Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini and Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler
Bosnian Muslims of the Nazi SS Division Handschar with antisemitic brochure "Islam and Judaism", 1943
Grand Mufti Amin al-Husseini, alongside SS-Brigadeführer Karl-Gustav Sauberzweig, greeting Bosnian Muslim SS volunteers in November 1943
Bosnian Muslims of the Nazi SS Division Handschar at prayer during their training at Neuhammer in November 1943

"Islamic fascism" (first described in 1933), also known since 1990 as "Islamofascism",[1][2] is a term drawing an analogy between the ideological characteristics of specific Islamist movements and a broad range of European fascist movements of the early 20th century, neofascist movements, or totalitarianism.

Origins of the term Islamofascism

The term Islamofascism is defined in the New Oxford American Dictionary as "a term equating some modern Islamic movements with the European fascist movements of the early twentieth century".[3]

The earliest known use of the contiguous term Islamic Fascism dates to 1933 when Akhtar Ḥusayn Rā’ēpūrī, in an attack on Muḥammad Iqbāl, defined attempts to secure the independence of Pakistan as a form of Islamic fascism.[4] In 1978, Maxime Rodinson, a distinguished Marxist scholar of Islam, responded to French avant-garde enthusiasm for Khomeini's revolution in a three part article in Le Monde, by arguing that, in response to successive assaults by Crusaders, Mongols, Turks and Western imperialism, Islamic countries had come to feel embattled, and the impoverished masses had come to think of their elites, linked to foreigners, as devoid of traditional piety. Both nationalism and socialism imported from the West were recast in religious terms, in a process of political Islamicization which would be devoid of the progressive side of nationalism and revert to what he called "a type of archaic fascism" characterized by policing the state to enforce a totalitarian moral and social order.[5]

The earliest example of the term Islamofascism itself, according to William Safire,[6] occurs in an article penned by the Scottish scholar and writer Malise Ruthven writing in 1990. Ruthven used it to refer to the way in which traditional Arab dictatorships used religious appeals in order to stay in power.[7][8] Malise Ruthven, Construing Islam as a Language, The Independent 8 September 1990. "Nevertheless there is what might be called a political problem affecting the Muslim world. In contrast to the heirs of some other non-Western traditions, including Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism, Islamic societies seem to have found it particularly hard to institutionalise divergences politically: authoritarian government, not to say Islamo-fascism, is the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan."[9] Ruthven doubts that he himself coined the term, stating that the attribution to him is probably due to the fact that internet search engines don't go back beyond 1990.[10]

Popularization of the term after 2001

As a neologism it was adopted broadly in the wake of the September 11 attacks to intimate that either all Muslims, or those Muslims who spoke of their social or political goals in terms of Islam, were fascists.[11] Khalid Duran is often credited with devising the phrase at that date. He used it in 2001 to characterize Islamism generally, as a doctrine that would compel both a state and its citizens to adopt the religion of Islam,[3][12][13] journalist Stephen Schwartz has also claimed priority as the first Westerner to adopt the term in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center in an article in The Spectator, where he used it to describe the Wahhabite ideology of Osama Bin Laden.[4][14][15] and defined it as the "use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology."[16] The term was sufficiently in vogue by 2002 to lead the cultural historian Richard Webster to remonstrate with its usage, in arguing that grouping many different political ideologies, terrorist and insurgent groups, governments, and religious sects into one single idea of Islamofascism both grossly oversimplifies, and induces us to ignore root causes, a key one of which, in his view, was 'the history of Western colonialism in the Middle East, and above all in Palestine'.[17]

