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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To defeat radical Islam, call a spade a spade

In a lengthy article, Jeffrey Herf points out the similarities between radical Islam, Nazism and fascism and wonders at the strange fellowship between the Western radical Left and radical Islam. He argues that what distinguishes all three ideologies are things that ought to be anathema to the Left: Jew-hatred (with which, unfortunately, the Left apparently has no problem anymore), the unequal treatment of women and homosexuals as part of a rejection of 'cultural modernity,' and the importance of religion in two of those ideologies: Radical Islam and Nazism.

Herf attributes the West's failure to recognize the similarities between radical Islam and Nazism to the assignment of politically correct euphemisms in place of actually exposing political Islam for what it is.
Perhaps one reason for our reticence about discussing, specifically, the connection between Islamism and terrorism is the fear that doing so will offend Muslims who reject terrorism. In recent years, a reluctance to offend, and a desire to avoid the appearance of religious intolerance, sometimes called “Islamophobia,” has led the United States to substitute famous euphemisms for accurate speech about the identity of those who are waging war against us. The terms “war on terror” or, more recently, the offensive against “violent extremism” have been used in place of accurate terms that describe the enemy we are facing. The concern not to offend has made it impossible to speak truthfully about who our enemies are and what motivates them. Yet we must find a way to draw attention to the impact of religion without offending those millions of Muslims who reject the Islamists.
Indeed. What started with President George Bush's reference to Islam as a 'religion of peace' in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and his refusal to call his 'war on terror' a war on radical Islam, has accelerated with Obama's refusal to use terms like 'Islamic terrorism' and 'jihad.' Herf argues that until we clearly define the enemy, we will not be able to defeat it. Language matters.

Herf discusses the bases for collaboration between the Nazis and Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini (Arafat's uncle) during World War II, and suggests that collaboration was not just based on political convenience (opposition to a Jewish state), but on the ideology of Jew-hatred.
The alliance between the Nazis and the Arab and Islamist collaborators in wartime Berlin was not simply one of convenience based on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Rather, collaboration rested just as much on shared values, namely rejection of liberal democracy and, above all, hatred of the Jews and of Zionist aspirations. Though the meeting of hearts and minds in wartime Berlin was relatively short, it was an important chapter in the much longer history of political Islamism. It was there that a cultural fusion of Nazism and political Islamism took place. Husseini’s ideological contribution was to offer a religious foundation for hatred of the Jews as Jews, and for a rejection of Zionism. His hatreds were both ancient and modern, based on both the Koran and the traditions of Islam as he understood them, and on secular conspiracy theories of twentieth-century anti-Semitism. His Nazi allies agreed with him that Islam–like Christianity–was an inherently anti-Jewish religion.

The ideological aftereffects of this fusion fed directly into the development of Islamic radicalism as it is formulated today. They are evident in the public statements of Hassan Al Banna, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; the essays of Sayyid Qutb, the Islamist ideologue who was so important for the inspiration of leaders of Al Qaeda; and in Husseini’s postwar political prominence. Of course, Islam, like any other major cultural phenomenon, can be interpreted in different ways. It cannot be the task of American foreign policy to foment a Reformation and Enlightenment in the Muslim world. That is beyond our abilities. But it is within our ability to call a spade a spade. This means we should call our enemies by their proper names and avoid euphemisms.
Herf goes on to give several policy recommendations (including maintaining conventional military strikes at Iran's nuclear weapons program as a 'serious option').

Read the whole thing.

What I found most encouraging about Herf's article is the fact that it is adapted from a talk that Herf gave at the State Department in March. I hope that those who heard his talk are in significant enough positions to act, and that they were as moved by it as I was by his summary.


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