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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

islamo-penguinism

Johann Hari, having retracted his old support for invading Iraq, gained some absolution from LI. But his recent review of Nick Cohen’s lachrymose new book, I was a Red Diaper Baby and I poop in Your Face… uh, oh, wait a minute, that’s not the title, let me google it, it is "On the Pleasure of Sticking My Thumb Up My Ass", sorry about the mixup – he gives a fourfold analysis of the pro-war Left view, circa 2002-2003 that makes the old anti-warrior in LI want to cry. The very first pillar, which Hari still evidently believes, is the idea that Islamism is fascist. Fuck. Again, the only proof presented for this is a slender book by Paul Berman. Here’s Hari’s account:

“Islamism. The pro-war left argued that Islamism (as opposed to Islam) is a variant on an old enemy of the left - fascism. Paul Berman, in his book 'Terror and Liberalism', carefully teased out the intellectual origins of Islamic fundamentalism, looking primarily as Sayyid Qutb, the intellectual godfather of al Qaeda. It was not hard to find the links: Qutb was explicitly and openly influenced by European fascism. Not was this a merely intellectual influence: when his ideas eventually became a state-ideology - in Taliban Afghanistan - it looked hideously familiar to historians of fascism, with its fanatical Jew-hatred, homophobia, misogyny, the banning of all dissent (and even of music), and the supression of all liberal freedoms. Jihadists even inherited the most eccentric lacunae of fascist conspiracy-thought: on 9th March 2004, a meeting of Freemasons in an Istanbul restaurant was blown up by Islamist suicide-murderers.

Ah, the minimisers of Islamism said, but these are the poor, the wretched of the earth! In fact, the pro-war left pointed out, Islamists activists are overwhelimgly wealthy - Bin Laden is the son of a billionaire - and they are oppressing the real wretched of the earth, not least women. Besides, to refuse to see that people living in poor or oppressive countries can become fascists is to fall for what Bertrand Russell called "The Fallacy of the Superior Virtue of the Oppressed."”

Actually, this is such entire rubbish that one is hesitant to ever read Hari about the Middle East ever again, no matter what his repentance. The opponents of the fascist paradigm did not say that Islamism arose from the cries of the oppressed, but, quite differently, that Islamism arose as a confluence of interests between the ruling ideology of Saudi Arabia, one that existed in the Arabian peninsula a hundred years before Sayyid Qutb, and American anti-communism. It is a simple story, one that was rehearsed time and time around the globe. Searching for anti-communists meant, to the U.S., destroying ‘neutralists’ – or at least leaning against them heavily – which thus made the U.S. a natural ally of Pakistan against India – and maintaining the flow of oil that underwrote the thirty glorious years from 1945-1975. The idea that fascism had a salience here, or that it was the state formation into which Islamism fell, badly distorts history and fascism. The one salient characteristic of fascism is the cult of the leader. The one salient characteristic of Islamism is not the cult of the leader – it is the re-unification of theological and state power, on the Wahabi model. If one wanted to crusade against this, there is one place and one place only where it has emanated from: Saudi Arabia. Not Iraq. Not even al qaeda. However, Saudi Arabia just happens to be a keystone state, without which the West would be plunged into an economic downturn that no leader in the West wants to contemplate. End of story.

That Hari thinks banning music is echt fascist shows that he has little or no idea of fascism.

On the other hand, there are proto-fascistic states in the Middle East, set up to maximize the state’s hold over businesses, legitimated by a cult of the leader. One is Iraq. One is Syria. One is Egypt. Even here, however, fascism is a pretty poor model – except in the case of Iraq. In Syria, for instance, the leadership, belonging to a minority sect, can’t really play the ethnic cleansing card that is one of the pillars of fascism. In Egypt, the leadership model after Nassar was badly dented, and one could as well talk of a kind of monarchy. In Iraq, on the other hand, there was a cult of a leader, the persecution of ethnic groups, a reliance on the military and an aggressiveness that does approach fascism. Unfortunately, this is the reverse of Islamism. The evidences that are given for some symbiosis are pitiful – Saddam’s concessions to and play upon the newfound fervor for Islam was a way of navigating the dictator’s dilemma, and was certainly not generated from above. While there is every evidence Osama bin Laden is a genuine believer in a Wahabist state, there’s no evidence whatsoever that Saddam is, and the Baathists left in Iraq form the strongest opposition to the idea of Iraq becoming an Islamic republic – it is, rather, America’s ally there that has pulled that one off.

