fascism"?

"Excuse me, did you say, 'Islamo-Fascism'?"

As illustrated in a previous post, our top leaders in Washington have been very busy as of late invoking the "F-word" in order to cast their policies in the heroic light of the World War II era. Recently we have seen a sharp increase in this kind of rhetoric with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Rick Santorum and President George W. Bush himself all chiming in to explain to us that the United States is engaged in an existential battle against a force they alternately call "Islamo-fascism" or "Islamic fascism". For example:

"This is the beginning of a long struggle against an ideology that is real and profound. It's Islamo-fascism. It comes in different forms. They share the same tactics, which is to destroy people and things in order to create chaos in the hopes that their vision of the world become predominant in the Middle East."

George W. Bush
August 7, 2006

An aside: In Bush's own words, to "destroy people and things in order to create chaos in the hopes that their vision of the world become[s] predominant in the Middle East" is an "Islamo-fascist" tactic, yet it sounds strangely familiar.

But what is "Islamo-fascism" exactly and who are the "Islamo-fascists"? Last week in a speech to the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Utah (Utah again), President Bush took time out to explain:

When terrorists murder at the World Trade Center, or car bombers strike in Baghdad, or hijackers plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic, or terrorist militias shoot rockets at Israeli towns, they are all pursuing the same objective -- to turn back the advance of freedom, and impose a dark vision of tyranny and terror across the world.

The enemies of liberty come from different parts of the world, and they take inspiration from different sources. Some are radicalized followers of the Sunni tradition, who swear allegiance to terrorist organizations like al Qaeda. Others are radicalized followers of the Shia tradition, who join groups like Hezbollah and take guidance from state sponsors like Syria and Iran. Still others are "homegrown" terrorists -- fanatics who live quietly in free societies they dream to destroy. Despite their differences, these groups from -- form the outlines of a single movement, a worldwide network of radicals that use terror to kill those who stand in the way of their totalitarian ideology. And the unifying feature of this movement, the link that spans sectarian divisions and local grievances, is the rigid conviction that free societies are a threat to their twisted view of Islam.

All emphases are, of course, mine.

As usual when this man speaks, volumes are required to fully address the torrent of doublespeak that ensues. I will try to stay focused. He claims that the unifying feature that binds these groups together is a conviction that free societies threaten their view of Islam. But how does that feature apply to secular, Ba'athist dictatorships like the Saddam's Iraq or Assad's Syria? Islamic groups like Al Qaeda consider these regimes direct threats to their goals and to Islam. They've even gone on record to say so. These leaders are known for their hostility towards Islamic fundamentalists like bin Laden.

Another aside: If Syria is in league with "Islamo-fascist" terror, why is the Bush administration sending "Islamo-fascist" terror suspects to Syria for interrogation? Alternatively, why does Syria have such a reputation for torturing and killing these supposed allies?

How does this feature apply to Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Palestine, movements that are an active, legal participants in the democratic process in their respective countries, democracies that Bush himself praised just last year? Is it because they resist Israeli aggression? Is that what is meant by the "advance of free societies"? To the non-Jewish citizens of Lebanon and Palestine an approach by Israel is anything but an 'advance of a free society. Read more about that here.

Moreover, Bush's statement we didn't give us much detail about what exactly this "totalitarian ideology" is. Instead he has attempted to bring together a wide array of differing groups under a single umbrella of his own creation. The people he mentions come from places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria (just to name a few). If we are to believe the president, "Islamo-fascism" is a single movement comprised not only of all these cultures but of Sunni fundamentalists, Shia fundamentalists, secular governments, Islamic governments and a Muslim family near you.

Now, in fairness, I have to admit that he does narrow it down a bit. First of all he makes it clear that he's only talking about the extremists within these groups so I'll accept that. But then he also makes a point of pre-empting questions about the obvious flaw in his argument by adding:

"Despite their differences, these groups... form the outlines of a single movement..."

These are nothing more than weasel words. By qualifying his claim of their supposed sameness with the phrase "outlines of" Bush is intentionally creating a hedge against the fact that these groups are not the same at all and in fact are, in many cases, in direct conflict with one another. Think of it as an escape hatch. For example, if one were to say:

"But Mr. Bush, if the Sunni extremists and the Shia extremists are part of the same movement why are they fighting one another in Iraq?"

