“Islamofascists” and “Putin-Hitler” reverberate through our public discourse, reflecting anger and emotion, rather than calm and acumen. As such, these seemingly helpful tags actually impede our understanding of both adversaries and, hence, prevent us from elaborating a successful strategy against each, including mobilizing popular support for the endeavor.
He who gets to name names, wins. The old saw makes for a good zinger but lacks precision. It should perhaps be: he who labels a phenomenon fast and popularizes it persistently and repetitiously dominates the discourse. Hence, we suffer of the ever enduring poison of the Komintern’s Willi Műnzenberg who cast the Civil War in Spain as a conflict between “fascism” and “democracy.” Never mind that the former included Stalinists, Trotskyites, and anarchists whose revolutionary fury rendered anything smacking of democracy null and void. By pitting the putative “democrats” against alleged “fascists” maestro Műnzenberg supplied the West’s cackling liberal and leftist glitterati with an ultra-reductionist vision of Spain, where anyone rooting, as, for example, Evelyn Waugh was, for the conservative forces of law and order and against a Red revolution was instantaneously accused of worshiping Hitler, and thus ostracized and, more often than not, traumatized. This was deviously mischievous for it rendered any thoughtful analysis of the Spanish carnage utterly impossible. Hence, the West remained impotent in the face of the Hitler and Stalin aggression. And it missed another important lesson for the future. Műnzenberg built on a legacy of opprobrium attached to the generic concept “fascism.” Initially, the Communists considered Italian fascists as socially friendly, if confused revolutionaries. After Benito Mussolini’s black shirts crushed the Reds, Moscow changed its mind and unleashed an Exorcist-like stream of bile inundating anyone who opposed Stalin. Therefore not only the national socialists of Hitler became “fascists,” but so did the followers of Trotsky and anyone in between, including, for example, Christian nationalists. Labels tend to stick. Simplistic labels stick indefinitely.
In the 1980s late Senator Ted Kennedy (or, more precisely, one of his more pop-cultural speech writers) came up with a mocking slur, “Star Wars,” to describe America’s nascent missile shield, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The ingenious nefariousness of the snarky misnomer lay not only in consigning the nuclear rocket deflector system to the realm of Hollywood fantasy (Israel’s Iron Dome anyone?), but also in reducing its author, President Ronald Reagan, to a stereotypical bumbling moron straight out of a B movie, a narrative obsessively purveyed by his detractors since the election of 1980. With one stroke, Kennedy, a master simpleton, the epitome of a useful idiot himself, with a breathtakingly consistent record of being duped by the Soviets, insinuated that Reagan’s idea was silly for it derived from the dream factory, the American President’s allegedly sole source of “education”. Thus, the erstwhile liberal standard bearer supplied an anti-White House bone to chew on to the yelping Pavlovian kennel of dominant media opinion, but also, much more damagingly, to the Kremlin’s rabid propaganda divisions, who commenced to bark to the same tune with their Western liberal defenders, as Paul Kengor described in his Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Manipulated Progressives for A Century (Willmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2010). The conservatives proved helpless to construct a convincing counter-discourse to neutralize the Star Wars slur. They have also been amiss in addressing present challenges stemming mostly from the Middle East and Russia. This includes properly identifying and labeling them.
So far “Islamofascism” and “Putin-Hitler” have been making rounds unconvincingly. Admittedly, neither enjoys similarly universal currency as “democracy” and “Star Wars”. “Islamofascism” is of a mixed left-right provenance. More precisely, it sprang from the libertine atheist venom, on the one hand, and neoconservative imagination, on the other. And the latter is heavily influenced by a radical baggage of the leftist past of the orientation’s founders. The rationale was to translate the imperfect term “clerical fascism,” denoting a European corporatist, Catholic mass movement or state, into the realities of the Muslim civilization. The copy has emerged as awkward as the original. First, Catholic Christianity married with the era of mass politics aimed to protect the faithful from the communists and their revolution; to shield them from the Great Depression and excesses of the capitalists (while safeguarding private property); to deflect radical individualism and libertinism; to tame nationalist radicalism; and to supply a Third Way to modernize, while retaining the Church’s evolving influence.
Arguably, neither of these characteristics applies to the phenomenon mis-labeled as “Islamofascism.” First, unlike Islam, Catholic Christianity is not a total, comprehensive system of government. It is primarily a revealed religion that sometimes endeavors, but mostly hopes, to influence a political system. Second, the Third (Catholic) Way is to construct a space in modernity and post-modernity that would accommodate faith and Christian sensibilities and, thus, to modernize without abandoning the foundation and continuity of the Catholic thought and institutions. Thus, Catholic Christianity is conservative in an evolutionary sense. Islam, on the other hand, is thoroughly reactionary and fossilized. Islam precludes any modernization whatsoever for it leaves no space for the secular element in its temporal system. Modernization is haram. Hence, to label Islam as a form of fascism reflects a woeful misunderstanding of its thoroughly reactionary character. Fascism is modern; Islam is reactionary. Thus, both are mutually exclusive. Islamofascism is an oxymoron. That the reactionary jihadists employ modern technology (e.g., firearms and the internet instead of spears and galleys) as well as modern warfare techniques (e.g., suicide bombing instead of slingshooting) detracts not an iota from their reactionary aim of ushering in the Caliphate, a retrograde theocratic system as it emerged from the sands of Arabia in the early 7th century. Ayatollah Khomeini used a fax machine with a gusto, after all, to establish his benighted antediluvian autocracy.
Third, the aim of Catholic nationalists and corporatists was to achieve the Augustinian tranquillitas ordinis, tranquility of order. That simply means an earthly state where social and political peace applies. It intends neither to build a utopian monastic polity for that would be heretical nor a Christian paradise on earth for His kingdom is not of this world. Division of Church and state applies in the union of Christianity and nationalism that the Komintern and its latter-day Western emulators dubbed “clericofascism”.
