Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Fanatical Simplicity


A number of conservative scholars fell in love at first sight with the term "Islamofascism," and have since been trying to invent a respectable pedigree for it, like some lovesick heiress from a P.G. Wodehouse novel.

At a site called Family Security Matters, where the threat of Islamic bloodlust seems to trump such everyday family-destroyers as car accidents and cancer, Andrew Bostom gives Cliff May a passing grade for his latest attempt to connect Islam and National Socialism:

May’s inchoate effort should be applauded for its attempted illustration of any possible ideological nexus between Hitler’s Nazism and Islam.
The emphasis is in the original, which makes this an unusually honest summation of the business at hand. May's stab at linking Hitler and Islam - which actually strikes Bostom as daring, perhaps because he's been living on the moon for the last few years - may've been inadequate, but at least he understands that they ought to be linked, one way or another.

Having softened up his colleague with this faint praise, Bostom prepares to school his punk ass on the finer points of the Historical Method. He begins with an appeal to authority: Carl Jung once compared Hitler to Mohammed!

That really isn't very impressive, especially to those of us who've occasionally "dared" to doubt Jung's other opinions. But Bostom has lots of other quotes up his sleeve. Here's one from Albert Speer:
Hitler usually concluded this historical speculation by remarking, “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Bostom has inadvertently stumbled on a fairly profound characteristic of fascism: its parasitic opportunism. But he doesn't notice it, because he's too excited by the proximity, in this anecdote, of Hitler and Islam.

Bostom goes on to say that Hitler didn't want to alienate the Arabs, because he saw them as potential allies in his war on the Jews. Of course, Hitler formed an actual alliance with Japan, but what this reveals about the essential nature of Shinto or Buddhism is apparently of no interest.

The next witnesses for the prosecution are Jacob Burckhardt, who once called Mohammed "a radical simplifier," and Waldemar Gurian, who once called Hitler "a fanatical simplifier." See how the phrases are almost the same? And how it's impossible to imagine any other political or religious figures, living or dead, being described in this way?

He also mentions Ibn Warraq's discussion of Islam in light of Umberto Eco's Ur-Fascism. And like Warraq, he willfully ignores one of the most pertinent distinctions Eco makes:
In non-fascist societies, the lay public is told that death is unpleasant but must be faced with dignity; believers are told that it is the painful way to reach a supernatural happiness. By contrast, the Ur-Fascist craves heroic death, advertised as the best reward for a heroic life.
Emphasis added.

All of Bostom's scholarly posturing, and all of the silly anecdotal cherrypicking on which it relies, is supposed to provide retroactive support for the conclusion that Islam, when viewed for the sake of political convenience or personal animus as monolithic, is authoritarian (or dictatorial, or totalitarian, or despotic), and is therefore fascistic. These analogical sleights of hand are pretty much the same ones that provide the aeriform foundation for The House that Jonah Built, and they stand up to about as much critical scrutiny.

What we never learn from these earnest people is why it's so important, in practical terms, to discern "any possible ideological nexus between Hitler’s Nazism and Islam," instead of recognizing the various strains of violent Islamic radicalism as distinct, unique movements with their own goals and tactics and ideological substrate. Supposedly, it pays to know one's enemies. But "fanatical simplifiers" like Bostom prefer to force their current antagonists into the mold of a past they seem to understand no better than the present.

That said, Bostom promises that he will soon be presenting shocking new evidence that Nazis and Arabs both dislike Jews. So I suppose I'd better withhold my judgment for now.

(Illustration by Francesca Berrini.)

1 comment:

MikeJ said...

Authoritarian: check
Dislike Jews: check

Watch out, Bill Donohue will be here any second. He's about as fanatically simple as you can get.

This is fun!