It is sad that four years into the war, Hari still has not learned basic, basic facts about Middle Eastern history, and shows an astonishing inability to grasp what fascism means besides that it means the rule of meanies and evildoers. Why not have done with it and say that Osama is really the Penguin in Batman and call Islamism Penguinism?

7 comments:

P.M.Lawrence said...

"the ethnic cleansing card that is one of the pillars of fascism" - oh no, it isn't. Consider Mussolini's variant before Hitler's began to influence it.

More properly, Fascism shows a strong tendency to borrow inchoately, syncretism in support of other agendas, to try to be something to everybody. You can see it fopreshadowed in Jack London's The Iron Heel.

Und auch, "echt Fascismus"? Haben sie gedacht, nicht alles Deutsch sprechen kann - oder will? (Und mein Deutsch ist ein kolbisch Sprach.)

Brian said...

Did Spanish and Argentine versions of Fascism involve ethnic cleansing? Or even the Paraguayan version, with its 50 year rule of Stroessner. It's the only country where the indigenous tongue is an official language.

roger said...

Ethnic supremecy would, perhaps, have been a better word choice, although it usually results - as it did in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in Mussolini's case - in bad news for targeted races. Of course, the Argentine and Paraguan elite prejudice against indians is part of the package, as well as the anti-Semitism. Certainly there's a spectrum of fascisms - Stroessner might simply have been a strong man with some fascist touches - admittedly, what I know about Paraguay comes from a great travel book, At the Tomb of the Inflatable Pig.

P.M.Lawrence said...

Even "ethnic supremacy" is too extreme a statement to be used as a defining or distinguishing characteristic of fascism. Although Italian fascism did have a race element, on the one hand that too was a mere borrowing of prevalent ideas and on the other hand it wasn't a separating test - in theory it allowed for assimilation, much as the French concept of la mission civilisatrice did (and the French also had self-interested exceptions in practice). Consider the saying "una fazza una razza", the way Italo Svevo - for instance - was acceptable to fascism during his lifetime (though not vice versa), the low level of discrimination against the Greeks of the Dodecanese, and the fact that Turks were less discriminated against there than in the rest of Greece. We can take the levels of inhumanity levied against Libyans and Abyssinians as being representative of fascist methods, not fascist choice of targets; communists could expect little better even when they were ethnic Italians.

roger said...

Mr. Lawrence, Phillip Morgan, in Fascism in Europe, makes a good distinction between Nazi and fascist views on race, the latter being “non-biological”. Surveying fascist parties in Europe in the thirties, you had a Hungarian party (The Party of the National Will) which promoted the doctrine of the Magyars as a superior race; you had the AKS in Finland, promoting the Finns as the superior race, and supporting discriminatory laws against Swedes; you had the Iron Cross in Romania, which promoted a Greater Romania that would not only be purged of Jewish control, but physically attacked non-Romanians – Transylvanian Magyars; and you have the race laws in Italy at the end of the thirties. In the twenties, Mussolini only said that Fascism would confront the racial question, whatever that meant. As is often the case with Mussolini, fascism was the baggy monster that clothed Mussolini’s whims in lofty ideological language. However, the tendency in all these fascist parties to ethnic supremacy is not accidental – it evolved out of the fascist emphasis on the “Great Nation” – Greater Hungary, Greater Finland, Greater Romania, The New Italian empire, etc.

Which history, while finding parallels in Iraq, has nothing to do with al qaeda. Islamofascism is a bogus hybrid, a propagandist’s scarecrow. You could find stronger parallels between Mussolini's rhetoric and the neo-con American greatness project than you could between Osama bin Laden and Mussolini. And of course, the one openly fascist party in Europe, the Italian Fascist Party, supported the invasion of Iraq. For what that is worth.

Brian said...

At The Tomb was one of my favorite books of 2006, roger. What a fascinating tale.

roger said...

See Brian? Some of our book tastes do overlap!
Have you read Gilette's book about Newfoundland? I haven't yet, but I have it on my list.