In contradistinction, the aim of those who invoke Islam as their inspiration (Muslim Brotherhood, Al Quaeda, Islamic State) is to forge a state that would embrace all aspects of the human experience mercilessly and submit it to the straight jacket of the Mohammedan law as explicated in the Koran. Jihad is the vehicle to achieve this subjugation under sharia and the end result is eminently temporal: a state, the Caliphate. Thus, a precise designation of those mislabeled as “Islamofascists” should be “Caliphatists” and their ideology: “Caliphatism.” This nomenclature would solve more than a few problems for us.
First, the terms “Islamofascism” and “Islamism” sacrilegiously defame the Muslim faith, according to its followers. Thus, they consider such labels a smear and mobilize to oppose their purveyors. To this end, they assist, consciously or not, the Caliphatists. However, second, Caliphatism is an ideology fixated on temporal power of the state and, thus, plainly not otherworldly. For its adherents, Islam is a tool to achieve the Caliphate, and not the other way around. Third, designating the followers of this temporal project as Caliphatists would eschew conflating the Islamic faith, on the one hand, and terrorism by some Muslims, on the other. Thus, far fewer run of the mill Muslims would be offended at the term “Caliphatist” then at the label “Islamofascist” (Islamist) and consequently fewer would be still ready to defend it.
Fourth, debunking religious flavor from our designation of the enemy would allow us to foster cleavages in the Muslim ranks more handily. Many Muslims reject terror, although, illogically and incongruously, they support the Caliphatists for reasons of religious solidarity. Yet, not too many, even those passively supportive, seem to want a global Caliphate in practice. A few are cosmopolitan and secularized, while many – in addition to their universalist religious consciousness – embrace local, regional, and national identity more readily. Fifth, calling the enemy as the Caliphatists unties our hands in labeling our struggle as the “War on Caliphatism.” Hitherto we have crippled ourselves by sticking to the politically correct “War on Terror.” Imagine if we called our fight during the Second World War as the “War on Blitzkrieg.” The latter is a fighting technique, just like terror. We fought an ideology, Nazism, and its adherents, the Nazis. So it was “War on Nazism,” just as now it should be the “War on Caliphatism,” and against the Caliphatists.
Why do we persist on sticking to “Islamofascism”? As most propaganda, the term taps into our preexisting thought patterns. It builds on our innate and understandable prejudices against fascism. Simply, naming anyone a “fascist” triggers negative emotion and requires no further explanation. In Western society it is tantamount to civic death. Leo Strauss called it reductio ad Hitlerum. In a short run, it can be a very handy tool for mass mobilization but, ultimately, it is a sign of intellectual laziness.
The same applies to comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler. This intellectual shortcut also originated on the neo-conservative right. American-Ukrainian political scientist Alex Motyl was most likely the first serious commentator to dub Putin a fascist and his system fascism in National Interest in 2007. In September 2014, jolted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, writing in the Washington Post, respected journalist Anne Applebaum had no doubt that Putin was Hitler. George Weigel backed her in the National Review.
But if Putin is Hitler, who is Stalin? The Nazi dictator had to have a partner in crime to attack the Western coalition. True, the Russian President has openly rehabilitated the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel has failed to join in reveling in the sordid past (http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/nov/10/putin-nostalgia-stalin-hitler/?insrc=wbll). An aggressive Moscow-Berlin condominium ready to unleash the Third World War does not exist yet, and it will not coalesce if the United States provides unequivocal leadership in Europe.
To help the White House to lead, let us make things clear. Putin is sui generis. The master of the Kremlin runs along the lines of other post-Communists, i.e., Belarus’s Oleksandr Lukashenka, Azerbajian’s Ilham Aliyev, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev. Russia’s President is a post-Communist, an adherent of post-Communism. As I wrote in my Intermarium, “Post-Communism is Communism transformed. Post-Communism shrewdly eschews any ideological labels, preferring moral relativism and nihilism instead. However, it retains the Marxist-Leninist dialectical modus operandi with its immorality to allow for utmost political flexibility. And it conserves the old institutions and personnel under a different guise. All this allows post-Communism to maintain its grip on power.”
Putin is no Hilter. He employs an age sanctified excuse of assisting allegedly beleaguered minorities. This trick was first employed in the region by Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, the self-anointed champions of the Christian Orthodox in the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania. Moscow’s intervention resulted in the Partitions of the Commonwealth and its destruction (1772, 1792, and 1795). Stalin also allegedly acted to “protect” the minorities of Poland in 1939. Thus, he launched the Second World War jointly with Hilter and he later held fake “elections” to legalize his conquest. Putin turned to the same gimmick first in the justification of his war against Georgia in 2008: he was merely “protecting” the minorities there (https://www.iwp.edu/news_publications/detail/minority-rights-and-imperial-reintegration-2). That was the first time that the Kremlin actually went to war under that pretext since 1939.
However, Moscow has not been shy in “protecting” the Russian minority stuck in the newly liberated successor states of the Soviet Union. From Estonia to Kazakhstan the rulers of the Russian Federation cast themselves as champions of the Russian people everywhere. In fact, the Russian minority question is just a handy way to interfere in the so-called “near abroad.” It is a part and parcel of Moscow’s offensive to reintegrate the empire. It does not take Hitler to do so. Instead, it is standard modus operandi of any expansionist imperial power, whether it is the Third Reich, the USSR, or the Russian Federation.
“Islamofascism” and “Putin-Hitler” are ultimately unhelpful clichés that prevent us from identifying our challenges properly. We must understand that those are Caliphatism and post-Communism. Then we must target them. And we shall win.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
Washington, DC, 20 November 2014