A name coined by Benito Mussolini, fascism is not a set of consciously articulated ideas but, a mood that is anti-intellectual, a way of seeing, which itself is founded on certain philosophical assumptions. Mussolini had been a Marxist, but Fascism's theoretical origins lie not so much in Marxism or any other prior political theory as in the philosophy of voluntarism. Simply stated, voluntarism is the belief that the will is both prior to and superior to the intellect. Both voluntarism and romanticism are reactions to Kant's critique, which limited the legitimate range of reason. Of the different varieties of post-Kantians, one strain of thinkers - of which Bergson was the most notorious - concluded that if reason could not allow one access to true reality, then the will or the feelings, or other newly discovered faculties could be the road to reality and truth. Isaiah Berlin saw fascism as romanticism taken to its limit.
There was a sense, shared by many of these post-Kantian philosophers, that culture and society, as they presently exist, are the products of the tyranny
of intellect, or reason, to the exclusion of the vital elements of existence - those that are concerned with the body, from dancing to boxing to warfare - and that this has led to cultural decadence. Nietzsche, for example, wrote of the "undermen," men of the past, such as the Vikings, who were able to act directly without their actions being mediated and enervated by an excess of reflection. The rejection of intellect in favor of will was a revolutionary idea. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.
One therefore might think of fascism as voluntarism and romanticism, with a utopian plan of action. It seeks to revive and reestablish the supposed past greatness of a certain nation, society, culture, or religion, that supposedly existed before the slide into decadence. Expressed differently one could also say that fascism is the conviction that a process of national rebirth (palingenesis) has become essential to bring to an end a protracted period of social and cultural decadence, as a revolutionary form of ultranationalism.
Of course, there is always a tendency - by intellectuals of the certain pessimistic sort, form Hesiod to T.S. Eliot - to view the present age as decadent, as a product of moral decay and intellectual and cultural degeneration. That in and of itself is not fascistic, but merely part of the mythos of the of the present age in relation to a supposed golden age. For fascism, the cause of decadence, furthermore, is attributed to a certain group of people and thus fascism is also a conspirational vision.
Islamism shares with other fascist movements the desire to resurrect an ancient empire. Mussolini, for example, wanted to restore Italy to the glory of the ancient Roman empire. Furthermore the sense of decadence, in regard to present-day Islam, is attributed to various historical events. For example, in one of the videotapes that bin Laden had sent to news stations, he alluded to the abolition of the caliphate as devastating to Islam.
Thus revivalism is often allied with delusions of persecution - which is a key aspect of the conspirational vision. A similar example where history was to be made up and distorted - the First World War was not caused by an aggressive Germany, but surely lost by a 'stab in the back' by Jews at home.
Nationalism, as Mussolini indicated by his words and his actions, is a key component of fascism. It differs from communism in that respect, for communism's primary interest is not nations, but classes - the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Thus communism tends to have not a national, but an international focus. It might seem, though, that Islamists, are not primarily concerned with nationality.
For example the call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two holy mosques over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics.
Apparently, bin Laden views all of Islam as a single nation. This is, of course, absurd, for within the Islam world there are many different nations, each with its own social and political goals, and opinions on how to be a true Muslim. The notion that there is an Islamic nation is part of Islamism's "ideology," that is endemic to fascism. The aggressive nationalism of fascism does not, though, appear to be, for example, the self-confident nationalism of Napoleonic France or America under Theodore Roosevelt. Fascism, on the contrary, always blends nationalism with the perception of victimhood, which derive from conspirational ideas of persecution, hence an undertone of vengeance.
Not surprisingly, militancy is endemic to fascism, but again, while fascism is invariably militant, not all military dictatorships are fascist, neither are popular acclaim and expansionism sufficient to make a regime fascistic. Soviet communism rested on popular acclaim plus it was expansionistic. Al Qaeda and other extreme forms of Islamism, is not, of course, a dictatorship, but it could be argued that it is fascistic in its way of seeing. Their power has rested on popular acclaim, certainly by those within their organization, and by many people outside their organization as well. Indeed.
