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?
“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears
Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads
"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads