Michael Ledeen, in the unending quest to make everyone adopt the term “Islamofascism,” notes that the Iranian Prez has been making pro-natalist noises – and pro-natalism, of course, “is right out of the fascist manual,” because both Hitler and Mussolini supported it.
Well. It was one thing when Ledeen urged us to adopt a foolhardy foreign policy course vis-a-vis Iran – but now that he’s attacking natalism, well, the gloves are coming off. How about this: Both Hitler and Mussolini supported strong militaries, interventionist foreign policies, and ideas of “national greatness” – so presto, American neoconservatives are really Amerifascists! Right? Right? How do like them apples, Mr. Ledeen? Teach ya to f– with the natalists! ~Ross Douthat
I think Ross could have ended his post right there and he would have been all right, but he does go on to qualify his rather strong reaction:
No, I’m being too flip. There is something about fascism’s tendency toward blood-and-soil rhetoric – and by extension, toward an essentially biological concept of national strength – that made natalism a particularly good policy fit for a fascist regime. For that matter, I’ll go further in my quasi-agreement with Ledeen, and admit that a term like “Islamofascism,” while obviously intellectually flimsy in certain respects, almost makes sense as a quick-and-dirty way to describe the Iranian regime; there’s no obvious term for that country’s cocktail of Persian nationalism, Shi’ite radicalism, and run-of-the-mill populist authoritarianism, and if the people throwing around “Islamofascist” wanted to restrict it to Tehran’s quasi-Islamist, quasi-nationalist dictatorship, I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it.
But, as some of us have noted, the word Islamofascism (or Islamic fascism) is not reserved for Ahmadinejad’s supposed Sturmabteilung of Basij fanatics. (Note: I obviously don’t find the ascription of the label to the Iranian government and its ideological cocktail very useful, descriptive or obvious, but let’s return to that later.) Ross continues:
But of course, they don’t want to so restrict it; they want to use it describe al Qaeda as well, which is silly, and they want to use it as a rhetorical club to convince everyone that 2006 is just like 1938, or maybe 1936, and Ahmadenijad is just like Hitler, and all the rest – which is silly and dangerous.
Excellent. But I would add a couple other points. As some of the advocates for this term would have it, Islamofascist is supposed to extend to far more than Al Qaeda. Thus Cliff May said:
The problem, as I see it with using the term “Bin Ladenism”: It can’t be applied to the ideologies of the ruling Iranian mullahs, Saddam Hussein loyalists or other Baathists (e.g. in Syria).
So Islamofascism must embrace any and all opponents of U.S. hegemony, real or perceived, regardless of whether they are religious and jihadi or secular and Baathist. To take May at his word, Islamofascism has to be able to embrace Deobandis in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Hizbullah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, Salafis in Jordan and Iraq, Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia, Baathists in Syria, and presumably also the Sudanese government, the Islamic Courts of Somalia, and Kashmiri jihadis. According to this view, all of these groups are somehow now our problem because they fit the ever-expanding mould of Islamofascist. Islamofascist must not only include all of these groups, but it must impose upon theme a common goal and unified purpose (I suppose it would be “they hate us for our freedom,” right?), even though it is fairly clear that they are disparate groups with divergent interests tied to their local circumstances and local grievances.
To conflate them all into one more or less homogenous jihadi cause–thus mirroring their delusions of a concerted, unified effort to destroy Islam around the world–is not only to give substance to their recruiting rhetoric but also to ignore cleavages and fissures among different kinds of jihadis that we might exploit to our advantage. Many of the hegemonists apparently missed divide et impera in neo-imperialist school. All of these things tell me that the use of “Islamofascist” and “Islamic fascist” is a way to import some very dubious assumptions about the nature and necessity of U.S. intervention in various Near and Middle Eastern countries into our thinking about combating Islamic terrorism, which leads to some remarkably bad and dangerous beliefs (e.g., Santorum’s “Iran is bent on world conquest with the help of mighty Venezuela!” spiel) designed to channel the legitimate desire to fight jihadis and the vital importance of the anti-jihadi fight into public support for a hegemonist agenda that is only tangentially related to actually fighting jihadis. I say tangentially because the main targets in the sights of the jingoes these days are not Taliban camps in Waziristan or, more outlandishly, Lashkar-i-Muhammad training facilities in Sindh, but the secular Syrian regime and the clerical regime in Tehran, which have been fishing in Iraq’s troubled waters but had been on the whole slightly cooperative with anti-jihadi efforts in late 2001 and 2002. Rather than avoid conflict with these regimes with which we have few real significant causes for conflict, these people want to escalate our hostility against them. Given the record of the past four years, that seems to me to be an obvious mistake, but one that does not have to keep being repeated. Rather than build from these early successes by working with these regimes against our common foe in Sunni jihadis, our government chose to treat these regimes as part of the same phenomenon and part of the same general adversary. To continue to use rhetoric that reinforces this kind of strategic folly is not clear-eyed truth-telling nor is it Churchillian courage–it is the throwing of rhetorical garbage for lack of a coherent strategy that can be defended on its merits.
