In speaking about the British success at breaking up a terrorism plot to destroy 10 planes en route to America from England, Bush used the term "Islamic fascists" to describe the enemy. This seems to have met with some hostility.
'Fascist' is a derogatory word. Once upon a time, it had a specific political meaning. However, except within a community of political scientists, that meaning does not exist. It is certainly not what most people heard the President say when they heard the phrase 'Islamic fascists.' They heard him say something that can best be translated as 'Muslims like Hitler and the Nazis.' More specifically, it was, "Muslims that are like that which is bad in what was Hitler and the Nazis."
Like Hitler; Like Churchill
It is not a stretch to suggest that the Bush Administration wanted people who heard the phrase to hear, "Muslims who are like Hitler and the Nazis." Since 9/11, the Bush Administration has been trying to convince us that we are in a modern equivalent of World War II -- the last great war. "Great" here refers not only to size, but in terms of a clear-cut battle between good and evil. That is not to say that the allies were morally perfect, but they were definitely better than the enemy.
For the Bush Administration, in order to paint the current conflict as "Like World War II," we need an enemy that is "Like Hitler and the Nazis." In this way, Bush can present himself as "Like Roosevelt” (or, perhaps, “Like Churchill”) and the great defenders of democracy.
I suspect that, 1000 years from now, if we have not driven ourselves extinct, a survey of school children will show that the only people from the 20th Century whose names they know are Hitler, Churchill, and Roosevelt.
And, perhaps, Stalin.
Here is a slight problem with the logic. Clearly, the fact that a person has stood up to an enemy “like Hitler and the Nazis” does not imply that one is “like Churchill.” It could very well imply that one is “like Stalin.” Or he could be like no leader that existed 60 years ago – good or bad. A person cannot make himself great simply by asserting that his enemy is “like Hitler and the Nazis.”
Another reason to assert that the enemy is “like Hitler and the Nazis” is that it would then justify actions like those that the Allies took against Hitler and the Nazis. Total war.
If we are in a war like World War II, fighting an enemy like Hitler and the Nazis, then we are morally permitted to engage in actions like those that the allies took in World War II. We can round up whole segments of the population (Japanese Americans; Arab Americans) round them up and confine them “for the duration of hostilities” without a trial and without charges. We can engage in battles that obliterate whole cities even if most of the civilian population is killed or wounded in the crossfire without the slightest guilt. We can even drop a nuclear bomb or two on targets such as Tehran or Pyongyang.
We can say that anybody who shirks their responsibility – anybody who does not give 100% to the cause – is like those who are supporting Hitler and the Nazis.
This, of course, assumes that these actions were justified during World War II.
As it turns out, we have a better term for describing who the enemy is in this case. It is not “Islamic fascist.” It is “militant Islamic theocrats.” There purpose or end is to establish an Islamic theocracy. They hold that their god gives them permission to use life-threatening violence against “infidels” as a means.
Huge segments of the population, with President Bush and his administration at its heart, are politically and personally incapable of seeing who the real enemy is. This is because, if they did, they would discover that there was, in fact, too little separating the “good guys” from the “bad guys.” What we have, in fact, is a war between “militant Islamic theocrats” and “somewhat less militant Christian theocrats.”
The underlying philosophy – the idea that “God gives us moral permission to do whatever is necessary to obtain our objectives,” is something that they have in common. Both groups seem to have found it ‘necessary’ to blow apart thousands of innocent people in order to obtain their goals, grab and confine individuals without trial or even charges, torture and abuse them, and in some cases even kill them, and after doing all of this they go to their Church and Mosque and explain how their actions are all for the greater glory of God.
The fundamental problem with theocracy is that you cannot reason with a person who claims that his primary justification for causing you harm is ‘faith.’ Sam Harris, in his book “The End of Faith,” gets this part correct. Though I have criticized certain parts of his thesis, I do not criticize the part that says that we must come to reject the idea that faith can be permitted as a form of justification for doing harm to others. Because, if we accept faith as a legitimate reason to do harm to others, we have no way to argue or debate with each other which actions are or are not justified.
Harris will go beyond this and say that we must be intolerant of all claims based on faith, while I say we have reason to be intolerant of attempts to justify harm to others based on faith, but that we have no particular reason to be intolerant of harmless or helpful faith-based beliefs.
Setting that dispute aside, the Bush Administration cannot effectively fight the war on terror because it cannot accurately and honestly say who the enemy is. The enemy is faith-based belief that harm to others is justified. President Bush and the bulk of his supporters are too emotionally bound to accepting and endorsing this principle to understand how it can be the enemy, let alone come up with an effective strategy for fighting it.
For political and personal reasons President Bush needs to believe that the enemy is “fascism” or something like it. Those same political and personal reasons do not permit President Bush from seeing the truth, that the enemy is not fascism but militant theocracy – the idea that faith can justify doing harm to others.