Friday, August 25, 2006

A Reporter on Language, by Frank Devine


Frank Devine
Originally uploaded by Sydney Weasel.
It's a pity US President George W. Bush spoke of Islamic fascists in connection with the failed plot to booby-trap passenger aircraft heading for the US from London.

Islamo-fascist is catchier: it's only one word, is easier to say and holds promise of developing the acronym IF (pronounced eye eff). We may even borrow from communism's epithet bank and refer to Islamo-fascist hyenas.
Al-Jazeera devoted an hour to discussing Bush's use of his phrase. Viewers who called in said they were infuriated. Tough. Bloggers have disputed the legitimacy of connecting Islam and fascism.

Personally, I consider Islamo-fascist among the most useful of the present neologisms, acceptably accurate in its portrayal of our enemies and filling an awkward gap in English vocabulary.

2 comments:

Weasel said...

Bush is right to speak of Islamo-facism

T'S a pity US President George W. Bush spoke of Islamic fascists in connection with the failed plot to booby-trap passenger aircraft heading for the US from London.

Islamo-fascist is catchier: it's only one word, is easier to say and holds promise of developing the acronym IF (pronounced eye eff). We may even borrow from communism's epithet bank and refer to Islamo-fascist hyenas.
Al-Jazeera devoted an hour to discussing Bush's use of his phrase. Viewers who called in said they were infuriated. Tough. Bloggers have disputed the legitimacy of connecting Islam and fascism.

Personally, I consider Islamo-fascist among the most useful of the present neologisms, acceptably accurate in its portrayal of our enemies and filling an awkward gap in English vocabulary.

It's not even particularly neo. The idea is believed to have surfaced in a 1979 Washington Post editorial that described the Ayatollah Khomeini as an Islamic fascist.

The first use of Islamo-fascist was probably made by the English newspaper The Independent in 1990.

The Oxford English Dictionary is rather stuffy about fascist. First it sends you away to fasci, which it defines as "groups of men organised politically in Sicily in 1895".

Back at fascist, it points you to Italian nationalists gathered together to oppose communism, then to the Partito Nazionale Fascista, led by Benito Mussolini from 1922 to 1943. Finally, the OED concedes that fascist can loosely describe any form of right-wing authoritarianism.

Merriam-Webster lets in more light with its definition: "A political philosophy, movement or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for centralised autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe social and economic regimentation and forcible suppression of opposition."

Hezbollah, al-Qa'ida, Hamas, Jemaah Islamiah, the Taliban and the Government of Iran, to name a few of our Islamic foes, fit comfortably under the Merriam-Webster umbrella. None of the usual labels such as terrorists, Islamists, fundamentalists, jihadists, militants, Muslim radicals or insurgents is adequately descriptive of specific

Islamo-fascist groups or of their common purpose - to damage and, ideally, destroy Western society - and their identical murderous tactics.

Not having a name to call enemies who describe us as satanic puts us on the back foot.

Writing in The Guardian after the foiled London plot, Max Hastings declared, for instance, that "Bush's belief in a worldwide Islamist conspiracy is foolish and dangerous. (He) sounds more like the Mahdi preaching jihad against infidels than the leader of a Western democracy. He is indifferent to the huge variance of interests that drives the Taliban in Afghanistan, insurgents in Iraq, Hamas and Hezbollah fighting the Israelis."

But even Hastings finds need for a collective label and refers to "violent fundamentalists". Not all Muslim fundamentalists are violent, however, and the violent are not necessarily being faithful to the fundamental principles of Islam.

A much less effete Englishman, William Shawcross - who had the machismo to write a biography of Rupert Murdoch against his subject's express wishes - called Hezbollah Islamo-fascists during a BBC interview.

"That's a very controversial description," the interviewer exclaimed. She ended the interview almost immediately.

But Shawcross kept the motor running in a subsequent column: "Don't (people) know that the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the eager seeker of nuclear weapons, considers the destruction of Israel an Iranian priority? Or that Hezbollah's Hassan Nasrallah has said he wished all Jews would gather in Israel so that they could all be destroyed at once? Or that among the prisoners Nasrallah demands that Israel release are men arrested after rejoicing in smashing out the brains of Israeli children?"

American historian Paul Berman has pointed out that "when fascism arose in Europe in the 1920s, '30s and '40s, similar movements cropped up in the Arab world. While different from their European counterparts" they had "similar mythology and paranoia: a cult of hatred and a cult of death".

One such movement was the Muslim Brotherhood, originating in Egypt with the mission of creating a unified Muslim theocracy. According to Berman, the Brotherhood "schooled many young radicals", among them Ayman al-Zawahiri, now the No.2 man and reputedly the brains of al-Qa'ida.

It appears that before President Bush spoke of Islamic fascists, aides ran the idea past the professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, Fouad Ajami, a Shi'ite Muslim who saw no harm in the phrase: "There are people waiting to be offended. They want to be offended. They're eager to be offended."

Calling somebody a fascist is undoubtedly intended to give offence. But it doesn't seem to break John Howard's bones. It offends only those caught clearly in the act of emulating the sinister founders of fascism.

In London and, I understand, in Sydney, demonstrators who purported to be turning out for Lebanon displayed banners declaring: "We are all Hezbollah now."

Should this not have read: "We are all fascists now"? Would they consider a rewrite?

Weasel said...

Frank Devine, in academic terms you have been my inspiration for many years. After your semi retirement I stopped reading the Australian and started writing my own blog, styled ‘Sydneys Conservative Weasel’ which reached two million words and images before my public service employer demanded I kill it. Before the end, my Weasel had made contact with US military and conservatives from around the world. It is with joy I read this article, smacking my head from time to time asking myself why it is I’m not so precise or succinct.

If I may, I would like to point out to your readers Tom of Sydney and Brouxhon George a few mistakes they made in interpreting your article.

Hezbollah and Hamas are fascist regimes with respect to their own people, not the US. As regards the US, Hamas and Hezbollah are not recognized as political entities.

The US has no designs on ownership of Middle Eastern peoples, desiring only to allow them to join the world community on their own terms. While it is true that the US has a substantial need of Middle East oil, that is a passing phase, while an independent, prosperous Middle East is a goal.

However, the unrepresentative leadership of the Islamic world have, over many years, eliminated moderates. This has resulted in the appearance of Islamists as being something which they historically are not, apparently unworthy and incapable of the art and grace they once were known for.
http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,20241125-5007146,00.html