Accounts differ as to who popularized the term. President George W. Bush introduced the term officially during his presidency.[18][19] According to Safire, author Christopher Hitchens was responsible for its diffusion, while Valerie Scatamburlo d'Annibale argues that its popularization is due to the work of Eliot Cohen, former counselor to Condoleezza Rice, reputed occasionally to be "the most influential neocon in academe".[20][21] It circulated in neoconservative circles for some years after 2001 and came into wider currency after President George W. Bush, still grappling to find a phrase that might identify the nature of the "evil" which would define the nature of his enemy in the War on Terror, stated in 2005 that Islamofascism was an ideology synonymous with Islamic radicalism and militant jihadism, which, he then clarified, was decidedly distinct from the religion of Islam.[22] It moved into the mainstream in August 2006.[23] After the arrest of Islamic terrorists suspected of preparing to blow up airlines, Bush once more alluded to "Islamic Fascists", apparently a "toned-down" variant of the word,[24] The public use of the neologism and the analogous Islamic fascism during the run-up to the U.S. 2006 mid-term elections,[25] perhaps with a specific focus group in mind,[26] provoked an outcry, or storm of protest, and was quickly dropped from the president's rhetorical armory.[15][27] Katha Pollitt, stating the principle that, "if the control the language, you control the debate", remarked that while the term looked "analytic", it was emotional and "intended to get us to think less and fear".[23] David Gergen, former speechwriter for Richard Nixon, commented that the phrase "confuses more than it clarifies", for "Islamic fascism has no meaning" in the Arab world.[15] Neoconservative writers, critics and scholars from Hitchens to Robert Wistrich however responded that the Muslim religion itself is fascistic, a view which, in identifying Islam with political fascism, was lambasted for being as offensive as the term Judeo-Nazi[28] coined in the 1970s by Yeshayahu Leibowitz, editor of the Encyclopedia Hebraica, to characterize Messianic Jews settling in the occupied West Bank.[29] Hitchens replied that the link is no more deleterious than that made by Leibowitz, or by left-wing analysts who wrote of clerical fascism.

David Horowitz developed an "Islamo-Fascist Awareness Week" consisting of 26 workshops on university campuses, between 2226 October 2007.[20][29] Critics call it a (conservative) buzzword.[13][22] A number of Republicans, such as Rick Santorum, used it as shorthand for terrorists,[22] and Donald Rumsfeld dismissed critics of the invasion of Iraq as appeasers of a "new type of fascism".[25] In April 2008, Associated Press reported that US federal agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, were advised to stop using the term Islamo-fascism in a fourteen-point memo issued by the Extremist Messaging Branch, a department of another federal body known as the National Counterterrorism Center. Aimed at improving the presentation of the War on Terrorism before Muslim audiences and the media, the memo states: "We are communicating with, not confronting, our audiences. Don't insult or confuse them with pejorative terms such as 'Islamo-fascism,' which are considered offensive by many Muslims."[30] By 2007 Norman Podhoretz, arguing that we were in the midst of World War IV, identified Iran as the main center of the Islamofascist ideology he was convinced America had been fighting since 2001. Podhoretz called on the United States to bomb Iran as "soon as logistically possible".[31][32]

Exposition of the term in the commentariat

Schwartz's approach argued that there were several factors that buttressed his motion of a similarity between fascism and Islamic fundamentalist terror: (1) resentment by an economically frustrated middle class as feeding the rage that led to fascism, something that fitted al Qaida's hold on sections of the Saudi, Pakistani, and Egyptian middle classes, and also on Hezbollah's attraction for Shiites in Lebanon; (2) Fascism and Nazism were imperialistic, as are, he claimed, Wahhabis and Hezbollah; (3) it was totalitarian, with Islamic fundamentalists subscribing to takfir, putting all members of global Islam who dissent with their extremism outside the Ummah; (4) both have paramilitary organizations, and not just a party-ideological grouping. While none of these are intrinsic to Islam, he stated, they are all part of Islamofascism, and the distortion is similar to that brand of Christian extremism which led to clerical fascism.[33]

