Monday, September 25, 2006

Revisiting "Islamofascism": Martin Kramer

(Image Borrowed from Kramer's "About Sandstorm")

Martin Kramer, whom I've previously cited for his excellent website on Middle Eastern studies, and who expressed serious doubts about invading Iraq, has also expressed doubts -- in "Islamism and Fascism: Dare to Compare" (September 20, 2006) -- about the expression "Islamofascism," prefering "Islamism" or "jihadism," but he admits that he...
... can't rise up against the use of Islamic fascism with the righteous indignation mustered by, say, Michigan professor Juan Cole, who's denounced the "lazy conflation of Muslim fundamentalist movements with fascism." My reason is that this conflation, or comparison, has had some rigorous champions within Middle Eastern studies over the years. It didn't originate in the Bush White House; it has a long pedigree including some pioneering social scientists. These scholars, who knew ... about both Islamism and fascism, did think the comparison made sense. I'll let them explain why.
He then cites three scholars: Manfred Halpern, Maxime Rodinson, and Said Amir Arjomand.

According to Halpern, who was writing way back in 1963, when Islamists were allies in the Cold War against Communism, the parallels to fascism were several, and he noted them in his book, Politics of Social Change in the Middle East and North Africa, published that same year:
The neo-Islamic totalitarian movements are essentially fascist movements. They concentrate on mobilizing passion and violence to enlarge the power of their charismatic leader and the solidarity of the movement. They view material progress primarily as a means for accumulating strength for political expansion, and entirely deny individual and social freedom. They champion the values and emotions of a heroic past, but repress all free critical analysis of either past roots or present problems .... Like fascism, neo-Islamic totalitarianism represents the institutionalization of struggle, tension, and violence. Unable to solve the basic public issues of modern life -- intellectual and technological progress, the reconciliation of freedom and security, and peaceful relations among rival sovereignties -- the movement is forced by its own logic and dynamics to pursue its vision through nihilistic terror, cunning, and passion. An efficient state administration is seen only as an additional powerful tool for controlling the community. The locus of power and the focus of devotion rest in the movement itself. Like fascist movements elsewhere, the movement is so organized as to make neo-Islamic totalitarianism the whole life of its members.
These parallels depend upon an analysis of fascism as a violent religious cult dominated by a charismatic leader, which has some uses -- such as an emphasis upon fascism's irrationalism -- but, in my opinion, ignores the nationalist aspect that characterized the large-scale fascistic movements of the mid-twentieth century.

As for Rodinson, he was a French leftist and expert on Islam who published a long front-page article critical of the leftist infatuation with Ayatollah Khomeini and his Iranian Revolution in a 1978 issue of Le Monde, noting:
[T]he dominant trend is a certain type of archaic fascism (type de fascisme archaïque). By this I mean a wish to establish an authoritarian and totalitarian state whose political police would brutally enforce the moral and social order. It would at the same time impose conformity to religious tradition as interpreted in the most conservative light.
Kramer notes that by the adjective "archaic," Rodinson was referring to "the religious component of the ideology, largely absent from European fascism," which means that Rodinson recognized and acknowledged that the label "fascist" doesn't fit very well. I wonder if Rodinson's willingness to use the term might stem from the leftist tendency to throw the word "fascist" into face of opponents -- but an ironic usage in this case since Rodinson was attacking fellow leftists for their support of an "archaic fascism." Not only were his fellow leftists supporting fascists, they were supporting archaic fascists ... the worst sort, apparently.

Finally, Arjomand picked up on the comparison in a 1986 article for the World Politics -- "Iran's Islamic Revolution in Comparative Perspective" -- arguing for parallels between Islamism and fascism:

Like fascism, the Islamic revolutionary movement has offered a new synthesis of the political creeds it has violently attacked. And, like the fascists, the Islamic militants are against democracy because they consider liberal democracy a foreign model that provides avenues for free expression of alien influences and ideas.
One problem that I see with this argument is that it would gather too many diverse political groups within the big tent of a loosely defined "fascism." Wouldn't a lot of Marxist movements of the 20th century fit? Well ... there is the argument that these were also fascist. I recall Susan Sontag arguing something like this about communism back in the early 80s, calling it "a variant, the most successful variant, of fascism" ("Communism and the Left: Poland and Other Questions," The Nation, February 27, 1982).

I still have my doubts, however, and like Kramer, I find these three analyses of Islamism as fascism interesting but not persuasive.



Post a Comment

<< Home