Since 9/11, a new concept has entered the vocabulary of political debate, "Islamo-fascism". Is this a genuine ideological concept, or is it merely a term of abuse?
Most of the time "Islamo-fascism" is used by Islamophobes and Westerners who are either fearful of Islam or fundamentally hostile to it. But when it has been used by members of the Bush administration or by such presidential aspirants as Huckeby and Giuliani, the term "Islamo-fascism" has been narrowly focused on such militant movements as Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. The term is often interchangeably used as the equivalent of "Islamic terrorism".
While the term "Islamo-fascism" was coined by critics or even enemies of Islam, the much older term "Judeo-Nazism" was coined by a distinguished Israeli scholar. As editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica, Prof. Yeshayahu Leibovitz (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) coined "Judeo-Nazism" as a sincere concern about certain forms of Jewish extremism. The term has also been cited by Noam Chomsky in his book, Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel and the Palestinians (Boston: South End Press, 1983 pp. 446- 7).
And when Israeli bulldozers seemed to be burying Palestinians alive in Jenin, other critics of Israel married the word Nazi to the word Zionism -Nazi-onism. But in this latter case it was a clumsy term of abuse rather than a meaningful ideological characterization.
Similarly, the term "fascism" since the 1960s has been a term of ideological abuse. In the 1960s it was popular with the ideological left as a term of denunciation against police brutality, apologists for the American war in Vietnam, corporate greed, white racists in the American South and even university administrators under siege among radicalized students.
Since 9/11, however, the term "fascism" has also become popular with right wing Republicans, but denouncing not the socialist left but the newly radicalized Muslims. However, the fascism, which originated in Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany, was a systematic body of thought which included a central role for the state, a personality cult of the Leader, and a fusion of corporate power and militant nationalism. In contrast, the term "Islamo-fascism" has little relationship with a body of ideological thought involving elaborate statism, militant nationalism, and corporate power comparable to Hitler's Germany or Mussolini's Italy, or even mobilized personality cult of the scale of "Hail Hitler". Osama bin Laden is admired as a remote heroic figure, but not as a powerful presence in practical politics like Hitler or Mussolini, capable of bestowing medals or inflicting punishments.
It is because of all these considerations that the term "Islamo-fascism" is fundamentally a term of abuse comparable to "Judeo-Nazism", rather than a serious ideological reformulation.
Let us now turn to a genuine ideological comparison between the history of Islamic culture and the rival civilizations with which it has often been negatively contrasted.
Cultures between Virtue and Violence
Cultures have to be assessed not merely in terms of the heights of achievements to which they can ascend; but also in terms of the depths of brutality and even barbarism to which they may descend. The measure of cultures is not merely their virtue-potential; it is also their vice-potential.
In the twentieth century, the Muslim world has not often been a fertile ground for democracy, (virtue-potential). On the other hand, Islamic culture has also been less fertile for the vice-potential of Nazism, Fascism and Communism than either Christian culture (Germany, Italy and Russia), Buddhist culture (Japan before World War II, Pol Pot's Cambodia) or Confucian culture (Mao's China).
Muslims are often criticized for not producing the best. However, they are seldom congratulated for having standards of behavior which have averted the worst. There are really no Muslim equivalents of systematic Nazi extermination camps, nor Muslim conquest by genocide on the scale perpetrated by European [in Europe, Bosnia]~ in the Americas and Australia, nor Muslim versions of rigid apartheid once approved by the South African Dutch Reformed version, nor Muslim equivalents of the brutal racism of Japan before the end of World War II, nor Muslim equivalents of Pol Pot's killing fields m Cambodia; nor Muslim versions of Stalinist terror in the name of Five Year Plans. What is it in Islam which has resisted the ultimate depths of human depravity?
Communism and Stalinism had once independently triumphed in such Christian countries as Russia and Czechoslovakia. Communism also triumphed is such predominantly Buddhist cultures as China, Vietnam and North Korea. If the People's Republic of China is counted as both Buddhist and Confucian, Communism has also been autonomously triumphant in China.
But apart from the dubious case of Albania, Communism has never autonomously prevailed in a previously Muslim culture.
In the 1930s we also saw fascism grow in such Christian cultures as Italy, Germany, Portugal and Spain. We also witnessed a form of fascist militarism develop in Shintoist-Buddhist Japan. But the world has yet to witness the development of systematic state fascism and its organized brutalities in the Muslim world. Part of the normative background is that Islam has historically been resistant to three forces which contributed to some of the worst features of twentieth century's worst cases of barbarism. First, Islam has historically been relatively resistant to racism. The mosque has been racially integrated from the days of the Prophet Muhammad salla Allahu 'alayhi wa sallam itself. One of the Prophet's most beloved companions was the Ethiopian, Bilal radi Allahu anh, the freed slave who rose to great prominence as a disciple of the Prophet. Partly because of Islam's relative non-racial nature, the history of Islam is free of systematic efforts to obliterate a whole people. Islam conquered by cooptation and conversion rather than by genocide.