Hitchens, though preferring to speak of "fascism with an Islamic face", a variation on the phrase "Islam with a fascist face" deployed by Fred Halliday to describe developments in Iran after the overthrow of the Shah in 1979,[34] insisted that Bin Ladenism and Salafism shared similarities with clerical fascism, a term already used by Walter Laqueur to refer to the recent form a resurgent Islamic fundamentalism was taking.[35][36] Such clerical fascism was, he argued, like Islamic fundamentalism, had a devotion to a charismatic leader, a point contested by Frederick W. Kagan,[37] trusted in the authoritative power of one book, was queasy about sexual deviance, contemptuous of women, hostile to modernity. nostalgic for past glories, toxicly Judeophobic, obsessed with old grievances, real and imagined, and addicted to revenge. Islamofascism was, he allowed, not perfectly congruent, with European fascism, in that the latter idealized the nation-state. Islam has no concept of a master race. On the other hand, he affirmed, the notion of a revived Caliphate might lend itself to an analogy with Hitler's Greater Germany, and Mussolini's desire to revive the Roman Empire, as Islamic rhetoric about the pure believers as opposed to the kuffār suggests a non-ethnic based form of cleansing.[38]

The American journalist and former Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote that the term fulfilled a need for a term to distinguish traditional Islam from terrorists: "Islamofascism may have legs: the compound defines those terrorists who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods and helps separate them from devout Muslims who want no part of terrorist means."[6] Eric Margolis denied any resemblance between anything in the Muslim world, with its local loyalties and consensus decision-making and the historic, corporative-industrial states of the West. "The Muslim World", he argued, "is replete with brutal dictatorships, feudal monarchies, and corrupt military-run states, but none of these regimes, however deplorable, fits the standard definition of fascism. Most, in fact, are America's allies."[39]

Malise Ruthven opposed redefining Islamism as Islamofascism, a term whose usage has been "much abused". The Islamic label can be used for legitimizing and labeling a movement, but ideology must be distinguished from the brand name associated with it. The difference between Islamic movements and fascism are more "compelling" than the analogies. Islam defies doctrinal unification.[40][41] No particular order of government can be deduced from Islamic texts, any more than from Christianity. Spanish fascists drew support from traditional Catholic doctrines, but by the same token, other Catholic thinkers have defended democracy in terms of the same theological traditions.[42]

Evaluation by historians and scholars

The widespread use in mass media of the term Islamofascism has been challenged as confusing because of its conceptual fuzziness. George Orwell, it has been noted in this connection, observed as early as 1946 that "[T]he word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable'", and linking Islam to that concept was more a matter of denigration than of ideological clarity.[43][44] Chibli Mallat, while noting that the term is controversial, thinks it warranted but notes that there is something anomalous about Islam being singled out, since fascist practices among Jews in Israel, Buddhists in Burma, and Narendra Modi's Hindi constituencies in India do not generate the same terminology: one rarely hears of Hindu-,Buddhist- or Judeo-fascism.[45] A number of scholars and thinkers, such as Michel Onfray,[46] Michael Howard, Jeffrey Herf, Walter Laqueur, and Robert Wistrich have argued that the link between fascism and Islam/Islamic radicalism is sound. Many scholars who specialize in Islam and the Arabic world are skeptical of the thesis: Reza Aslan, for one, identifies the roots of jihadism not in the Qur'an, but in the writings of modern Arab anti-colonialists and, doctrinally, to Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah[47] Historians like Niall Ferguson dismiss the word as an "extraordinary neologism" positing a conceptual analogy when there is "virtually no overlap between the ideology of al Qaeda and fascism".[48]

Scholars who affirm a relation between Islamic movements and fascism

Michael Howard has defended the use of the term drawing parallels between Wahhabism and European Fascist ideology.[49] Howard, while initially deeply unhappy with George Bush's idea of a global war on terror: it was not a war except metaphorically, and one cannot wage war against an abstract concept like terror. Giving one's adversary a belligerent status by reciprocating their idea that they are engaged in a war, as opposed to a confrontation, was against British policy in suppressing insurgencies in Malaya, Ireland, India and Palestine, where the question was one of "criminal disruption of civil order". Yet Howard endorsed Bush's description of the adversary as "Islamic fascists", though he qualified this by stating that although they are no more typical of their religion than the fanatics who have committed abominations in the name of Christianity", and their teachings are as much derived from Western notions as from Islam. Fascism is, for Howard, "the rejection of the entire legacy of the Enlightenment" with its values of "reason, toleration, open-ended inquiry and the rule of law".[49]

