George Bush recently declared that we are at war with "Islamic fascism." Muslim-American groups were quick to express furor at the expression. Middle Eastern autocracies complained that it was provocative and insensitive.
Critics of the term chosen by the president, however, should remember what al-Qaida, the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas and other extremist Muslim groups have said and done. Like the fascists of the 1930s, the leaders of these groups are authoritarians who brook no dissent in their efforts to impose a comprehensive system of submission upon the unwilling.
Osama bin Laden urged Muslims to kill any American they could find, and then tried to fulfill that vow on Sept. 11. Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah bragged that "the Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them" and then started a war. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, promises to "wipe out" Israel, and is seeking the nuclear means to do so.
Sharia law and dreams of pan-Islamic global rule fuel their ambitions. Once again, they seek to fool Western liberals through voicing a litany of perpetual hurts. Like the Nazis who whined about the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I, and alleged maltreatment of Germans in the Sudetenland, for years Islamists harped about American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia, the U.N. embargo of Iraq and the occupation of Gaza and Lebanon.
But when each complaint was settled, another louder one sprung up; these grievances, it turned out, were pretexts for a larger sense of victimhood, jealousy and lost pride. And appeasement treating the first World Trade Center bombing as a mere criminal justice matter or virtually ignoring the attack on the USS Cole only spurred on further aggression.
Islamic fascism is also anti-democratic and characteristically reactionary. It conjures up a past of Islamic influence that existed before the supposed corruption of modernism. Like Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo, who sought to recapture lost mythical Aryan, Roman or samurai purity, so Islamic fascists talk in romantic terms of the ancient caliphate.
Anti-Semitism is a tenet of fascism, then and now. But so is a generic hatred for unbelievers, homosexuals and blacks. The latter are slurred in the Arab media, while homosexuals were rounded up under the Taliban and the Iranian mullacracy.
"Mein Kampf" sells well under its translated title "Jihadi." President Ahmadinejad recently suggested in a sympathetic letter to the German chancellor that the Holocaust was little more than an "alibi" used by the victors of World War II to keep the defeated down.
Even now, it is hard to distinguish the slurs against Jews ("pigs and apes") used in the Middle Eastern media from the venom of Joseph Goebbels' propaganda. Goose-stepping and stiff-armed salutes at Iranian and Hezbollah parades are conscious imitations of past fascist armies.
Some object that the term "Islamic fascism" is too vague to encompass the differing agendas of diverse groups such as the Wahhabis, al-Qaida and Hezbollah. But just as racist German Nazis found common ground with Asian supremacists in Japan, so too the shared hatred of the West trumps the internecine rivalries of present-day Islamists.
The common denominators are extremist views of the Koran (thus the term Islamic), and the goal of seeing authoritarianism imposed at the state level by force (thus the notion of fascism). The pairing of the two words conveys a precise message: the old fascism is back, but now driven by a radical fundamentalist creed of Islam.
Others object that fascism conjures up images of past huge armies, and thus exaggerates only a moderate threat from today's ragtag jihadists. But Iran is seeking a bomb far more powerful than anything Hitler had at his disposal. About 2,400 Nazi V-1 buzz bombs in World War II reached their London targets. Nearly 4,000 Katyushas hit tiny Israel in about a month. And the petroleum of the Middle East is the lever by which the Islamic fascists hope to overturn an oil-hungry world.
In contrast, the fuzzy "war on terror" is the real inexact usage. The United States has never fought against an enemy's tools such as German submarines or the Soviet KGB but only against those who employ them. Other groups today use terror like narco-dealers and Basque separatists but this war at this time is not against them.
The real problem is not that "Islamic fascism" is inaccurate or mean-spirited, but that this identification earns such vehement disdain in Europe and the United States. That hysteria may tell us as much about the state of a demoralized West as the term itself does about our increasingly emboldened enemies.