The militancy of Islamist organisations and bin Laden is both popular in the Muslim world, it contains fascism's voluntaristic and romantic roots, its rejection of intellect and thinking in favor of the life of instinct, feeling, and action unmediated by consideration of thought and conscience. From this militancy emerges the mystique of the warrior. If one reads transcripts of the speeches of Osama bin Laden, one hears about the virtues of being a holy warrior, of sacrifice and martyrdom. Bourgeois life is rejected in favor of that creed. Civilian life disappears as everyone becomes the equivalent of a soldier. This is not viewed as a temporary state of affairs, but one founded on the belief that war is good in itself. Islamists find scriptural support for warfare in the Qur'an, which commands that true believers go on a Jihad, or holy war.
The cult of the supreme leader is also endemic to fascism. Mussolini was considered predestined, alone and sad, yet a colossus and titan. Like Stalin, he was considered to virtually never slept but, however greater than Napoleon, Predappio, his birthplace, became a place of pilgrimage.
But it is not primarily what Westerners do (their alleged imperialism, colonialism, and foreign policies), or what they did, that enrages Islamist. Becouse the Soviet Union, was far more egregious in its repression of Islam in the Soviet Union, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the suppression of the revolt in Chechnya, for example - and yet the Soviets, as well as other hegemonic nations like China , were never hated with anything approaching the fury of many Muslim's anathema towards lets say, The United States.
Thus the real source of Muslim rage, rather seems to ly with basic cultural values perceived as, antithetical to the defining values of Islamism, but why?
One of the clues we have already expanded upon, is that there is in fact a tradition of criticism of America by other groups of preoples, dating from the early part of the nineteenth century this includes not just French and Germans, but also Russians, Japanese and the English. Curiously enough, these criticisms are the simllar as those levied against America by Muslim intellectuals. America, the ultimate example of civilization without culture: rich and comfortable, materially advanced but soulless and artificial; assembled or at best constructed, not grown; mechanical, not organic; technologically complex but lacking the spirituality and vitality of the rooted, human, national cultures of the Germans and other "authentic" peoples.
But despite the alleged influence that these criticisms have had on the Islamic world, and the fact that these very same criticisms are being levied against America today - they did not cause it, and certainly they do not explain the widespread anti-westemism that made so many in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Islamic world receptive to such ideas.
What rather seems the case is, that fundamentalist religious leaders see capitalism, democracy, and therefore also Western civilization in general, as an appealing alternative to their way of life- by a clergy threatened by losing power amongst their flock vice versa a rival, i.e. Western civilization. An angry Islamism contemplating its corrupt, decadent and alienating" enemies is based upon a whole set of perceptions and misperceptions -maybe even also motivated by an eschatology as we will see later. Nevertheless "Occidentalism" as some have tried to call is, is not the case, otherwise, the criticism that European countries have levied against America have essentially been criticisms of their own ‚Western’ mentality.
The notion that makes it alienating and dehumanizing, rather is that it is a fall from a state of purity, wholeness, and goodness that supposedly had once existed in the world. A notion of paradise lost, a nostalgia for a state of affairs that in fact never existed. Thus, also Christians and Europeans can see themselves as upholders of traditional values, as defenders of a rapidly eroding virtue. This way the critics of modernity can be members of modem societies themselves, like we pointed out yesterday in the case of Britain where polling data showed, a third of the Muslims willingly living there, said they would rather live under Sharia, or Islamic law, than British law. Sharia, as good, perfect, noble, wise and holy, with ‚modernism,’ as bad, weak, shallow, foolish, decadent, degenerate or downright evil. But again, they are essentially the values of totalitarianism, or again, like we already investigated before on this website, the values of fascism.
So Islamists believe that their society was originally whole before Westernization shattered, fragmented, and splintered that wholeness. Ofcourse we had the same criticism also comming from Fascist Japanese intellectuals when they held a conference in Kyoto, in 1942, shortly after Pearl Harbor, in which they blamed science, technology, capitalism, individual freedom, democracy for having splintered the wholeness of their own culture, and how to restore the "holistic" and "organic" quality of Japanese culture. Apparently, these same sentiments are now shared by Islamists, but then as we recently have pointed out, by some Chinese nationalists too.
