Thursday, November 22, 2007

Islamofascists? Islamists? Juhadists?

Timoty Garton Ash wonders what to call those who would murder us. Ash is a thoughtful scholar who often has interesting things to say, and I've linked to him in the past.

"Islamifascists" is no good, he says, and he's probably right:
In the last 50 years the label "fascism" and "fascists" has been profligately over-used and hollowed-out to mean little more than "something the left hates at the moment". If it's bad, and you're on the left, you call it "fascist"; if it's fascist, it feels good to be against it. The list of things described by people on the left as "fascist" over the last half-century would fill several pages, and certainly include Margaret Thatcher, the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, capitalism, men (aka male chauvinists) and the Daily Mail.
There is a delightful irony here, that Ash doesn't notice, in that it isn't the Left that's using the epithet "Islamofascists", it's the Right. This is because much of the Left (tho not people of Ash's stature or intellectual integrity) is too busy pretending there isn't really a problem of much magnitude, while Rightists who do use the term are also, as a side benefit, trying to re-claim the term in its 1930 meaning, before the Left did with it what Ash says they did.

So why not use "Islamist"?

Most Islamic terrorists are, in some sense, Islamists, but most Islamists are not terrorists. They are reactionaries. They propose a profoundly conservative religious vision of society which, in its attitudes to free speech, apostasy, homosexuality and women, is generally anathema to secular liberal convictions (including, emphatically, my own). But for the most part they do so through peaceful political means, not through violence. At the most moderate end of the broad spectrum of political Islamism, as represented by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development party in the secular state of Turkey, they are closer to the Christian religious right in the US (for many of whom homosexuality is a sin and abortion is murder) than they are to al-Qaida. For us secular liberals, this religious reaction is also a very bad thing, to be combated with all the peaceful means at our disposal, but it is a different thing - and we make a mistake if we blur the distinction.

Well, no, not really. He's right, of course, that most Islamists in the broader meaning are not violent, but then, many supporters of fascism didn't personally intend violence, either. There's a continuum here, and it seems to me he's too sanguine. What's true about Erdoagan's Islamist party in Turkey (and, you might add, the Islamist party in Israel) may well not be true elsewhere; I'd say that once you've distinguished between Islamist parties in democracies (Turkey, Israel, and no-where else) and Islamists everywhere else, his reasoning seems less convincing.

Eventually he suggests using the term Jihadists. In spite of the reservations I've just mentioned, I tend to agree with him.

PS. If after reading the article you then spend a couple minutes reading the comments, you'll get a fine sense of what some of the readership of the Guardian thinks about all this. Enjoy.


Lydia McGrew said...

I think Ash's allusion to the Christian right also shows an ignorance about what the Christian right is like, at least in America. I've spent lots of time with Christians who are more of the "fundamentalist" persuasion than I am, and while I disagree with them on a number of points, there is no question of their beating their wives or insisting that women cover their faces in public, etc. The "status of women" generalization is fairly sloppy. It's one thing to raise your daughters with the expectation that they will be wives and mothers, and to that extent to reject feminism. It's quite another to beat them, mutilate them, force them into an arranged marriage, or kill them for "family honor."

I suppose--though I know little about ultra-orthodox Judaism--that the very far American fundamentalist Christian right would probably be better likened culturally to ultra-Orthodox Judaism than to Islam.

Yaacov said...

You're probably right. And, ironically, there is some common ground between - believe it or not - the ultra-orthodox and the moderate Islamists. Not because the Haredi are so fanatic, but because there are moderate Islamists in Israel (and apparently Turkey) who are moderate enough to fit Ash's description.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

What's in the name. "Terrorist" is good enough for many purposes - it is not an ideology, granted, but definitely a strategy. Once identified, the methods of treatment are the same no matter what ideology/religion caused the malady.