OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 1, 2006
When thinkers I admire like Paul Berman first started noting the links between Al Qaeda's murderous, anti-enlightenment ideas and those of Fascist Europe, I thought the term Islamo-fascism seemed like a reasonable effort to define an ideology for which we had (and still have) no consensus name. But Ted Widmer's post is one among several recent comments that have made me reconsider. It's not just that bin Laden's vision is simply too different from Hitler's or Mussolini's to stand up to such pigeonholing. It's also that fascism has been so degraded as an epithet over the years through casual use that even if it were now being used accurately, it would still be likely to strike most ears as mere name-calling--an expression of sentiment, not the product of analysis. Besides, if we believe (as I do, and as I think most Americans, including President Bush, do) that we're not at war with Islam, why fuse the two words into one? In his new book The Good Fight, Peter Beinart uses "Salafism," which strikes me as a tad esoteric. On TNR's blog The Plank, Spencer Ackerman proposes "anti-Western Salafist jihadism," which he concedes doesn't trip off the tongue. I tend to prefer jihadism--unless I hear a better term.