"Islamofasicm" - used often by Bush, but Revolutionary Islam is not
the Third Reich
Embracing the empire
By Ian Buruma
Bernard Kouchner, France's new foreign minister, has a long and
distinguished record as an advocate of intervention in countries where
human rights are abused. As a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders,
he stated that "we were establishing the moral right to interfere
inside someone else's country." Saddam Hussein's mass murder of Iraqi
citizens is why he supported the war in Iraq. One should always be
careful about attributing motives to other people's views. But
Kouchner himself has often said that the murder of his Russian-Jewish
grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism.
One may or may not agree with Kouchner's policies, but his motives are
surely impeccable. The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals
in Europe and the United States - often, like Kouchner, with a leftist
past - are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to
further the cause of human rights and democracy in the world, may
derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid
another Shoah, and those who shirk their duty to support such force
are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.
If we were less haunted by memories of appeasing the Nazi regime, and
of the ensuing genocide, people might not be as concerned about human
rights as they are. And by no means do all those who work to protect
the rights of others invoke the horrors of the Third Reich to justify
Anglo-American armed intervention.
But the term "Islamofascism" was not coined for nothing. It invites us
to see a big part of the Islamic world as a natural extension of
Nazism. Saddam Hussein, who was hardly an Islamist, and Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is, are often described as natural
successors to Adolf Hitler. And European weakness, not to mention the
"treason" of its liberal scribes, paving the way to an Islamist
conquest of Europe ("Eurabia") is seen as a ghastly echo of the
appeasement of the Nazi threat.
Revolutionary Islamism is undoubtedly dangerous and bloody. Yet
analogies with the Third Reich, although highly effective as a way to
denounce people with whose views one disagrees, are usually false. No
Islamist armies are about to march into Europe - indeed, most victims
of Revolutionary Islamism live in the Middle East, not in Europe - and
Ahmadinejad, his nasty rhetoric notwithstanding, does not have a
fraction of Hitler's power.
The refusal of many Muslims to integrate into Western societies, as
well as high levels of unemployment and ready access to revolutionary
propaganda, can easily explode in acts of violence. But the prospect
of an "Islamized" Europe is also remote. We are not living a replay of
So why the high alarm about European appeasement, especially among the
neoconservatives? Why the easy equation of Islamism with Nazism?
Israel is often mentioned as a reason. But Israel can mean different
things to different people. To certain Evangelical Christians, it is
the holy site of the Second Coming of the Messiah. To many Jews, it is
the one state that will always offer refuge. To neoconservative
ideologues, it is the democratic oasis in a desert of tyrannies.
Defending Israel against its Islamic enemies may indeed be a factor in
the existential alarmism that underlies the present "war on terror." A
nuclear-armed Iran would certainly make Israel feel more vulnerable.
But it is probably overstated as an explanation. Kouchner did not
advocate Western intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo because of Israel.
If concern for Israel played a part in Paul Wolfowitz's advocacy of
war in Iraq, it was probably a minor one. Both men were motivated by
common concerns for human rights and democracy, as well as perhaps by
Still, Islamist rhetoric, adopted by Ahmedinejad among others, is
deliberately designed to stir up memories of the Shoah. So perhaps the
existential fear of some Western intellectuals is easier to explain
than their remarkable, sometimes fawning trust in the U.S. government
to save the world by force.
The explanation of this mysterious trust may lie elsewhere. Many
neocons emerged from a leftist past, in which a belief in revolution
from above was commonplace: "people's democracies" yesterday, "liberal
democracies" today. Among Jews and other minorities, another
historical memory may also play a part: the protection of the imperial
state. Austrian and Hungarian Jews were among the most fiercely loyal
subjects of the Austro-Hungarian emperor, because he shielded them
from the violent nationalism of the majority populations. Polish and
Russian Jews, at least at the beginning of the communist era, were
often loyal subjects of the communist state, because it promised
(falsely, as it turned out) to protect them against the violence of
anti- Semitic nationalists.
If it were really true that the fundamental existence of our
democratic Western world were about to be destroyed by an Islamist
revolution, it would only make sense to seek protection in the full
force of the U.S. informal empire. But if one sees our current
problems in less apocalyptic terms, then another kind of trahison des
clercs (treason of the intellectuals) comes into view: the blind
cheering-on of a sometimes foolish military power embarked on
unnecessary wars that cost more lives than they were intended to save.
Ian Buruma's most recent book is "Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of
Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance." He is a professor of human
rights at Bard College.Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2007.
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