It is true that there have been incidents in Muslim history which have caused large scale loss of life. Turkey's attempt to deport the entire Armenian population of about 1,750,000 to Syria and Palestine in 1915 was catastrophic. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished by starvation or were actually killed on the way. Armenians in the Diaspora have never forgiven Turkey for that horrendous episode.
But is a decision to expel a people, however disastrous in its consequences, the equivalent of the systematic Nazi Holocaust against the lives of Jews? Movement of people between India and Pakistan at the time of the partition of British India involved mutual massacres between Muslims and Hindus.
Saddam Hussein's use of lethal gas against Kurdish villages is more clearly comparable to Nazi behavior. But this was a case of the use of an illegitimate weapon in a civil war (lethal gas) rather a planned program to destroy the whole of the Kurdish people. The Iraqi case was an evil incident rather than an evil program of genocide.
We must also distinguish between massacres and genocide. The history of almost every country in the world includes a massacre on some occasion or another. But only a few cultures have been guilty of outright genocide. If Muslim history has been relatively resistant to both systematic racism and systematic genocide, Muslim history has also been spared the whole experience of the Inquisition and burning on the stake. Indeed, when children in Muslim societies are caught deliberately burning insects, they are sometimes admonished with the ancient Islamic adage: "La Yuadhibu bi-nar illa'Llah" ("Only God punishes with fire.") There was therefore never an occasion of Islam sanctioning the burning of heretics on the stake. Cultures that once had done that in their history were in danger of tolerating gas-chambers against people of another faith as late as the 1930s and 1940s. While Islam has been relatively resistant to racism, genocide, and the equivalent of the Inquisition, it has been more ambivalent about slavery .Muslims have both owned and traded in slaves across the centuries. But slavery among Muslims has been almost race-neutral. Slaves could be white, black, brown or other. So could masters. This is in contrast to the trans-Atlantic slave-system which was racially polarized: white masters-black slaves.
Second, slavery in Muslim history allowed for high upward social mobility. Both Muslim Egypt and Muslim India produced slave dynasties. The long reign of the Mamlukes in Egypt (1250-1517 C.E.) was a case of sovereignty exercised by former slaves. [The Mamlukes were Turkish prisoners of Genghis Khan, who sold them as slaves to the Ayyubid Sultan of Egypt. The Sultan trained them as soldiers, and eventually they became his palace guard. In 1250, the Mamlukes seized control of Egypt, and ten years later they inflicted the first great defeat on the Mongol armies trying to seize Palestine. The Mamlukes overran Asia Minor, and ruled Egypt for more than 250 years. Selim I of Turkey finally defeated them in 1517 and conquered Egypt. Under Turkish rule, the Mamlukes kept on as soldiers, resisted Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. In 1811, Egypt's Viceroy Mehemt Ali ordered the massacre of all Mamluks.]
Finally, let us examine the interplay between Islam and violence: Against the background of all the debates about Islamic "fundamentalism" and Arab "terrorism", one powerful paradox of the twentieth century may be overlooked. While Islam may indeed generate more political violence than does Western culture, Western culture in turn generates more deviant street violence than does Islam. Islam does indeed produce a disproportionate of number of violent Mujahiddeens; Western culture produces a disproportionate number of violent muggers. In terms of quality of life for the average citizen is there a trade-off between the excesses of the Islamic state and the excesses of the liberal state? Let us look at the dilemmas more closely.
The crisis of the Western liberal state is still one where citizens are safer from their governments than ever before, but less safe from fellow citizens. The quality of life is becoming increasingly violent in the West. It is less politically frightful than in parts of the Muslim world, but the direction of social change is towards increasing social conflict.
One solution elsewhere in the world is a return to pre-modernism, to indigenous disciplines and values such as in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The other solution is the search for post-modernism.
Teheran, the capital of Iran, is a city of some ten million people. In the 1990s, I had seen families picnicking with small children in public parks between 11 p.m. and midnight. In four different cities, I saw people walking late at night with their children or women-folk, seemingly unafraid of mugging or rapes or slaying. This is a society which has known large-scale purposeful political violence in war and revolution, but a society where petty interpersonal violence in the streets is much rarer than it is in Washington, Detroit, or New York. Iranian citizens may be less safe from their government than U.S. citizens are from theirs. But Iranians are safer from each other than Americans are. The Iranian solution is in the moral sphere, pre-modernist.
