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Saturday, August 19, 2006

Our Opinion

Fascism, Islamic And Real

On August 10, the British police announced that they had succeeded in disrupting an allegedly massive terrorist plot to blow up a large number of passenger planes flying from Britain to the United States. Amid the ensuing chaos, British security officials announced that 24 British Muslims, mostly of Pakistani descent, had been arrested; one person was released within a couple of days while another person was subsequently detained. All of the arrests were, and continue to be, accompanied by the now-standard frenzied speculation of al-Qaeda involvement.

Discussions, statements, accusations, and, above all, preemptive judgments—the moral equivalent in the West today of preemptive military strikes—in the days following the declared foiling of the alleged attacks centered around two distinctive and by-now familiar (if not tiresome) forms of rhetoric. On one hand, the alleged plots were denounced as the malevolent offspring of “Islamo-fascism,” which presumably instigates and actively breeds an endless cycle of violence against “us”—that is, the democratic, liberal, and freedom-loving West. No distinction was made, for example, between the arrested British Muslims and the militants of Hezbollah and Hamas—indeed, quite the opposite, the actions of the UK at Heathrow were seen as a virtual extension of the actions of Israel in southern Lebanon and Gaza. Freedom’s enemies are everywhere, after all, linked in an ideologically ill-defined (because ill-definable) but omnipresent “axis of evil” that also includes Iran and Syria (at least for the moment, as this axis is, apparently, an unending work in iniquitous progress). Thus, once again, as Heathrow airport was turned into yet another front in “World War III” (to use the favored term of some of the West’s most zealous defenders), British, US, and Pakistani security agencies all congratulated themselves on achieving another significant victory in the continual struggle against terror.

And then there was the “moderate” counterpoint to the hardline war-talk, the now routine attempt to place the 24 suspects and their alleged acts of terror within the much broader context of Islam’s supposed disenchantment with the West. Thus, according to this argument, these 24 people constituted another instance of Muslim radicalization, perceived as a backlash against colonialism, Western support of Israel, globalization, the consequent erosion of traditional societies by Western cultural and social models, the extensive ghettoization of Western Muslim minority communities, the West’s support of dictatorial and corrupt regimes in the Muslim world, and, last but far from least, the American and British invasion and occupation of Iraq (among other Western invasions and occupations).

Suffice it to say here that “Islamo-fascism” is so profoundly stupid a term as to be meaningless by definition. Putting aside the essentially secular nature of fascism itself (its past support by established religious authorities, almost always Christian, notwithstanding), it is impossible, even for those of us who cannot accept the increasingly tortured exegeses of its apologists, to conform Islam to a Procrustean mold of fascism. This is not the place for a wide-ranging examination of the subject. It is enough to add that, in a fundamental, ideological sense—which, in the end, is the only intellectually honest way such a matter can be approached—some of the actions taken, and constitutional principles espoused, by the US and UK governments over the last few years are much closer to a literal fascism than any of the declarations of al-Qaeda or other Islamist groups.

The notion of Hezbollah and Hamas as “Islamo-fascist,” by the way, is dangerously unintelligent, precisely because it obscures the two groups’ unusual—and, for their secular opponents among the Lebanese Shi’a and Palestinians, unfortunate—democratic resonance in and appeal to their respective constituencies. Hezbollah and Hamas have not only received their political mandates in free, open, and internationally monitored elections, but (even more important and the key to their respective backing in Lebanon and Palestine) are seen as communal wellsprings of social support and welfare—two facts that the American media, just to name the most egregious example, purposely, systematically, distort. It’s simpler, after all, to call Hezbollah a terrorist group rather than a parliamentary party, or to accuse Hamas of “Islamo-fascism” instead of accepting it as the elected representative of the Palestinians (mostly as a result of the obscene corruption and capitulation of the secular PLO). If nothing else, it makes the PR easier when their leadership faces Israel’s “targeted assassinations.”

As for Islam’s “disenchantment” with the West, well, yes, of course—but two questions: Who speaks for “Islam” and what, exactly, do we mean here by “the West”? If the events of August 10 turn out in fact to be what the British authorities tell us they are—the uncovering of an enormous conspiracy to kill hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent people—we are still left wondering: What does all of this really mean, besides criminal pathology, obviously? What makes both the London Jihadist attacks of July 7, 2005, and the allegations of August 10 so utterly chilling—even beyond the number of victims—is the fact that they were planned and executed by British-born Muslims. Terrorism of such magnitude by Western, middle-class, second-generation ethnic or religious minorities against their fellow citizens is so rare as to be unworthy of discussion. And yet, in Britain, it seems to have become a daily fear. This, in itself, is what makes the issue—and the consequences—of “Londonistan” so extraordinary, and so terrifying.

Clearly, the British experience points to an elemental methodological problem in defining European Islam as a homogeneous entity. The tendency to view the “problem” of European Muslims as a “deterritorialized” Islam is, in that sense, both wrongheaded and redundant. The issue of Muslim behavior outside the dar al-Islam has been a part of Islamic life since the time Muhammad’s followers first expanded beyond the borders of the Hijaz. (Contemporary Muslim thinkers speak of a dar al-Dawa, the “house of invitation,” or dar al-Amn, the “house of safety,” to describe the reality of Islam in the West today.) The alienation and disaffection of European Muslims are manifested very differently in each European country. The so-called disaffection of French Muslims is very different from the radical disconnection of British ones. Truth be told, we don’t even think it exists, at least not in any coherent confessional manner.

Probably the most inane, and disinformative, description of last year’s riots outside of Paris by immigrant, mostly Muslim, youth was that it was a “jihad.” A jihad? Has anyone ever seen Muslim youth in France? Even to describe these hip-hopping, vodka-drinking, all-night-party-crawling youngsters as “Muslim” makes a nonsense of language (and of Islam). Why doesn’t anyone describe their counterparts in Lyons or Miami or Edinburgh or Milan as “Christian” or “Jewish” youth? The disturbances in France were almost completely an issue, first, of class and, second, of race (specifically, of French racism); in the event, they had virtually nothing to do with religion. But, of course, class has become the dirtiest, most suppressed word in Western discourse now. We dare not speak of it; we dare not touch upon it as a global source of, and impulse to, social segregation and—such is the way of the world—violence. Which is why even fascism has now become ludicrously enwrapped in religion. We dare not say the obvious, historically and politically: that fascism always was, and still is, a matter of unhinged nationalism and class war (and disorientation). Islamo-fascism, indeed. The numerous cases of terrorism since September 11, 2001, have included only isolated instances of European Muslims attacking their fellow citizens (most notoriously, the murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam). With very few exceptions, the radicalization of European Muslims expresses itself mainly in the form of contesting national (actually, social and cultural) integration—although, in France, of course, young Muslims are demanding to be integrated.

The fact, then, that a substantial segment of British-born Muslims is now violently alienated from British society—and from the rest of us, who are its fellow travelers—is an ill omen. In that sense, the estrangement of Muslims in France is genuinely healthy for French society as a whole, as it is part of a broader class confrontation that can only help to translate the hoary slogans of French republicanism into some sort of reality. In Britain, however, what we see is an Islamic radicalism based purely on permanent, unyielding, and violent existential refusal. The current issue (August 19-25) of The Economist has a special report on the ramifications of this most recent terror scare. The article that examines the current relations between British Muslims and non-Muslims is entitled “Miles Apart.” Continents, and centuries, apart would be closer to the truth.

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