Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Putting the Islam in Islamofascism

I have long complained about the tendency for certain ideological factions to treat all terrorism committed by Muslims as a monolithic phenomenon - be it through use of imprecise language like "Islamofascism" or by conflating groups like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. The broad brushed approach represents a gross oversimplification that clouds key underlying issues, grievances and opportunities, and thus inevitably leads to counterproductive and inefficient policies. David Shorr was hunting this game with an election-themed post that contains some worthwhile links. A tidbit:

As the US develops a stronger ability to connect with the national interests of others, we will become more effective in combating terrorism. For instance, it is important to see not just one terrorist threat, but many different threats. Not only will we understand better what confronts us, but we will see more clearly which different threats engage the different interests, and thereby support, of other nations. We have learned that when we look at the threat monolithically, it carries an implicit all-ornothing demand that can backfire. Focusing more on the distinct strategies and tactics among terrorists could create new opportunities to forge partnerships with a range of other nations.

Those valid complaints seem like a pale quibble, however, in the face of Paul Cella's defense of Major Stephen Coughln - who was recently dismissed from his post at the Pentagon - and, indeed, Coughlin's own work. The thrust of Coughlin's thesis (warning: pdf) is that the real "underlying cause" for terrorism committed by Muslims is...Islam itself.

So how does one explain the prevailing assumption that Islam does not stand for such violence undertaken in its name with the fact that its laws and education materials validate the very acts undertaken by "extremists" in Iraq?

Cella picks up Coughlin's theme and decries the reluctance on the part of Americans to identify Islam as the problem:

It is my firm view that the most vital problem of American national security, the question upon which hinges our fortune in the war that came to our shores on September 11, in short, nothing less than the most pressing issue before the Republic, is whether or not we will comprehend the ineradicably Islamic character of the enemy.

Are we or are we not a people capable of embracing hard truth about the war that is made against us — the hard truth that the enemy finds his motivation, his inspiration, his justification, his rhetoric, even his strategy and tactics, in the authentic and primitive traditions of the religion of Muhammad? Are we or are we not a people possessed of the fortitude equal to this challenge? As the cliché goes, can we handle the truth?

As Cella continues in comments, while trying to offer a compromise position with a dissenter:

...we are going to have to emphatically leave open the question, are terrorists the weeds in the Islamic garden, or are they the garden itself?

Even uber-hawk John McCain cannot escape unscathed:

We invent new euphemisms to conceal the facts virtually every day; we invent them because, as Chesterton aptly put it, short words startle us while long words sooth [sic] us. Sen. John McCain, for instance, is said to be a hawk on the war on terror. For him the enemy is a comically redundant string of emotional descriptors: “radical Islamic extremism.” My personal favorite is the talent of our sheepish writers for piling on suffixes. The enemy becomes “Islamicism”; whatever is necessary to rhetorically distance him from the Islamic religion as such. The purpose of these lengthy phrases is not to properly identify and understand the enemy; it is to sooth [sic] the distressed conscience of Liberalism.

Yikes. Kind of makes all those evocations of Islamofascism seem quaint. Then again, perhaps we should leave open the question: Is Paul Cella's interpretation of Islam the weed in the garden of those pushing the Islamofascism frame, or is it the garden itself?

(h/t to the Jameson Clan)

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