In an April 2010 article in The New Republic, historian Jeffrey Herf, elaborating on a talk given to the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., outlined what he regarded as the ideological linkage of Islamism with World War II Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda which was broadcast to Muslims throughout the Middle East radical Islam as the third major form of totalitarian ideology, though closer to fascism and Nazism than Communism in sharing continuities with the former two, such as Judeophobia and anti-Zionism. Radical Islam fitted the model of reactionary modernism in its rejection of democracy and espousal of technology. Islamic Nazi propagandist rhetoric assured Germans they would "exterminate the Jews before the Jews had a chance to exterminate them" and:

echoes of these arguments come across loud and clear in the Hamas covenant of 1988, bin Laden's declaration of war against the "Zionist-Crusader alliance", Ahmadinejad's calls to wipe out the state of Israel, and TV programs in Arab countries that reproduce new versions of anti-Semitic blood libels.[50]

Secondly, Herf argues that like Nazi/Fascist paramilitaries, they were hypermasculine, anti-feminist brotherhoods. Unlike Communists who thought survival an end of strategy, Islamists like those in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran would not be deterred the inevitability of massive retaliation, and in their concept of martyrdom have different ideas about a coming religious apocalypse. Fear of offending Muslims has led the U.S. to avoid terms redolent of Islamophobia. Just as Christian antisemitism played a role in Nazism, he affirms, so too the Qur'an feeds into Islamic rhetoric. Nazi propaganda broadcasts fed into the Arab world's attachment to Islam, and the collaboration rested on shared values, the rejection of liberal democracy and above all hatred to Jews and this tradition fed straight into the formulations of Hassan al-Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the essays of Sayyid Qutb to influence modern Islamic radicalism. Euphemisms must be dropped, Herf counseled, and killing civilians, Muslim or otherwise, defined as a "war crime", Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be indicted for incitement to genocide. Likewise, Ahmadinejad should be indicted for incitement to genocide. His public statements are, Herf believes, violations of Article Three of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; the Iranian nuclear program, threatening a second Holocaust and nuclear attacks on the US, must be halted, with retention of conventional military strikes against that country as an option.[50]

It circulated mainly as a propaganda, rather than an analytic, term after the September 11 attacks on the United States in September 2001[51] but also gained a foothold in more sober political discourse,[52] both academic and pseudo-academic.[53] Many critics are dismissive, variously branding it as "meaningless" (Daniel Benjamin);[54][55] "a kosher-halal" throwback version of the "vacuous" old leftist epithet "fascist pig" (Norman Finkelstein);[56] a "figment of the neocon imagination" (Paul Krugman);[57] and as betraying an ignorance of both Islam and Fascism (Angelo Codevilla).[58]

Tony Judt, in an analysis of liberal acquiescence in President George W. Bush's foreign policy initiatives, particularly the War on Terror and the invasion of Iraq, argued that this policy was premised on the notion there was such a thing as Islamofascism, a notion Judt considered catastrophic. In his diagnosis of this shift he detected a decline in the old liberal consensus of American politics, and what he called the "deliquescence of the Democratic Party". Many former left-liberal pundits, like Paul Berman and Peter Beinart having no knowledge of the Middle East or cultures like those of Wahhabism and Sufism on which they descant authoritatively, have, he claimed, and his view was shared by Niall Ferguson,[59] latched onto the war on terror as a new version of the old liberal fight against fascism, in the form of Islamofascism. In their approach there is a cozy acceptance of a binary division of the world into ideological antitheses,[60] the "familiar juxtaposition that eliminates exotic complexity and confusion: Democracy v. Totalitarianism, Freedom v. Fascism, Them v. Us" has been revived. Judt cited many others who, once liberals have fallen in lockstep with the American idea of a global war against Islamic jihad: Adam Michnik, Oriana Fallaci; Václav Havel; André Glucksmann, Michael Ignatieff, Leon Wieseltier, David Remnick, Thomas Friedman and Michael Walzer.[61] Christopher Hitchens was also criticized by Judt, as making unhistoric simplifications, to justify use of the term.[38]

