News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: Do You Have the Will (balls) to Defeat the Fascists? Or Are you Helping Them?

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Do You Have the Will (balls) to Defeat the Fascists? Or Are you Helping Them?

US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told a crowd of American Legionnaires that not only is there a new form of fascism afoot in the world, but that there are appeasers of these fascists among us. Without exactly defining who or what these fascists are, Sec. Rumsfeld appeared to say that those who oppose his and the President's so-called "war on terror" (WoT) are appeasing these fascists.

As some commentators have already noted, a majority of Americans are against the war in Iraq. Since that war forms the cornerstone of the WoT, then it would seem that Rumsfeld is accusing many Americans of either consciously or unconsciously appeasing incipient mini-Hitlers. ...

As I have written at this blog several times, what constitutes fascism is difficult to assess because the term is used by so many on Right and Left that it can mean almost anything or nothing. In a posting on Islamic jihadism and fascism Ibn Warraq tries to correlate the teachings of Islam with a definition of fascism proposed by Umberto Eco, the Italian philosopher/novelist.

I think that Eco's definition, while accurate, is too abstract. It certainly captures the main features of the structural elements of fascism, but I wonder how useful this abstract framework is when it comes to identifying the subjective aspects of the fascist mentality. In a previous posting, I have tried to present a more "street level" exploration of fascism, which I know does not capture the more superstructure of the political aspects of the ideology but does provide a way for people to see fascism "from the inside."

In his analysis of fascism and Islam, Ibn Warraq's rhetorical strategy is to take Eco's main points and then identify incidents and Koranic verses and Hadith to show how Islam exhibits those features that Eco says are essential to fascism. Warraq starts out his essay saying the following:

Islam is the quintessentially tradition-bound religion. First, the Koran is the eternal and infallible Word of God, and contains the whole of God’s final revelation to man, and must be obeyed in all its details. "This day I have perfected your religion for you and completed My favour to you. I have chosen Islam to be your faith." The Koran is immutable, "Say: ‘It is not for me to change [the Koran]. I only follow what is revealed to me. I cannot disobey my Lord, for I fear the punishment of a fateful day." "Proclaim what is revealed to you in the Book of your Lord. None can change His Words. You shall find no refuge besides Him." The Koran is a faithful and unalterable reproduction of the original scriptures which are preserved in heaven.
Now, I don't know about you, but it seems to me that you could replace Islam and Koran here with Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism and not fall far south of verisimilitude. Indeed, in many of the points that Eco makes, one could apply those to many religious traditions, not to mention political systems and thereby "prove" that they are fascist.

I believe that a more useful understanding of fascism has come from Richard Sennett, whose article on soft fascism I have quoted several times in these pages. After differentiating what he calls hard and soft fascism, Sennett goes on to argue that Post-911 America exhibits many of the features that characterize this latter term. Sennett writes:
We could think of fascism itself as either hard or soft. Hard fascism rams home to the citizen that he or she is held in that iron grip, as in Mussolini's theatre of force or George Orwell's nightmare Nineteen Eighty-four. Soft fascism is not so much a velvet glove as an invisible hand, the operations of control hidden from scrutiny as Patriot Act II, and more, internal repression presented to the public as merely preventive action against threats that have yet to materialise. The Bush administration acted in this preventive way, for instance, by shutting three of the larger Muslim charities in America, not for anything they had done, but for what might happen, some time, somewhere. In hard fascism the state exploits concrete fear, in soft fascism the state exploits diffuse anxiety.
Without going into the question of whether Mr. Rumsfeld is serving up several fallacious arguments here, most notably begging the question on what constitutes fascism, here is some of what he wrote:
Someone recently recalled one U.S. senator's reaction in September of 1939. Upon hearing that Hitler had invaded Poland to start World War II he exclaimed, "Lord, if only I had talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided." I recount that history, because once again, we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism, with the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?
Numerous Left and Right pundits replied to Rumsfeld's accusations.Keith Olbermann wrote a response that has earned widespread recognition. Turning the tables on Mr. Rumsfeld, Olbermann accuses the Bush administration itself as being the Neville Chamberlain in the current face-off with terrorism:
Mr. Rumsfeld is also personally confused, morally or intellectually, about his own standing in this matter. From Iraq to Katrina, to the entire “Fog of Fear” which continues to envelop this nation, he, Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their cronies have — inadvertently or intentionally — profited and benefited, both personally, and politically.

And yet he can stand up, in public, and question the morality and the intellect of those of us who dare ask just for the receipt for the Emporer’s New Clothes?

In what country was Mr. Rumsfeld raised? As a child, of whose heroism did he read? On what side of the battle for freedom did he dream one day to fight? With what country has he confused the United States of America?

The confusion we -- as its citizens— must now address, is stark and forbidding.

But variations of it have faced our forefathers, when men like Nixon and McCarthy and Curtis LeMay have darkened our skies and obscured our flag. Note -- with hope in your heart — that those earlier Americans always found their way to the light, and we can, too.

The confusion is about whether this Secretary of Defense, and this administration, are in fact now accomplishing what they claim the terrorists seek: The destruction of our freedoms, the very ones for which the same veterans Mr. Rumsfeld addressed yesterday in Salt Lake City, so valiantly fought.
Other, less prominent, commentators also chimed in. Summerisle, for example, notes the following:
"They are actively manipulating the media in this country" by, for example, falsely blaming U.S. troops for civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

"The enemy lies constantly _ almost totally without penalty," he told the veterans group, which presented him with the Dwight D. Eisenhower Distinguished Service Award. "They portray our cause as a war on Islam when in fact the overwhelming majority of victims of their terrorism have been the thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims _ men, women and children _ that they have killed."

He added, "While some at home argue for tossing in the towel, the enemy is waiting and hoping that we will do just that." "

You either have to be a master bullshitter or totally insane to make a statement like that about Iraq and Afghanistan. This level of projection against an apparant enemy, who doesn't have the weapons to wage conventional war much less have a media bureau, is so extreme that to believe in it is to believe in conspiracy theory.

[Xposted in part at Spengler Forum

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