I would just note here that nationalists in general tend to be natalist (see the Gaullists in France or the Partido Popular in Spain), regardless of whether they are necessarily actually fascist, because nationalists in general believe in blood-and-soil rhetoric and organic metaphors for nationhood. More to the point, they think that defending and preserving the natio has something to do with the nation biologically reproducing itself.
Ledeen’s focus on Iranian natalist policies (a policy also adopted in Aymara-dominated Bolivia, which, as Sen. Santorum tells us, will be the front line of the great Cubano-Venezuelan empire) and his labeling of them as simply fascist policies does make you wonder: do Ledeen and those who, such as Sen. Santorum, use this “Islamic fascism” rhetoric believe that natalist policies are inherently undesirable in themselves or because they are tainted by associations with fascism (or both)? In our anti-fascist zeal, shouldn’t we stop having children all together? That would teach the Nazis a lesson! Ha ha! Presumably Sen. Santorum would be rather embarrassed to find natalism, which is something I assume he does not oppose in principle and probably even actively supports in some ways because of his religious convictions, denounced as something taken out of the “fascist manual.”
Surely the reason to be concerned about other countries’ natalist policies is not because they are fascist or proof of Islamofascism, but that they are aimed at increasing their numbers while the population growth of Western countries tends to need significant boosts from immigration to even try to keep pace.
The thing that should leap to the forefront of our minds is this: if even the batty Ahmadinejad can see the rational advantages of encouraging more births in his country through formal policy, why are so many people in this country so instinctively hostile to the idea? Why is the first response among this crowd to news of Iranian natalism not, “We cannot allow a natalist gap!” but instead, “See, Iranians are fascist!”? Because they don’t want to be like the nasty Islamocylons? Please. (The article is yet to be written on the possible cultural significance of BSG‘s ambivalence towards procreation and childbirth–associated overwhelmingly with Cylon coercion and religious fanaticism–as shown by a race on the verge of extinction as the humans in that series are.) American suspicion of natalism is, to my mind, yet more proof of the disintegrative influence of individualism and the harmful consequences of an ethic of self-satisfaction and self-indulgence according to which appeals to the common good are always statist tricks and totalitarian plots to control your life.
Incidentally, you could see this retreat to invoking fascist parallels in the debate at Crunchy Con last spring when the critics of the crunchy con idea only too readily associated a belief in transcendent norms and the importance of their application to everyday life with fascist ideas of transcendence (as if there were no other kind!). To see ethical dimensions in everyday life was to “politicise” them, which in one sense was perfectly true, since ethical life is intimately connected to the life of the polity, but it was also supposedly to make a religion out of politics, which was such utter nonsense that it was embarrassing to see the charge made.
It seems to me that in certain cases of anti-crunchy criticism and again with Ledeen’s cheap shot against natalism you begin to run up against the divisions in what Mr. Bottum described as the “new fusionism,” the current alliance of pro-lifers and morally “serious” interventionists that he found in modern conservative and GOP circles. People on one side of the divide do believe in a transcendental order, an “enduring moral order,” typically an order set down by God, and believe that this order has profound relevance for the entirety of everyday life, and the others on the other side of the divide may be respectful of these views and even nominally supportive of them but when the claims of transcendence come knocking on their own door they want no part of it. They seem to be saying: we must have “moral clarity” in our foreign policy, and we all agree that abortion is horrible and ought to be discouraged because it is violating human rights, but let’s keep that self-examination and those heavy-handed claims of the eternal verities out of my personal, private business. It does not hurt that the first instinct of some of the Moral Clarity Brigade members is to associate something as life-affirming as natalism with fascism and thus make their own ambivalence about supporting natalism into a foreign policy issue (which is what, as you may have noticed, these folks seem to make out of everything) so that the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply” comes across as part of the rhetoric of a dictatorial Fuehrer who wants to destroy your individualist way of life.
That makes you wonder: how long will the “new fusionist” alliance, to the extent that it exists, hold up as some of the basic moral and social goods valued by the religious conservatives in the alliance are (yet again) either ignored or, when noticed, mocked in the context of pointing out the supposed reactionary and fascist nature of a foreign government?