||Every war is entitled to a name. World War II was a warmed-over name, and the Korean conflict was not at first even given the name of â€œwar,â€ which Vietnam rated until it was overtaken by â€œsyndrome.â€ And not until 1947 was our intense but not-hot war against the Soviet Union named â€” in a speech by Bernard Baruch, written by Herbert Bayard Swope â€” the cold war.
We are now engaged in what many stay-the-coursers like to call â€œthe long war,â€ which may turn out to be its name in history unless good fortune shortens it. But more important than the name of the war â€” at least to the people on our side fighting and supporting it â€” is the name of the enemy. To allow a sworn enemy to remain nameless is to grant it the propaganda advantage of eternal mystery.
Accordingly, President Bush and his legion of the resolved tried out â€œwar on terror.â€ But that was derivative (â€œwar on poverty,â€ â€œwar on drugs,â€ â€œwar onâ€ a variety of isms), and terror was the method used by the enemy, not the enemy itself â€” an amorphous idea of intimidation rather than a specific, belligerent nation or a hostile people.
What rallying title to use? Not the â€œIraqi warâ€; the elected Iraqi government is on our side. The â€œwar on Saddamâ€ is over, and the â€œwar on bin Ladenâ€ would only build up a TV ghost. The â€œwar on Islamâ€? No; weâ€™re not fighting a whole religion. Bush tried narrowing that to â€œIslamic radicals,â€ but that formulation was denounced by Democratic senators and nonradical Muslims. â€œThere was a conscious desire not to use just one definitive word,â€ said Michael Gerson, until last year the presidentâ€™s chief speechwriter, now a Newsweek columnist, â€œbecause there wasnâ€™t a perfect word.â€
Bush has been sensitive from the first days after 9/11 to the wrong of tarring the vast majority of Muslims with guilt-by-association rhetoric. In straining to be fair, however, he set out a few suggested labels but declined to choose: â€œSome call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; still others, Islamofascism. Whatever itâ€™s called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam.â€
Thatâ€™s the tie-salesman approach to war-naming. (â€œYou like this one? How about this one? Or this?â€) This was not typical, ringing, forthright Bush oratory; rather, it was as if the president had taken the contribution of the speechwriters Gerson and David Frum years ago and fused Saddamâ€™s Iraq, the mullahsâ€™ Iran and nuclear-armed North Korea into an â€œaxis of whatever.â€
But the option preferred by â€œstill othersâ€ bears closer scrutiny: Islamofascism treats the opening Islam as the specifying modifier for the dominant noun, the repugnant ideology of fascism.
Whatâ€™s a fascist? In 1922, the Italian politician Benito Mussolini turned to a symbol of the ancient Roman imperium, the fasces, which the Penn State professor of classics Daniel Berman informs me was â€œa bundleâ€ of birch rods and an ax standing for penal authority. Il Duceâ€™s Partito Nazionale Fascista stood for militarism, social elitism and fierce nationalism, combined with contempt for democracy and anger at the rise of Communism. In Germany soon afterward, Adolf Hitlerâ€™s version of fascism â€” his party was called National Socialism, or Nazi â€” added to that menacing bundle of sticks a fury against â€œdecadenceâ€ represented by the despised weak and intellectual, demanding the replacement of â€œfeminine lamentationâ€ with â€œvirile hatredâ€ of Marxists and, above all, Jews.
But in current usage, fascism is remembered less as an ideology than as a dictatorship employing violent repression at home and military aggression abroad. Because of its anti-Communist beginnings and despite early socialist pretensions, the intolerant â€œaxisâ€ of Rome and Berlin, and later Tokyo, is semantically associated with ultraconservativism. The imprecation fascist has been more often flung at the far right by the extreme left than vice versa.
Thatâ€™s been changing in recent years. Fascism is not so much taken to be a left or right political ideology; rather, it has become a word defining hate-based practices employed by a totalitarian regime or movement â€” bundling such punishing birch-whip words as â€œdictatorial,â€ â€œbigoted,â€ â€œjack-booted,â€ â€œracist,â€ â€œsexist,â€ â€œpower-famished.â€
To address the â€œsome, others, still othersâ€ range of â€œismâ€ choices to describe Al Quaeda and affiliated terrorists:
First, Islamic radicalism seems long, bookish and weak, because a radical need not be any kind of terrorist.
Second, militant jihadist is redundant if you take jihad to mean â€œholy war.â€ But some Muslim scholars translate the Arabic word as â€œspiritual struggle,â€ from jahada, â€œto strive,â€ and besides, jihad is too unfamiliar to many English-speakers to register quickly as a label.
Third, Islamofascism. A popularizer of the term has been Christopher Hitchens, who writes for The Atlantic Monthly, Vanity Fair and Slate. He declines coinage credit, informing me that he wrote that the 9/11 attacks represented â€œfascism with an Islamic face,â€ (a play on Susan Sontagâ€™s phrase about the Polish coup of 1981, â€œfascism with a human face,â€ in turn based on the 1968 â€œPrague springâ€ theme, â€œCommunism with a human faceâ€). The first use I can find is in The Independent of Sept. 8, 1990: â€œAuthoritarian government, not to say â€˜Islamo-fascism,â€â€™ wrote Malise Ruthven in the London newspaper, â€œis the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan.â€
The O.E.D. has a half-dozen citations of the Islamo combining form dating to 1906, from IslamoArab to Islamocentrist. Why the connective â€œoâ€ and not a divisive â€œicâ€? Euphony; the Greek construction flows more easily. Thatâ€™s why Islamofascism may have legs: the compound defines those terrorists who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods and helps separate them from devout Muslims who want no part of terrorist means.
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