The term Islamofascism is a neologism which draws an analogy between the ideological characteristics of specific Islamist movements from the turn of the 21st century on, and a broad range of European fascist movements of the early 20th century, neofascist movements, or totalitarianism.


Origins of "Islamofascism"

The term "Islamofascism" is included in the New Oxford American Dictionary, which defines it as "a controversial term equating some modern Islamic movements with the European fascist movements of the early twentieth century".[1] The term is used in this manner by writers like Stephen Schwartz[2] and Christopher Hitchens,[3] to describe Islamist extremists, including terrorist groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah. William Safire makes particular note of Hitchens as a "popularizer" of the word, though Hitchens declines credit for coining it.[4] The terms Islamic fascism and Muslim fascism are also used by the French philosopher Michel Onfray, an outspoken atheist and antireligionist, who notes in his Atheist Manifesto that Ruhollah Khomeini's Islamic Revolution "gave birth to an authentic Muslim fascism".[5]

The origins of the term are uncertain. William Safire writes that the "first use [he] can find" comes from Malise Ruthven in 1990, when Ruthven wrote in The Independent that "authoritarian government, not to say Islamo-fascism, is the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan."[6][7] Albert Scardino writes that the term "seems to have appeared first" in a Washington Times piece, in which scholar Khalid Duran used it "as a criticism of hyper-traditionalist clerics."[8] According to the Times, this piece appeared in July 2001.[9]

The proposed analogy with fascism

Proponents of the term argue that there are similarities between historical fascism and Islamofascism,[10][page needed] Christopher Hitchens makes the following comparison:

The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.[3]


The term, "Islamofascism" has been criticized by some scholars[11] and journalists. Historian Niall Ferguson[12] and international relations scholar Angelo Codevilla consider it historically inaccurate and simplistic.[13] Author Richard Alan Nelson criticized the term as being generally used as a pejorative or for propaganda[14][15] purposes. Tony Judt argued in a September 2006 article in the London Review of Books that use of the term was intended to reduce the War on Terror to "a familiar juxtaposition that eliminates exotic complexity and confusion", criticising authors who use the term Islamo-fascism and present themselves as experts despite not having previous expertise about Islam.[16]

Critics such as former National Review columnist Joseph Sobran, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argue that "Islamofascism is nothing but an empty propaganda term." used by proponents of the "War on Terror".[14][17][18] Security expert Daniel Benjamin, political scientist Norman Finkelstein and The American Conservative columnist Daniel Larison, highlight the claim that, despite its use as a piece of propaganda, the term is inherently meaningless, since as Benjamin notes, "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."[19][20]

Cultural historian Richard Webster has argued that grouping many different political ideologies, terrorist and insurgent groups, governments, and religious sects into one single idea of "Islamofascism" may lead to an oversimplification of the phenomenon of terrorism.[21] In a similar vein the National Security Network argues that the term dangerously obscures important distinctions and differences between groups of Islamic extremists while alienating moderate voices in the Muslim world because it "creates the perception that the United States is fighting a religious war against Islam."[22] Daniel Larison attributes proponent Hitchen's support of the phrase to his anti-religious stance.[23] British historian Niall Ferguson points out that this political use of what he calls a "completely misleading concept," is "just a way of making us feel that we're the 'greatest generation' fighting another World War."[12] Reza Aslan claims the term "falls flat" when describing groups like al-Qaeda, noting that they are anti-nationalist while fascism is ultra-nationalist.[24]

Commenting on the claimed incongruity between the "Muslim World" and "industrial state fascism," US journalist Eric Margolis claims that ironically the most totalitarian Islamic regimes, "in fact, are America's allies."[25]

The public use of the term has also elicited a critical response from various Muslim groups. In the aftermath of the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, George W. Bush described his policies as a battle against "Islamic fascists... [who] will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom". The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him to complain, saying that the use of the term "feeds the perception that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam".[19] Ingrid Mattson of the Islamic Society of North America also complained about this speech, claiming that it added to a misunderstanding of Islam. Mattson did acknowledge, however, that some terrorist groups also misuse "Islamic concepts and terms to justify their violence."[26]

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." [27]

One of the world's leading authorities on fascism, 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.[28]

"Islamofascism Awareness Week"

