Why the epithet 'Islamic fascism' is unhelpful to search for peace
Muhamad Ali, The Jakarta Post, September 13, 2006
President George W. Bush's epithet "Islamic fascists" in talking about the arrest of the suspected terrorists in London and about Hizbollah and Hamas and the popularization of the epithet by other politicians associating a particular strand of Islamic ideology with "a new type of fascism" does more harm than good in our attempt at bridging the perception gap between the Muslim world and the West.
These buzzwords and excessive jargon, especially among American fundamentalists, have shifted us from identifying and solving the real problems and the root causes of transnational terrorism, the enemy of all world citizens.
There are some reasons why the labeling of a group of terrorists as Islamic fascists is unhelpful in our peace-making and peace-building efforts.
First, "Islamic fascism" is more a fanciful invention than an explanation of fact and historical truth. Of course President George W. Bush and others using the term do not feel the need to explain their definition and do not care about how this term might insult the Muslim majority, because for Bush and others it has becomes clear that terrorists fight against freedom and democracy. The terrorists do not use the word fascism and most moderates do not view them as such. Fascism which emerged in Italy was then used very loosely to mean all manner of things.
Second, it will incite the Muslim radicals to use more buzzwords. The term Islamic fascism can be misused by the radicals and the terrorists themselves in their counterattack. In world history, the use of buzzwords during wars is common among conflicting parties, Today there are the same buzzwords used to demonize the West, America, Jewish people and Israel, such as the "infidels", etc.
For example, in an Iranian newspaper, Bush is depicted as "the 21st century Hitler" and Tony Blair as "the 21st century Mussolini". Certainly Bush and Blair do not like to be called that.
It is thus the task of the leaders and moderate groups everywhere to moderate the extremists on both sides of the conflict. Demonization creates further demonization, and violence comes very easily from and with this. But for the 21st century generation of peacetime leaders they must stop using terms and jargon that are not in conformity with facts and realities.
Third, the moderates feel uneasy and uncomfortable about the attachment of the term fascism to the peaceful religion of Islam since fascism has been commonly used in a derogatory and negative manner. It will become harder for the moderates and liberals to bridge the gap between themselves and the radicals when they learn how Western leaders make fun of Islam by attaching extremist words to the religion.
For the moderates, terrorism, or fascism, is alien to Islam, and this should be borne in mind. When al-Qaeda uses Islam for its violent acts the moderates can easily say "that is not our Islam" and the later can work to discount their theology of violence.
But when the outsiders or the enemies of the terrorists label the terrorist group with Islamic fascism, the moderates cannot say "that Islamic fascism is not our Islam" because the terrorist themselves do not use the term nor do they show a full conformity with the characteristics of fascism.
Fourth, when Islam is attached to an extreme ideology, it may imply that Islam plays a part in the creation of such extremist ideologies. All scriptures, the Old Testament, New Testament, Veda, and the Koran can be interpreted to legitimize any strand of political ideology, but the majority of religious believers would not accept their interpretation of religious scriptures.
The feeling of the majority will not be different when for example Christianity or Judaism is associated with fascism by some. The same feeling will also arise when for example terrorism is associated with Americans -- "American terrorism", as many people in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Vietnam, describe it.
Therefore, labeling is always simplistic, but can become unhelpful and dangerous when the majority, whether they be Muslims, Americans or Westerners etc., do no share certain derogatory epithets.
If they want to refer to group of terrorists, they may name them, such as al-Qaeda, Jamaah Islamiyah, Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, Hizbollah, etc. instead of using the word Islamic for any ideology emerging from the Muslim tradition and history without a clear definition and full understanding of the characteristics and diversity of Muslim movements.
To quote French philosopher Claude Levi-Strauss: "Words are instruments that people are free to adapt to any use, provided they make clear their intentions." Categorization becomes useful and helpful if it clarifies what one is trying to say in order to facilitate communication and understanding.
The war today seems to be waged by fundamentalists on both sides, both Western fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists. Extremism and the use of violence have emerged from sectors of the Western peoples, as well as from the part of the Muslim world.
We may say this is the clash of fundamentalism, and in most cases, a clash of ignorance, since neither sides wishes to moderate their attitude. They fight against each other on behalf of God and in the name of God. And God might well be laughing watching His people fighting against each other, killing civilians, and destroyed civilizations in His name and in His service.
It is a difficult task for moderates and liberals in the Muslim world to explain to the Muslim audience why American leaders keep using such buzzwords as Islamic fascism to refer to a handful of terrorist groups. Why is it so easy for non-Muslim westerners to associate the noble and sacred term Islam with such a popularly perceived enemy as fascism?
Both sides, Western governments and the terrorists, have to understand the limits of their powers if peace is to be achieved. If they continue to be preachers of hate and actors of war peace will never materialize. What we need now is not to appease both Western arrogance and to appease the terrorist groups.
What we need today are "boundary leaders" who are honestly and seriously willing to transcend their own way of seeing things, to understand why they hate us as well as why we hate them, and to find pragmatic ways to solve the root causes, not by perpetuating the long-existing gaps. What we need now are convincing speeches that try to talk to and to convince as many people as possible to pursue world peace