THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 14, 2006
Well, everybody is getting into the Islamofacsist controversy. Our Open University blog has had postings here, here, and here on the matter. Peter Beinart, as you will see in this week's TRB, does a taxonomic meditation on the aptness of linking the word "fascist" to Islam at all.
I never imagined that Bush was so philosophically weighty that he could cause such an intellectual fuss. Peter is OK with the term "totalitarianism," though, even if it is somewhat heavy-handed. But he hints that he'd prefer "political messianism" (here he echoes a trope from his book, The Good Fight), "political messianism" being a much softer phrase he credits to Michael Walzer. Michael is an old friend, and I wouldn't want to take any credit he deserves away from him. But the words and the thought actually come from the late, great Hebrew University historian Jacob Talmon. No matter. By the way, Peter does not want us to use the word Islamists at all. He prefers "Salafists," a very precise but constricting term that almost no one in the public arena has ever heard or said. This is not a clarification but an obfuscation.
And now comes news, in an AP dispatch, that Senator Russ Feingold (quite predictably; he is after all the most politically-correct person in the Senate) thinks "Islamic fascists" is offensive to Muslims. But that is not the question. The real issue is whether Islamic thought is now suffused with fascist characteristics and whether it has been open to these all along. It is not a matter of whether the phrase hurts anyone's feelings. "Fascist ideology doesn't have anything to do with the way global terrorist networks think or operate," says Feingold. Has he not even watched the TV clips of Hezbollah fighters marching? But it's not just goose-stepping feet. Militant Islam captures an adherent's life, children, thought, associations, views of good and evil, and empowers him or her to kill with a sense of righteousness. If that isn't fascistic, I don't know what is.
And now comes Pope Benedict XVI with his sage but somewhat startling judgment that there flows out of contemporary Islam, but also from deep within it, "the darkness of a new barbarism." He didn't use the word fascist. But it was probably on the tip of his tongue.