Can the Muslim World find post-modernist solutions to its own anguish? There are indeed two ways of escaping modernity -- retreat to pre-modernism or the aspiration to transcend modernity .
Can the Muslim world pursue the positive aspects of globalization without descending into the negative aspects of Winterization?
The largest Westernized city in Africa is Johannesburg. The largest Muslim city is Cairo. In population Cairo is much larger than Johannesburg but has only a fraction of the rate of street violence of the South African city. Does Islam help to pacify the streets of Cairo?
How wide is the cultural distance between Islam and the West? How long is the historical distance? The measurements are cultural and demographic.
In Search of the Future
Francis Fukuyama has assumed that the end of history arrives when we have discovered what is best. He forgot that we also need to understand how to protect ourselves from what is worst.
We know that Western liberal democracy has enabled us to find openness, governmental accountability, popular participation, and high economic productivity .But we also know that Western pluralism has been a breeding ground for racism, fascism, Nazism, exploitation, and genocide.
If history is to come to an end as a quest for the ultimate political order, it can never be satisfied with the message of the West on how to maximize the best in human nature- from alcoholism to racism, from materialism to Nazism, from drug addiction to Marxism as the opium of the intellectuals. Of all the systems of values in the world,
Islam has been the most resistant to the ultimate destructive forces of the 20th century -- perhaps, for the time being, including AIDS. Are those societies closer to the Shari'a also more distant from the HIV? If so, should we take a closer look? The reduced levels of commercialized prostitution and the reduced levels of hard drugs have so far helped to protect the more conservative Muslim cultures from AIDS better than average.
The interplay between the relativity of culture and the relativity of history continues. In historical terms the Muslim world may be only decades behind the West in -- some democratic principles, rather than centuries.
In cultural relativism, on the other hand, one must distinguish between democratic principles and humane principles. In some humane principles the Muslim world may be ahead of the West -- including the protection of the family, the lower levels of street violence in most Muslim cities, and the relatively non-racial nature of the culture of the mosque.
How can a bridge be built between democratic principles and humane principles? Turkey is a preeminent example. In times of peace the Ottoman Empire was more humane in its treatment of minorities than the Turkish Republic became after 1923. The Ottoman millet system extended considerable tolerance to religious minorities. The Turkish Republic, on the other hand, gradually moved towards a policy of cultural assimilation. While the Ottoman Empire had tolerated the Kurdish language, the Turkish Republic outlawed it for a long time. The Ottoman Empire was, in peace times, more tolerant of religious minorities than the Turkish Republic was of linguistic minorities. And yet the Turkish Republic (however imperfect) was a closer approximation of democracy and its values than the Ottoman Empire had been. This illustrates the proposition that when the country was not at war, the Ottoman Empire was more humane than the Turkish Republic, but less democratic. In the final analysis, democracy is a system of how rulers are chosen; human governance is a system of how citizens are treated. Ottoman rule at its best was humane governance; the Turkish Republic at its best has been democratic.
Is what is going on in Turkey in the early years of the twenty first century a search for reconciliation between the greater humaneness of the Ottoman Empire and the greater democracy of the Turkish republic?
The partial Islamic revivalism may be the beginnings of a fundamental Turkish review of the Kamalist revolution, which inaugurated the era of Turkish secularism. In the case of England since Henry VIII, we raised the scenario of a theocracy being democratized. In the case of Turkey in the early years of the twentieth first century, is there a possibility of a democracy being theocratized? The increasing electoral support for Islamic revivalism in Turkey has increased speculation about pushing back the secular revolution of Mustafa Kamal Ataturk (1881-1938).
Was Necmettin Erbakan's (b.1926; prime minister 1996-97) relationship to the Kamalist revolution the equivalent of Gorbachev's role in rolling back the Leninist revolution? Or was Erbakan a forerunner of Turkish equivalents of both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, jointly rolling back the Kamalist revolution in the years ahead? Is Turkish democracy in the process of being slowly re-theocratized?
The dialectic of history continues its conversation with the dialectic of culture within the wider rhythms of relativity in human experience.
Perhaps there is no such phenomenon as "Islamo-fascism". There is a confrontation between radicalized Islam and militarized Western hegemony, engaged in a search for a future dialogue of civilizations.
Dr. AIi A. Mazrui, director, Institute of Global Cultural Studies and Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities Binghamton University State University of New York at Binghamton, New York; Albert Luthuli professor-at-large University of Jos, Nigeria; Andrew D. White professor-at-large emeritus and senior scholar in Africana studies, Cornell University; and Chancellor Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology Nairobi, Kenya.
