Friday, August 11, 2006

Hands Off Our "Fascism"!

So some friends and I had a pretty good bull session last night. What time we didn't devote to television shows of the 1980s and 1990s, we spent on the word "Islamofascism," which Pres. Bush has used a lot lately in response to the (alleged) plot by British Muslims to use liquid explosives to blow up planes traveling from the UK to the US.

In it, we came to the following consensus: the right isn't allowed to use the word "fascism." Their designated irresponsible smear word is and always has been "communism." If Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity or Dick Cheney doesn't like something, he should call it "communist." Cindy Sheehan, the DNC, Amnesty International, that kid who used to take their lunch money and call them "sissy fatties": Communists each and every one.

But the right can't have "fascism." That's the left's irresponsible smear word. The right can't have both.

As a simple matter of fairness, that should settle the issue.

But since fairness is scarce these days, I'd also point out that there are actual reasons that the right shouldn't use "fascism" to describe our jihadi enemies. Actual fascist states have historically been defined by having powerful central governments with zero concern for civil liberties, national obsessions with having strong militaries, strong, charismatic leaders, and respect for (mostly) capitalist practices and laws. (Think Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, Franco's Spain.) None of the countries in the administration's "Axis of Evil" are meaningfully fascist. In fact, the term "Axis of Evil" is another lame attempt to link those countries to our fascist World War II enemies.

Yes, some of our jihadi enemies are bastards who would love to implement an authoritarian state. But that doesn't automatically make them fascists. Kim Jong Il and Fidel Castro are also authoritarian bastards, and I think the right already has a label for them. What was it, again? Oh, right, "communist."

The real problem with our jihadi enemies isn't that they're fascist, it's that they're zealots. Unlike either fascists or communists, they're driven in large part by the warped, sanctimonious, bloody-minded bad thinking that masquerades as religion in so much of the world. "Islamofascism" is a pretty bad way of describing that.

And describing these enemies accurately is particularly important precisely because these enemies don't have a state we could invade even if we wanted to. (Iran is as close as it gets, and if you think the Iraq war has been bloody, counterproductive, and costly, don't even try to imagine the Iran war.) That is, in the physical world they're not making any obvious, overt self-definitions for us. They're not drawing borders and building permanent facilities. So, for efficiency and efficacy in the short and long term, we need to be able to understand our enemy and to identify it in a crowd. We need to be able to distinguish reliably between people who sympathize with standing up to Western countries and people who blow up or finance the blowing-up of planes and marketplaces.

And one of the reasons we need to be able to do that is that the better we get at finding and neutralizing actual terrorists while at the same time leaving in peace civilians (however much those civilians talk smack about us), the easier it will be to find the terrorists because the civilians will stop sympathizing with them. Sloppy definitions and lazy thinking will sink us in this struggle.


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