The term, "Islamofascism" has been criticized by several scholars.[62]

Walter Laqueur, after reviewing this and related terms, concluded that "Islamic fascism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, each in its way, are imprecise terms we could well do without but it is doubtful whether they can be removed from our political lexicon."[63]

Die Welt des Islam Special Issue, 2012

In 2012 a special issue of Die Welt des Islams was dedicated to surveying the issue of Islamophobia in recent Western reportage and scholarly studies, with essays on various facets of the controversy by Katajun Amirpur, Moshe Zuckerman, René Wildangel, Joachim Scholtyseck and others. Their positions were almost invariably critical of the term and the concept underlying it.

See also


  1. Zuckerman 2012, p. 353.
  2. Falk 2008, p. 122.
  3. 1 2 Falk 2008, p. 122
  4. 1 2 Görlach 2011, p. 151.
  5. Afary & Anderson 2010, pp. 99–103. Maxime Rodinson, 'The Awakening of Islamic Fundamentalism ("Intégrisme")?' Le Monde 6 December 1978
  6. 1 2 Safire 2006
  7. Hitchens 2007
  8. Christopher Hitchens. "Defending Islamofascism". Slate Magazine.
  9. Görlach 2011, p. 151.
  10. Ruthven 2010, p. x.
  11. Halliday 2010, pp. 185–187, p.185.
  12. Scardino 2005
  13. 1 2 Editorial 2006
  14. Schwartz 2001:The Islamofascist ideology of Osama bin Laden and those closest to him, such as the Egyptian and Algerian 'Islamic Groups', is no more intrinsically linked to Islam or Islamic civilisation than Pearl Harbor was to Buddhism, or Ulster terrorists — whatever they may profess — are to Christianity. Serious Christians don't go around killing and maiming the innocent; devout Muslims do not prepare for paradise by hanging out in strip bars and getting drunk, as one of last week's terrorist pilots was reported to have done
  15. 1 2 3 Stolberg 2006.
  16. Schwartz 2006. "Islamofascism refers to use of the faith of Islam as a cover for totalitarian ideology. This radical phenomenon is embodied among Sunni Muslims today by such fundamentalists as the Saudi-financed Wahhabis, the Pakistani jihadists known as Jama'atis, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. In the ranks of Shia Muslims, it is exemplified by Hezbollah in Lebanon and the clique around President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran."
  17. Webster 2002:"Those on the right who have taken up the chant of 'Islamofascism' repeatedly enjoin us to 'forget the root causes'."
  18. Bush 2005:'Some call this evil Islamic radicalism. Others militant jihadism.BUSH: Still, others Islamo-fascism'.
  19. Wildangei 2012, p. 527.
  20. 1 2 d’Annibale 2011, p. 118
  21. Podhoretz 2008, p. 43
  22. 1 2 3 Wolffe 2006
  23. 1 2 Pollitt 2006.
  24. Raum 2006:'Conservative commentators have long talked about "Islamo-fascism," and Bush's phrase was a slightly toned-down variation on that theme.’
  25. 1 2 Raum 2006
  26. Raum 2006:
  27. Laqueur 2008
  28. Falk 2008, pp. 122–123
  29. 1 2 Hitchens 2007.
  30. Associated Press 2008
  31. Podhoretz & 2008 p_43-44.
  32. Krugman 2007.
  33. Schwartz 2001:
  34. Halliday 2010, p. 185.
  35. Laqueur 2008.
  36. Laqueur 1996, pp. 147ff..
  37. Stolberg 2006."I'd prefer to call them Islamists," said Frederick W. Kagan, a military historian and neoconservative thinker at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. Fascists, Mr. Kagan said, idealize a strong man, like Hitler or Mussolini. "Bin Laden's stated aim is for Allah to be venerated, so I think it's a very different thing."
  38. 1 2 Hitchens 2006.
  39. Margolis 2006.
  40. Ruthven 2002, pp. 207–8.
  41. Ruthven 2010, p. x.
  42. Ruthven 2010, p. 31.
  43. Orwell 2013, p. 10.
  44. Halliday 2010, p. 187.
  45. Mallat 2015, p. 155,n.5
  46. Onfray 2007, p. 206:"the overthrow of the Shah ... gave birth to an authentic Muslim fascism": "the Iranian Revolution gave birth to an Islamic fascism never before associated with that religion".
