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And They Have A Plan

Iraq is only one front in a larger war being waged against the Western world. We are under siege by people with an ideology, a plan, hundreds of millions of dollars, and an ever increasing presence on virtually every continent. Yet none of the decision makers in Washington is willing to confront Iran; the threat that Iran poses, as the standard-bearer of Islamic fascism, goes unacknowledged.

This is undoubtedly an unpopular war. Those who define the enemy as radical Islamic fascism are ridiculed by the media and others; the term is dismissed as inflammatory and inapt. It is not inapt, and thus it is not inflammatory. The term “Islamic fascism” is no harsher than those we used to describe our enemies in the Second World War. And just as we did not call all Italians “fascists” then, so too we do not call all Muslims “fascists” now.

Words define the enemy we confront. They help the American people comprehend what motivates the enemy. Without clear, accurate words, we cannot fight effectively: our own people become confused and divided, and the fascists are encouraged to believe that we fear them. When we fail to recognize the connection between Iraq and Iran, we postpone the day when we define a strategy to win the war, instead of a list of steps to retreat from the Iraqi theater. ~Rick Santorum

I grow weary of kicking Santorum around, but he simply will not go away.  Go home, Senator!  Stop saying stupid things, I implore you!

If “Islamic fascism” were not an idiotic phrase that referred to nothing, I would not care if it were inflammatory.  However, if one of the chief virtues of the phrase is supposedly its ability to distinguish the friendly, happy Muslims from the sinister, hostile Muslims, it is a uniquely ill-chosen phrase, since most Muslims who hear it believe that it is a general term of abuse directed at all Muslims.  The phrase evidently is inflammatory to Muslims.  This might not be an important objection, except that one of the reasons for adopting the phrase is supposedly not to lump all Muslims together as the enemy and make them believe that we are treating all of them as the enemy. 

Where I find the phrase most damningly ignorant and tiresome is in its designation of people who are clearly not fascists as fascists.  Newsflash, Senator: all of the actual fascists are dead or in Argentina.  Fascism as a working ideology for all intents and purposes died in 1945.  You can find the occasional oddball who wants to bring it back, just as you can still find true-believing Marxists in their last holdouts, but there are no fascist movements of any significance in the world today.  The closest to fascism in the Near East they have ever come might be Baathism, and yet the one thing we can be confident about with Baathism is that it is not particularly Islamic.  If the phrase is meant to obliterate the distinction between secular Baathists and religious jihadis, it is not just a worthless phrase–it is positively sinister in its ability to blur vital distinctions.  If it is intended as a signal to incite the American people into some kind of unthinking hostility towards targets that you and your allies select, it is a pernicious and immoral use of language. 

If words matter, if words mean things, why use a recycled word that has taken on so many different meanings that its original has almost been completely lost?  Are those who use this phrase so hopelessly inured to thinking in terms of WWII and comparing themselves with Churchill that they cannot conceive of an enemy except as it relates to the ideology of Mussolini?  To call jihadis fascists is to betray a lack of understanding about jihad and fascism.  It is to somehow make jihadis into an Islamic version of hypernationalist revolutionaries, when neither the nation nor the nation-state serves as the focus of their loyalties or aspirations.  It is to pretend that jihadis are a product of a sort of secular ideology, when the last thing that they are is secular.  It is to suggest that they are somehow something other than simply Islamic, and that the roots of jihadis are not to be found in Islam itself, but are instead found in a “fascist” deviation or distortion of the same.  This seems to be simply wrong and at odds with what we think we know about Islam.  It is this phrase, not its repudiation, that is the distraction.  Its proponents continue to use it not for its superior descriptive or analytical value, since it has neither, but instead they use it almost as a kind of symbolic distinction that proves that they “get it” and understand “the Real Threat,” when nothing better illustrates how clueless they are than the continued use of this phrase.  That the people who use this phrase are also among the most bellicose and confrontational hawks vis-a-vis Iran is one small reason why warnings about an Iranian threat seem to me to be the ravings of deluded minds or dishonest propagandists.  No one would accuse you of being dishonest, Senator, so that leaves the other alternative. 

Anyone who can take the phrase “Islamic fascism” as a serious description of the Iranian theocracy doesn’t know enough about Iran or anything else in the region to be making policy recommendations one way or the other.  The use of the phrase is self-discrediting.  To repeatedly ask why no one else understands the nature of Real Threat, all the while muttering “Islamic fascism,” is to play the fool: no one else sees the threat as you do, Senator, because the threat you see does not exist because Islamic fascism does not exist.  Start speaking about things that do exist, and then, perhaps, we will start to take you seriously.  Until, that is, you start warning us about Venezuelan imperialism.  

Words do matter, Mr. Santorum, which is why the persistent use of a meaningless phrase that also manages to agitate almost every Muslim on earth is a sign of reckless irresponsibility and poor judgement.  It is one of the reasons, perhaps, that people in Pennsylvania told you to go into another line of work.  If this war is as grave and serious as you say it is, misunderstanding things as badly as you have is very dangerous.  Imagine if people in WWII had viewed the fight against the Axis as a fight against a new Holy Alliance or something equally preposterous–can you imagine the howling derision they would have rightly encountered?  Your use of the phrase “Islamic fascism” inspires the same response in your critics.  Please, just stop.  Some of us did respect you for your other excellent views on other profound moral evils of our day, but each time you make this same tired appeal it becomes harder and harder to remember that you ever had anything else worthwhile to say.  Please, stop becoming the hysterical caricature that your most dedicated opponents want you to be.  Just stop!    

If “Islamic fascism” is a meaningless phrase and does not refer to something that exists in this world, it is also meaningless to say that Iran is the standard-bearer of this non-existent thing.  If you want to argue about the threat posed by Iran, we could do that, but that would require us to deal in empirical reality and not resort to the hyperbolic warnings of Iranian world conquest that so routinely fall from your lips, Senator. 

We might start with certain basic things, such as whether or not we have been at war with Iran for 27 years.  Empirically, the United States is not at war with Iran and actually has not been at war with Iran in all that time.  Those who want us to be at war with Iran are doing everything they can to make sure that we will be in the future, but they are striving so eagerly to this end because they know full well that we are not.  It is not sufficient to respond to this by saying, “You don’t understand the Real Threat!”  Do you realise, Senator, that you come off sounding rather mad when you say things like this?  Again, please stop.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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