The controversy surrounding this neologism is not only confined to the critical commentary of media figures, academics and Muslim groups. In 2007, the conservative writer and activist David Horowitz launched a series of lectures and protests on college campuses under the title of "Islamofascism Awareness Week.".[29] Several Muslims and non-Muslims on different college campuses aware of the event came out in opposition to it.[30][31][32][33][34][35] The Muslim Student Group at Penn State University, for instance, said it feared "that this Islamophobic program will have hazardous consequences on the Penn State community."[36] The Harvard Republicans have also gone on record to distance themselves from the event.[37]

Ali Eteraz has accused speakers at the event of hypocrisy. For example, he argues that while the event claims to promote gay rights in the Muslim world, one of its speakers, Ann Coulter, refers to homosexuals as "faggots".[38] And while the event focuses on "the oppression of women in Islam", Eteraz points out that one of its speakers has been denounced as "very anti-women" by the National Organization for Women.[39]


American author and Richard Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote that the term fulfills 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."[40] Christopher Hitchens has also publicly defended the term in Slate, noting along with the fact that he finds the comparison apt, that the names for other forms of religious fascism, like clerical fascism have a less contested existence.[41]

Author Malise Ruthven, a Scottish writer and historian who focuses his work on religion and Islamic affairs, opposes redefining Islamism as `Islamofascism`, but also finds the resemblances between the two ideologies "compelling".[42]

Michael Howard has defended the use of the term drawing parallels between Wahhabism and European Fascist ideology.[43]

In an April 2010 article in The New Republic, historian Jeffrey Herf outlined the ideological linkage of Islamism with World War II Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda which was broadcasted to Muslims throughout the Middle East:

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.[44]

Examples of use

  • "It is right for us to be on the offense against Islamofascism, and not wait until they attack us on our soil. Unlike any war we have ever fought in this nation, this is not a war for soil. It is a war for our soul. We will either win it or we will lose it. This nation must rally to the point where we recognize there is no compromise. There is no alternative. We must win; they must lose. Islamofascism must disappear from the face of the earth, or we will."[13]Mike Huckabee
  • "What we have to understand is ... this is not really a war against terrorism, this is not really a war against al Qaeda, this is a war against movements and ideologies that are jihadist, that are Islamofascists, that aim to destroy the Western world."[45]Clifford May
  • "[Islamic terrorist] attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane. Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom."[46]George W. Bush