  47. Aslan 2010, pp. 25–6:"It has more in common with the Bolsheviks and the French revolutionaries than it does with militant Muslim nationalist groups such as Hamas and Hizballah. To talk about Jihadism as Islamofascism is to misunderstand both Jihadism and fascism. Fascism is an ideology of ultranationalism; Jihadism rejects the very concept of the nation-state as anathema to Islam. In that regard, Jihadism is the opposite of Islamism" ... "What was for centuries considered a collective duty waged predominantly within the confines of an empire or state and solely in defense of life, faith, and property ... has, in Jihadism, become a radically individualistic obligation utterly divorced from any institutional power."
  48. Ferguson 2006.
  49. 1 2 Howard 2006/2007, pp. 7–14.
  50. 1 2 Herf 2010.
  51. Wildangel 2012, p. 526
  52. Zuckerman 2012, pp. 353–354.
  53. Gershoni 2012, p. 472.
  54. Greene 2006:'Security expert Daniel Benjamin of the Center for Strategic and International Studies agreed that the term was meaningless. "There is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term," he said. "This is an epithet, a way of arousing strong emotion and tarnishing one's opponent, but it doesn't tell us anything about the content of their beliefs. "The people who are trying to kill us, Sunni jihadist terrorists, are a very, very different breed.".'
  55. Larison 2007 "The word "Islamofascism" never had any meaning, except as a catch-all for whatever regimes and groups the word’s users wished to make targets for military action. Hitchens is also well known for his tendentious misunderstandings of all forms of religion, likening theism to a supernatural totalitarian regime and attributing all of the crimes of political totalitarianism to religion. It was therefore appropriate that he should promote the term "Islamofascism" since it defines a religious movement in the language of secular totalitarianism."
  56. Finkelstein & Wahajat 2007:'The term is a throwback to when juvenile leftists, myself among them, labeled everyone we disagreed with a "fascist pig." So this is a kosher-halal version of that epithet. Fascism used to refer to a fairly precise historical phenomenon, although it's even doubtful that the term accurately encompasses regimes as different as Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. But when you start using the term to characterize terrorist bands who want to turn the clock back several centuries and resurrect the Caliphate, it is simply a vacuous epithet like "Evil Empire," "Axis of Evil" and the rest.'
  57. Krugman 2007:' there isn't actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it's not an ideology; it's a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t.'
  58. Codevilla 2009, p. 25
  59. Ferguson 2006:'what we see at the moment is an attempt to interpret our present predicament in a rather caricatured World War II idiom. I mean, "Islamofascism" illustrates the point well, ... It's just a way of making us feel that we're the "greatest generation" fighting another World War, like the war our fathers and grandfathers fought. You're translating a crisis symbolized by 9/11 into a sort of pseudo World War II. So, 9/11 becomes Pearl Harbor and then you go after the bad guys who are the fascists, and if you don't support us, then you must be an appeaser.'
  60. Judt 2014, p. 386
  61. Judt 2006.
  62. Boyle, Michael, 'The War on Terror in American Grand Strategy', International Affairs, 84, (March 2008), p196
  63. Walter Laqueur, The Origins of Fascism: Islamic Fascism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, 2006


Further reading

Look up islamofascism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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