This romantic longing - to recover a supposedly lost wholeness, and thus inhabit a unified world, in contradistinction to a world that is either compartmentalized or downright fragmented - can find expressions in many ways ofcourse, but Fascism is recognised as one. Fascism further seeks to obliterate divisions that they perceive to be artificial, or due to the cultural fragmentation in this case caused by the encroachment of ‚Western’ meaning really ‚modern’ ideas.
Mussolini wrote in 1932, "If the nineteenth was the century of the individual it may be expected that this one may be the century of 'collectivism' and therefore the century of the State". Of course, Islamists have no interest in worshipping the state unless, like bin Laden, they view the Islamic world as one big state, to be ruled by the Caliphate. For theocratic totalitarians, the church/state separation is viewed as artificial. Qutb had made that separation the gravamen of his critique of the West. Qutb described this experience - of having to lead a double life, as a religious person and a secular person - as "the hideous schizophrenia of modem life." The fact that the source of the problem according to Qutb is "specific and identifiable" in the form of „Christianity“ makes it an example of what one could call call ‚the localization of evil’, which is the basis of conspiracy theories. For blaming the problem on in this case Christianity, is a way of drawing attention away from the internal conflicts and contradictions that exist within all human beings, including those who are Islamist. In contrast, for example Buber's theory of the twofold manner of knowing the world, namely I-Thou and I-It. The latter mode of knowing would be responsible for the existence of the secular realm. In a non-conpiratist explanation, for it sees the dialectical inevitability of the division of existence into the realms of the sacred and the secular, as due to the development of human consciousness. Also some Sufi mysticism as an effort to overcome one's fallen condition through a change in consciousness (of the fall of spirit into objectification) can be said to be equally non-conspiratist. But the claim that one's culture or society possesses wholeness and organicity - or had possessed these attributes, before it became corrupted - coupled with a disdain for the supposed couse (fragmentation), is a futile effort to put Humpty Dumpty (i.e. a symbolic image of an original, unbroken, cosmic, totalitarianist unity) back together again, while blaming another group of people - Americans, Jews, etc. - for Humpty Dumpty's fall. We could also say, that the preoccupation with one's culture, society, or world being natural, organic, and whole, is the outer expression of the longing to annul the divisions and dualities, and the consequent feeling of isolation and alienation, that is a function of emerging selfawareness. The totalitarian solution to the burden of individuality is to jettison one's own will and conscience, in an effort to live in accordance with the will of the leader, the nation, and the movement. The totalitarian longing for group identity as an inauthentic flight from the responsibilities of being a person.
Related is the accusation that ‚Westerners’ (Americans and Jews in particular) are rootless and, consequently, abstract, mechanical, excessively rational, artificial, and superficial. Or as the Nazis early on claimed; that membership in a Volk was 'organic' and by definition exclusive, while citizenship in the French republic, the United States, or Britain was, like their cities, theoretically open to all.
The example of Islamist feeling that the existence of American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia was defiling the land can also be perceived as the paranoid vision of purity seeking. And then, there are the effort to return to a supposedly purer state of being by means of terror and violence. A purifying violence would purge the people of egotism and hedonism, and draw them back into a primitive collective of self-sacrifice.
To Islamists, whose consciousness is predominantly mythic, the city, particularly the Western city, has many negative symbolic connotations. Most generally, it symbolizes individual autonomy, experienced in all domains: intellectually, politically, socially, spiritually, artistically, culturally, and economically. The freedom that women know in Western cities is particularly.
Plus Western city also symbolize debauched pleasure seeking, materialism, decadence, and idolatry. And although it might be true that Westerners, like all people, are tempted by idols. All the same, resentment is evident here, for were religious fundamentalists truly religious, the Twin Towers would either have had no significance or been considered a pitiable attempt by the benighted to rival God, in which case it would inspire pity, not hatred.
Islamists conclude that the Westerner is addicted to comfort and security, is excessively practical, and is soft and decadent. A young Taliban fighter, once said, ‚The Americans would never win, for 'they love Pepsi Cola, but we love death.' Japanese and the Germans can be said to have a similar view of Americans prior to attacking them.