See also


  1. ^ The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition, Erin McKean (Editor), 2096 pages, May 2005, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6
  2. ^ Schwartz, Stephen. "What Is 'Islamofascism'?". TCS Daily. Retrieved 2006-09-14. 
  3. ^ a b Hitchens, Christopher: Defending Islamofascism: It's a valid term. Here's why, Slate, 2007-10-22
  4. ^ William Safire (2006). "Islamofascism Anyone?" The New York Times, Opinion-Editorial. Retrieved August 28, 2007
  5. ^ Michel Onfray: Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Carlton, Vic. 2007, pp. 206-213.
  6. ^ William Safire (2006). "Islamofascism Anyone?" The New York Times, Opinion-Editorial. Retrieved August 28, 2007
  7. ^ "Construing Islam as a language", by Malise Ruthven, The Independent, September 8, 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."
  8. ^ Scardino, Albert (2005-02-04). "1-0 in the propaganda war". London: The Guardian.,3604,1405605,00.html. Retrieved 2006-04-19. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W W Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-05775-5.
  11. ^ Boyle, Michael, 'The War on Terror in American Grand Strategy', International Affairs, 84, (March 2008), p196
  12. ^ a b "Niall Ferguson Interview: Conversations with History)". Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley. 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-12.  "…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, because it’s a completely misleading concept. In fact, there’s virtually no overlap between the ideology of al Qaeda and fascism. 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."
  13. ^ a b Angelo Codevilla. Advice to War Presidents. Public Affairs. p. 25. ISBN 9780465004836.  "...the term "Islamofascism," used to describe strongly anti-Western movements in the Muslim world, betrays ignorance of those movements as well as of Islam and Fascism."
  14. ^ a b Sobran, Joe. "Words in Wartime". Retrieved 2006-04-18.  "Islamofascism is nothing but an empty propaganda term. And wartime propaganda is usually, if not always, crafted to produce hysteria, the destruction of any sense of proportion. Such words, undefined and unmeasured, are used by people more interested in making us lose our heads than in keeping their own."
  15. ^ Richard Alan Nelson (1996 url = A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United States.  "Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion."
  16. ^ Judt, Tony (21 September 2006). "Bush's Useful Idiots". London Review of Books 28 (18). 
  17. ^ Rall, Ted. "Bush’s war on history and to…toma…tomatotarianism". Retrieved 2007-07-28. 
  18. ^ Paul Krugman (2007-10-29). "Fearing Fear Itself". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  "...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."
  19. ^ a b Richard Allen Greene (12 August 2006). "Bush's language angers US Muslims". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  20. ^ Wajahat Ali, 'An Interview with Norman Finkelstein' "'Islamo-fascism' is a meaningless term. If I am not mistaken, it was coined by the commentator Christopher Hitchens. 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.
  21. ^ Richard Webster. "Israel, Palestine and the tiger of terrorism: anti-semitism and history". New Statesman. Retrieved 2007-06-28.  "The idea that there is some kind of autonomous "Islamofascism" that can be crushed, or that the west may defend itself against the terrorists who threaten it by cultivating that eagerness to kill militant Muslims which Christopher Hitchens urges upon us, is a dangerous delusion. The symptoms that have led some to apply the label of "Islamofascism" are not reasons to forget root causes. They are reasons for us to examine even more carefully what those root causes actually are."
  22. ^ Report: 'Islamofascism' blinds U.S. "(Islamofascism) creates the perception that the United States is fighting a religious war against Islam, thus alienating moderate voices in the region who would be willing to work with America towards common goals."
  23. ^ Larison, Daniel. "Term Limits". Retrieved 2008-03-13.  "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."
  24. ^
  25. ^ Eric Margolis (August 2006). "The Big Lie About 'Islamic Fascism'". Retrieved 2007-07-28.  "There is nothing in any part of the Muslim World that resembles the corporate fascist states of western history. In fact, clan and tribal-based traditional Islamic society, with its fragmented power structures, local loyalties, and consensus decision-making, is about as far as possible from western industrial state fascism. The Muslim World 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."
  26. ^ "U.S. Muslim group's head says Bush's term 'Islamic fascism' adds to misunderstanding of Islam". The Associated Press. September 1, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  27. ^ "'Jihadist' booted from US government lexicon". Associated Press. April 25, 2008.,7340,L-3535863,00.html. Retrieved 2008-04-25. 
  28. ^ Walter Laqueur, The Origins of Fascism: Islamic Fascism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, 2006
  29. ^ 'Islamo-Fascism Week' Stokes Debate
  30. ^ The BC Heights (October 2007). "Controversial 'awareness week' draws criticism: 'Islamofascism' gets mixed reponses". Retrieved 2008-03-13. [dead link]
  31. ^ The Daily Cardinal (October 2007). "Diversity forum tackles advocacy issues". Archived from the original on 2007-10-12. Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  32. ^ The Daily Californian (October 2007). "Republican Group’s Event Plans Under Fire". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  33. ^ The Dartmouth (October 2007). "‘Islamo-fascism’ speaker met with controversy". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  34. ^ The Daily Bruin (October 2007). "Week’s focus stirring controversy: Bruin Republicans’ "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" met with criticism from Muslim students". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  35. ^ Esther Kaplan, The Nation (October 2007). "The Culture War Descends on Columbia". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  36. ^ Muslim Student Association's Response to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (IFAW)
  37. ^ Harvard Crimson (October 2007). "‘Islamo Fascism’ Week Fails To Gain Traction". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  38. ^ "Coulter under fire for anti-gay slur". =CNN Politics. 
  39. ^ "Santorum tries to woo female voters". U.S. News & World Report. 
  40. ^ William Safire: Islamofascism, The New York Times, October 1, 2006
  41. ^ Christopher Hitchens (October 2007). "Defending Islamofascism. It's a valid term. Here's why.". Retrieved 2008-03-13. 
  42. ^ A Fury For God, Malise Ruthven, Granta, 2002, p.207-8
  43. ^ Michael Howard, ‘A long war?’ Survival 48: 4, Winter 2006–2007, pp. 7–14.
  44. ^ Jeffrey Herf, "Killing in the Name" New Republic, April 8, 2010
  45. ^ Clifford May (October 12, 2004). "News from CNN with Wolf Blitzer". CNN News Transcript. Archived from the original on 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-06-28. 
  46. ^ "President Discusses War on Terror at National Endowment for Democracy". 2005-10-06. Retrieved 2006-04-19. 

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