He could respond with:

"Nobody in my administration ever said they were exactly same movement. I said they form the outlines of a single movement. "

Clearly this would be a ridiculous defense but nevertheless there is no reason to doubt that such nonsense is in the playbook (after all, this president has shown no fear of making ridiculous assertions in the past). To illustrate, Senator Rick Santorum advanced exactly such an argument just last week:

"Were the Japanese imperialists with their mind-set and their ideology the same as the Nazis? Obviously not. Were they the same as the fascists in Italy? Obviously not. But they were still a common enemy... We're at war with Islamic fascism... Afghanistan and Iraq and southern Lebanon and every country around the world is a front."

That sets it all up quite nicely doesn't it? Here we see the Transitive Axiom of Muslim Equivalence in all it's maddening glory. All of these Muslims are now the same and any glaring differences among them that may contradict that point can be summarily dismissed. Why? Because they are all official enemies of the United States and that makes them all the same.

It matters not that -- unlike Imperial Japan, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany before WWII -- Saddam and the leaders of Iran were blood enemies before the US invasion of Iraq. It's doesn't matter that the Islamic Revolution of Iran reviled Saddam's secular Ba'athist regime as did most radical Islamist groups. They're still part of the same "Islamo-fascist" movement, we are told.

Yet another aside: Why did the US see Saddam as a stalwart against the advance or Iran's Islamic Revolution if he was part of the same movement? Why did he start a war with them?

It is deemed imperative to our very survival that we ignore the fact that the Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq are at each others' throats, bombing each others' mosques, torturing and executing one another (a horrific frenzy of internal bloodletting that the US will steadfastly refuse to call a civil war until Stonewall Jackson shows up). This is all irrelevant, you see, because they are still on the "outlines" of the same movement.

Likewise, the Shiite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon is the same as the Sunni Muslim Hamas movement in Palestine. The fact that one is Shia and the other is Sunni means nothing, they say. The Transitive Axiom dictates that a Muslim is a Muslim is a Muslim so it follows naturally that their extremists, regardless of their stripe, are all the same too and we can call them all "Islamo-fascists". Got it? Good.

Last aside: I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the danger that this rhetoric may already represent a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby the US government is proving to the Muslim world what Osama bin Laden has been claiming for years; that the US is engaged in a war against all of Islam.

Somehow, we still seem a bit unclear as to what "Islamo-fascism" is all about. Is this movement only about the use of certain tactics? If so, to what end? What is this vision Bush alludes to that they are trying to advance? Is it a vision of secular dictatorships like the regimes in Iraq and Syria (not to mention the ones the US supports in Egypt, Jordan and now Libya)? Is it a vision of religious theocracies like Iran or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan? Is it a vision of monarchical/religious dictatorships like the US ally in Saudi Arabia? Could one movement possibly serve all of these interests at once or is Mr. Bush's argument completely untenable?

Allow me to suggest the latter. If Bush is trying to find a common thread among these groups he has missed the mark wildly. The only common political thread uniting these diverse groups is their universal distaste for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and parts of Lebanon and Syria. A much stronger link can be found there but this dynamic is conspicuously missing from the dialogue about what might be bugging these "Islamo-fascists". Why would the White House pass on the chance to use this issue to link these group legitimately, choosing instead to give us this re-mixed version of "they hate your freedom"? Is it to avoid shifting the focus onto Israel's destabilizing role in the middle-east? That certainly sounds like a plausible motivation (at least one of them). Unfortunately for Bush, outside of the context of the Israel/Palestine conflict his premise simply doesn't work.

Believe it or not, despite the obvious shortcomings of our president, I am not of the belief that the leaders of our nation are
all dumb people. They choose their words very carefully and know exactly what they're saying. They know very well that these disparate groups are not synonymous. They have an entire State Department and intelligence-gathering apparatus that produces reports and assessments of the lay of the land in the middle-east the way IHOP makes pancakes. This information is readily available to them. They don't need an obscure blogger to point it out to them. Yet they're pushing this meme anyway. There is something behind this framing of the issue that we're not being told about. In Part II of this series, "The Uses of Islamo-fascism", I will look into some possible explanations.