I want to thank you for your willingness to understand Islam and Muslims and to start a conversation with us. Otherwise you would not have given out your personal email address for us to comment on your comment. Thank you for not being one of those bigots who just hates no matter what!
I agree with you 100% on the brutalities committed in and by Muslim communities. Unfortunately, we have deviated from the teachings of the Quran and of our holy Prophet Muhammad(pbuh).
But one thing though, your comments (I dont' think intentionally) try to justify what Israelis are doing against Palestinians. This is where I disagree with you. The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is fundamentally a moral issue. A so called civilized society forced Palestinians to leave their homes to make room for another; the Palestinians ended up in the slums as degraded human beings. As a human, not even due to my Muslim heritage, I can't accept this. And every day Palestinian homes are demolished by Israelies, often with people inside them. And please don't justify Israeli actions as warfare. It is state-sponsored terrorism. And you have proved that for us when you mentioned how so many Israeli soldiers commit suicide. They do so because it becomes unbearable for them to see and be part of the atrocities the state of Israel commits against the Palestinians.
And your count is wrong also. In a single day, over 4000 unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children were massacred by the joint forces of Israel and Lebanon. You probably don't know about it since your media hides it so well.
Only when we learn to condemn State-sponsored terrorism along with its counter-part, we will be able to put an end to the conflict.
And you really need to listen to the fatwas given by many of the Israeli scholars. They want all the Palestinians to die because they want to inherit it all. Media carefully purges those out also.
What about the Innuits or the Polynasians?
Don't you know the Polynasians practiced human sacrifices? The powerful families that ruled the islands, used to side with Europeans to get weapons from them so that they could kill their own kind to establish their dominance.
And "worst" does not only refer to violence; there are other "worst" things that go against the grain of a decent society - like wanton sex, using women to please someone to get their favor. I hope you are not like one of those early Europeans who, after visiting Polynasian island, claimed it to be heaven on earth because of the freely available sex.
Another thing, Innuits or Polynasians are a group of people, not religion like this article is talking about. So the similarity you tried to draw is fundamentally flawed. Also, these are not widespread communities - they did not have considerable Global influence like Christianity or Islam or Judaism.
I think this is hard to read article that often lost track of its own progression, or what it was trying to convey. I understand brother's intention, but I disagree with many parts of this article like the part I just mentioned at the top of my comment.
We must not compare ourselves with others to show that we have been better than others. We should judge ourselves against the divine laws, the best standard in the world - Islam. If we follow it, none can be better than us in any aspect of life. And please don't overlook issues in our societies, nor make excuses for them. Muslim world has seen too much brutalities committed by its own kind. And we keep ignoring that, so the problem keeps escalating. Don't compare with others to show that we have been less brutal. We are not supposed to be brutal at all according to our Quran and the traditions of our Prophet Muhammad(pbuh). We are not following Islam, thus we have become lowest of the low.
The author's intention was to show that Islam has prevented much injustice and wickedness. But it was all downhill from there when he started making excuses for our leaders and societies that are completely becoming devoid of Islam. The article should have shown how Muslims societies, instead of being examples to the world, degraded pitifully by not following the laws of the Almighty.
babies. many women raped by Syrian solders. The Israelis have assassinated Palstinian leaders who have been behind the attacks and bomb makers. Look at all the people the Syrians assassinated; any leader who made even a minor protest against Syrian occupation and free thinkers. The Lebanese leader Dany Chamoun, his wife and 5 and 7 year old children were brutally murdered. Ok I got a bit sidetracked talking about Israel so I will make a part 2. You can
give your opinions to my comments at [email protected]
Such articles are a rarity in these days of cut and paste journalism.
We need to hear more from Br. Ali, who many (including me) believe is a gold mine of Africa.
That said, Muslims are equally complicit of not introducing the mercy of Shariah to the world system. In the absence of Shariah the world is forced to accept capitalism from the technologically superior forces. Ask a Muslim? Have you ever offered two rakah prayers begging Allah (sbt) to help them establish Shariah on this planet? Muslims are not even aware of their responsibilities of establishing Shariah on this planet.
The present day Muslims are totally devoid of the concept of Shariah except Miswak, size of the beard, trowser above ankles etc..
Very good that Muslims have not ran after communisim and are the major force in resisting against capitalism and that is the reason they are called terrorist. What about Shariah then? You cannot live in vaccum!
Communism and Stalinism had once independently triumphed in such Christian countries as Russia and Czechoslovakia. Communism also triumphed is Buddhist cultures as China, Vietnam and North Korea. If the People's Republic of China is counted as both Buddhist and Confucian, Communism has also been autonomously triumphant in China.