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Commentary :: Middle East

From War Against Terror to Anti-Fascist War

The government only wanted to divert from its failure in the anti-terror battle and cover up the war in a new way.. Fascists nowhere came to power without open support of at least some capital forces.

With the term “Islamic fascism”, US president Bush thinks of the coming election

By Peter Novak

[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis 9/5/06 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,]

According to the Wikipedia entry (1), the term “Islam fascism” has been used for a long time. But for several weeks, it has been discussed intensely in all the media. After the “intercepted attacks” on airplanes in Great Britain, president Bush gave the term his presidential blessing [At War with “Islamic Fascism” (2)]. After the attacks of September 11, 2001, it was used in the president’s circle of advisors. Remarkably former leftists who positioned themselves in the conservative corner in the last years used it. The historian Christopher Hitchens (3) spoke of the threat of Islamic fascism right after September 11, 2001. Decades ago Hitchens made a name for himself as a passionate critic of the Vietnam War. In Germany, the term “Islam fascism” was used in the last years in Israel-solidarity circles coming mainly from the radical left (4). The term “Jihadism” (5) was also used synonymously.

Not astonishingly former leftists use the terms. Ultimately the war against Islamism can be interpreted as a continuation of leftist work. A change of praxis was often allied with the discourse on “Islam fascism.” Greater significance was ascribed to the actions of certain Islamic groups as in the campaign on Al Qaida day [From Teheran to Berlin (6)].

That Bush so casually changed the war against terror proclaimed after 9/11 into an anti-fascist war is surprising at first. With the shift of discourse, the US administration is reacting to many open questions in the struggle against terror. Early on the Bush administration tried to set the alleged final struggle in continuity with the Second World War, the battle against fascism and the liberation of Germany and Japan.

Critics point out repeatedly that the Saddam regime was extremely reactionary and terrorized its own population. Still a connection to Islamic terrorists cannot be proven and is also hardly conceivable given the explicitly secular policy of the Baath regime. But if a war against fascism is now raging, echoes of Mussolini fascism in the Bush movement stimulate the theoreticians of Baathism. Another open flank for the Bush administration was the alliance with Saudi Arabia. How is the war against terrorism consistent with supporting the regime in Riad that has good contacts to Islamic fundamentalists and is basically an Islamic fundamentalist regime? If an anti-fascist struggle is involved, problematic alliances can be justified. Then it could be admitted that Saudi Arabia is everything but progressive and democratic but is an unloved alliance partner in the struggle against fascism.


The reactions to the Bush speech were predictable. Opponents of military deployment in the US and abroad immediately rejected the choice of words. The government only wanted to divert from its failure in the anti-terror battle and cover up the war in a new way. Others tried to deconstruct Bush’s choice of words by means of different fascism theories.

Different theories and definitions of fascism exist. (7) Among historians in the past, combining German National Socialism and Italian fascism under a generic term was controversial. Whether the Franco-regime and rightwing military dictatorships in Latin America can be described with the fascism term was even more contested. Among scholars who considered the fascism term meaningful, there were differences regarding its basic characteristics. Leftist scholars put an emphasis on the alliance between old elites and fascists. They point out that fascists nowhere came to power without open support of some capital forces. Adherents of this fascism description immediately rejected Bush’s working model of Islamic fascism with the counter-question (6) what capital forces stood behind this model.

In contrast, other fascism researchers refer to the movements themselves. They see there an amalgam of déclassé, petty-bourgeoisie and the underclass marked by hatred for modern times, Jews, leftists, feminists, gays, lesbians etc. They point out that irrationalism and the absolute will to realize one’s goals with violence are characteristics of fascist movements. Similarities to radical Islamic movements are seen on this structural plane. The Israel-solidarity movement in Germany sees the mark of fascism in hatred of Jews. They argue that elements of the falsified protocol of the “Wise of Zion” were part of an important propaganda instrument of European fascism in the 1930s and are also found in documents of Hamas. (9) Opponents of the Islam fascism theory insist that a real working model occurred in the anti-Semitism in Europe while it was nourished in the Middle East by the concrete experience of Israel’s occupation policy


Beyond this well-founded dispute, the term “Islamic fascism” obviously has a propaganda function. Bush and his team of advisors actually copy the left who after 1945 linked very different disagreeable political phenomena with the fascism term. The new left put US president Nixon, the Bavarian Prime Minister F. J. Strauss and different Israeli governments under a suspicion of fascism. For conservatives, the term came directly from the vocabulary of the left prompting them to avoid it.

The fascism term first became a weapon of governments with the downfall of the eastern bloc and the rise of several ex-leftists in political functions. The red-green German government used this weapon in the Yugoslavian conflict. Former German defense minister Scharping and foreign minister Fischer made names for themselves here. Fischer and his Green party friend Cohn-Bendit compared the deployment of the German army in Bosnia with the engagement of international brigades in the battle against Franco-Spain. (11) The democratic senator Joe Lieberman (12) recently drew similar parallels. (12) The declared supporter of the Iraq war saw heralds to the future in confronting Spain 70 years ago and against Islamism today. He wanted to make clear that the West could not afford a defeat against Islamists because only greater wars would then be imminent. In his own democratic party, Lieberman lost support on account of his uncompromising position for the US engagement in Iraq. He lost the primary election against an unknown rival from the camp of war critics. Now he will ruin without a party.

Bush’s speech clearly rang in the election campaign. Bush himself cannot be a candidate any more after two terms in office. First of all, the Senate and the House of Representatives may not keep their republican majorities. Bush may spend the rest of his term in office as a “lame duck” in constant conflict with institutions ruled by the opposition. Heavy losses of the Republican Party are predicted. Discontentment with the course of the war in Iraq and its many dead and wounded has grown significantly in the population, even among US soldiers. However a marked anti-war mood as in the final phase of the Vietnam War is lacking. With the right propaganda formula, the republicans hope, a large part of the US population only moderately interested in foreign policy could be regained and the largest opposition party shown to be unreliable in foreign policy.

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