First, why is this even important? Because language frames thought. I won’t go as far as George Orwell in the “Newspeak” chapter of Nineteen Eighty-Four; I don’t believe that absent a word for a concept, the concept itself becomes literally unthinkable. But I do believe language structures thought, changing how we think about an idea.
So creating a new word for Islamic terrorism changes how we perceive it, which affects how we fight it. This is especially true when the new word is actually a contraction of two other words, Islamic and fascism, into Islamofascism. The shortening restricts the ability to think critically about the alleged connection, short-circuiting rational thought and heading straight for the emotional centers.
Or as Orwell put it, “Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily.”
The point here is twofold: first, somewhat trivially, the Islamists who commit acts of terror are not typically Fascists, or even lower-case-f “fascists.” The Muslim Brotherhood allied with Adolf Hitler in the 1930s, but that was primarily because Hitler was such a strident Jew hater.
Most of the militant Islamist groups around today simply have no economic ideas, plans, or principles. Yet the distinguishing characteristic of fascism — what differentiates it from garden-variety socialism, racism, and antisemitism — is intensely economic: fascism is totalitarianism that operates through corporatism. As my pal and co-writer Brad Linaweaver explains it:
The Communists gathered up all the corporate heads and took them out to be shot; the fascists gathered up all the corporate heads and took them out to lunch — where they were told to obey orders or be shot.
Precisely none of the Islamic countries or terrorist organizations who want to destroy us is a corporatist state; none is fascist.
The word “Islamofascist” is just an example of using Nazi or fascist as an all-purpose intensifier to mean anything bad. It cheapens the historicity of the real fascists. What’s next, discussing the Communofascism of North Korea?
But the more important point is that the word “fascism” has a magical power: it overwhelms every other word you connect it to. In the real world, “Islamofascism” transsubstantiates into (islamo)-FASCISM! Kaboom!
The danger we face is Islamism and the willingness to murder hundreds of thousands in the name of jihad. What matters is the religion itself and the militancy by which it’s spread — not some putative connection to Mussolini or Hitler. To understand the jihadi, we need to confront the true source of the danger: the death cult that animates the slayer-of-thousands.
What we don’t need is to hide it behind the big, black shadow of a different boogieman, and one that — unlike Islamism — doesn’t even exist in any signficance anymore. Rather than intensifying our perception of what actually assails us, tacking that silly predicate on the end actually diminishes the intensity, fuzzing up the picture. If we lose focus and forget the real danger, as 9/11 recedes into the past, we will be tempted to just shrug it off and go back to the Clintonian “situation normal, all f—ed up” response.
And a word like Islamofascist pushes us in just that direction. In fact, it sounds exactly like something the Comintern might come up with to attack pro-democracy Moslems, like the brothers who run Iraq the Model.
The proper word that truly describes the enemy to his poisoned core is militant Islamist; and that is the word I will use.