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‘Islamofascism’: Does it really exist?

To understand a complex world, said The Boston Globe in an editorial, it’s crucial to use precise language.

To understand a complex world, said The Boston Globe in an editorial, it’s crucial to use precise language. Crude terms create crude perceptions, which is why the term “Islamofascism”—now very much in vogue in right-wing circles—is so troubling. Republican candidates Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney are taunting Democrats for shying away from any use of the word “Islam” in connection to terrorism, and last week conservative activists celebrated “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” a festival of speechifying and fear-mongering on college campuses across the nation. The agenda behind this “highly ideological” term is clear enough: to help spread the alarming notion that all Islamists—ranging from the Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias of Iraq to Osama bin Laden to the mullahs of Iran to angry Palestinians—are part of a single, terrifying threat on the order of Nazi Germany. Surely all the term implies, said Christopher Hitchens in Slate.com, is that there is something horribly familiar about today’s Islamist movement. Like the fascism of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco, Islamism “is based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind.” Both are “bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories” and bent on avenging various historical humiliations at the hands of inherently inferior outsiders. The Islamists, like the Nazis, have a particular loathing of Jews, homosexuals, and women. And for Islamists, as for fascists, the ultimate goal is to establish a vast, unconquerable territory—a “caliphate,” the jihadists call it—where their power and ideology will reign unchallenged. In case you haven’t noticed, the terrorists’ violent intentions aren’t just theoretical, said syndicated columnist Bill O’Reilly. “All over the world, thousands are dead and maimed because Muslim killers believe they can attack civilians at will and the West is too weak to stop them.” That sure sounds like fascism to me. You’re overlooking one small difference, said Paul Krugman in The New York Times. The chances of Islamists achieving global domination are precisely zero. Iran may be ruled by nasty fanatics, but it’s a country “with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut” and a military budget similar to Sweden’s. Even with a nuclear program, Iran pales before Hitler’s Germany. The same is true for al Qaida. The real point of the “ludicrous” term “Islamofascist” is to make Americans feel the same kind of visceral, irrational terror we felt on 9/11, so that the public supports unending war in the Mideast, approves of spying on citizens and torturing foreign enemies, and, most importantly, votes Republican— the party of “unreasoning fear.”

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