Related to the notion that the West lacks heroism, is the notion that it is bourgeois and lacks spirituality. It is true that capitalism and democracy are neither spiritual nor heroic creeds. Consequently, in America, at least, it is up to the individual to search for deliverance, courage, or heroism. The state cannot be depended upon to provide direction in that regard, nor should it, although Mussolini argued that it should. Furthermore, the citizens of liberal Western democracies have invariably been able to rise to the occasion, becoming heroic when necessary, and have at times seen to become fierce adversaries, defending democratic values against autocratic regimes.
Thus founded on a misperception of the ‚West,’ there is a virulence to that misperception that suggests it is not founded on a simple misunderstanding. And once more can be seen founded on distorted perception that is a product of a conspiracy-thinking.
Westerners are thus also accused of being excessively rational, leading them to mechanize and commercialize all aspects of human existence. In placing their faith in science and reason, they supposedly lack feelings, intuitions, and wisdom. Or the Western city as compared to that of a prostitute who makes basic human relations into a commodity, and is thus soulless. But if the Islamists truly believed that spiritual values were more important than material objects and worldly power - and did not secretly hanker after them – again, their attitude towards Westerners would certainly not be virulent hatred. If anything, it would be pity. The hatred towards Westerners for their lack of spirituality hence would appear to be a function of resentment, or envy-manifestations of an insecurity, a lack of faith in the worth of one's own values and in the ability of one's group to resist alien ideas and values. In 1989 Irwin Straub proposed that societies or nations who commit genocide suffer from a lack of self-esteem. If so, societies that are breeding grounds for terrorists may suffer from the same insecurities.
This loss of cultural dominance is experienced as all the more galling to the Islamists, because they see themselves as having been defeated by an enemy whom they regard as fragmented, impure, rootless, idolatrous, bourgeois, and materialistic. The assumption, on the part of the Islamists, that makes for their bitterness, is that hegemony is an indication of moral superiority. After all, Mohamed was a hugely victorious general and leader, in contradistinction, for example, to the Jews at the time. And so, not surprisingly, Mohamed becomes the paradigm for the right life. Consequently, if they do not see themselves as having been betrayed by fate, history, or conspirators, they are in danger of falling into doubt about their alleged moral superiority. It is possible, though, to challenge the equation of might with right, as did Socrates in Plato's Republic. To challenge that equation would be to challenge the very worldview that Mohamed bequeathed to them, but that is a risky business.
The dehumanizing caricatures of the West that are the product of the dualities that we mentioned above, set the stage for the growth of apocalyptic fantasies. In this scenario, one sees the final battle. It is between the forces of good (the traditionalists) and the forcers of evil (the modernists). Like other apocalypticists, whether secular or theocratic, Islamists believe that their attack on the enemy could precipitate the apocalypse.
Of course, Islam was strongly apocalyptic right from the beginning, as were Judaism (in the book of Daniel, for example) and Christianity, long before the advent of modernity. The Qur'an is filled with predictions about the end of the world. The prophet Mohammed envisioned the end as being very close, within a few years after receiving his revelation.
Not surprising, in Arab lands as well as in Iran, The Protocols of Elders of Zion ranks number six on the best seller list, along with the Qur' an and Mein Kampf. Furthermore, one is surprised to learn that Muslims would be drawn to a notion that belongs to Christian theology, namely the Antichrist, demonstrating that they can be eclectic in their theological references. Sometimes the Anti-chrlst is identified as a U.S. president, other times it is western civilization in general. This literature freely uses predictions about End of World or Israel's demise to recruit followers and prove they need to be working for God, instead of their own purposes.
And Islamists will often quote the Hadith, saying ascribed to the Prophet Mohamed, "The Hour [of Judgment] will not arrive until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims will kill them until the Jew will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rock and the tree will say: O Muslim, O servant of God, there is a Jew behind me-come and kill him."
Richard Landes, a scholar of millennialism, confirms that bin Laden sees himself, and many Muslims also see him, as "...a central player in a cosmic battle that pits warriors of truth against the agents of Satan and evil in this world" (Landes; Relics, Apocalypse, and the Deceits of History, 2005, p. 1).
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