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The term Islamofascism is a controversial neologism which draws an analogy between the ideological characteristics of specific Islamist movements from the turn of the twenty-first century on, and a broad range of European fascist movements of the early twentieth century, neofascist movements, or totalitarianism.

Origins of "Islamofascism"

The term "Islamofascism" is included in the New Oxford American Dictionary, which defines it as "a controversial term equating some modern Islamic movements with the European fascist movements of the early twentieth century". The term is used in this manner by writers like Stephen Schwartz and Christopher Hitchens, to describe Islamist extremists, including terrorist groups such as al Qaeda. William Safire makes particular note of Hitchens as a "popularizer" of the word, though Hitchens declines credit for coining it.

The origins of the term are uncertain. William Safire writes that the "first use [he] can find" comes from Malise Ruthven in 1990, when Ruthven wrote in The Independent that "authoritarian government, not to say Islamo-fascism, is the rule rather than the exception from Moroccomarker to Pakistanmarker." Albert Scardino writes that the term "seems to have appeared first" in a Washington Times piece, in which Muslim scholar Khalid Duran used it "as a criticism of hyper-traditionalist clerics." According to the Times, this piece appeared in July 2001.

The proposed analogy with fascism

Proponents of the term argue that there are similarities between historical fascism and Islamofascism, Christopher Hitchens makes the following comparison:


The term, "Islamofascism" has been criticized by scholars and journalists alike. It is considered historically inaccurate and simplistic by scholars of history and politics. "...the term "Islamofascism," used to describe strongly anti-Western movements in the Muslim world, betrays ignorance of those movements as well as of Islam and Fascism."}}, and is criticized as being generally used as a pejorative or for propaganda purposes.

Critics such as former National Review columnist Joseph Sobran, and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman argue that "Islamofascism is nothing but an empty propaganda term." used by proponents of the "War on Terror". Security expert Daniel Benjamin, political scientist Norman Finkelstein and The American Conservative columnist Daniel Larison, highlight the claim that, despite its use as a piece of propaganda, the term is inherently meaningless, since as Benjamin notes, "there is no sense in which jihadists embrace fascist ideology as it was developed by Mussolini or anyone else who was associated with the term."

Cultural historian Richard Webster has argued that grouping many different political ideologies, terrorist and insurgent groups, governments, and religious sects into one single idea of "Islamofascism" may lead to an oversimplification of the phenomenon of terrorism. In a similar vein the left-wing National Security Network argues that the term dangerously obscures important distinctions and differences between groups of Islamic extremists while alienating moderate voices in the Muslim world because it "creates the perception that the United States is fighting a religious war against Islam." Daniel Larison attributes proponent Hitchen's support of the phrase to his anti-religious stance. Conservative British historian Niall Ferguson points out that this political use of what he calls a "completely misleading concept," is "just a way of making us feel that we're the 'greatest generation' fighting another World War." Reza Aslan claims the term "falls flat" when describing groups like al-Qaeda, noting that they are anti-nationalist while fascism is ultra-nationalist.

Commenting on the claimed incongruity between the "Muslim World" and "industrial state fascism," US journalist Eric Margolis claims that ironically the most totalitarian Islamic regimes, "in fact, are America's allies."

The public use of the term has also elicited a critical response from various Muslim groups. In the aftermath of the 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot, George W. Bush described his policies as a battle against "Islamic fascists... [who] will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom". The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him to complain, saying that the use of the term "feeds the perception that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam". Ingrid Mattson of the Islamic Society of North America also complained about this speech, claiming that it added to a misunderstanding of Islam. Mattson did acknowledge, however, that some terrorist groups also misuse "Islamic concepts and terms to justify their violence."

The controversy surrounding this neologism is not only confined to the critical commentary of media figures, academics and Muslim groups. In 2007, the conservative writer and activist David Horowitz launched a series of lectures and protests on college campuses under the title of "Islamofascism Awareness Week.". At least 40 universities moved officially to distance themselves from the event. Several Muslims and non-Muslims on different college campuses aware of the event came out in opposition to it. The Muslim Student Group at Penn State Universitymarker, for instance, said it feared "that this Islamophobic program will have hazardous consequences on the Penn State community." The Harvard Republicans have also gone on record to distance themselves from the event.

In April 2008, Associated Press reported that US federal agencies, including the State Departmentmarker and the Department of Homeland Securitymarker, were advised to stop using the term 'Islamo-fascism' in a fourteen-point memo issued by the Extremist Messaging Branch, a department of another federal body known as the National Counterterrorism Centermarker. Aimed at improving the presentation of the "War on Terrorism" before Muslim audiences and the media, the memo states: "We are communicating with, not confronting, our audiences. Don't insult or confuse them with pejorative terms such as 'Islamo-fascism,' which are considered offensive by many Muslims."

One of the world's leading authorities on fascism, Walter Laqueur, after reviewing this and related terms, concluded that "Islamic fascism, Islamophobia and antisemitism, each in its way, are imprecise terms we could well do without but it is doubtful whether they can be removed from our political lexicon."


USmarker author and Nixon speechwriter William Safire wrote that the term fulfills a need for a term to distinguish traditional Islam from terrorists: "Islamofascism may have legs: the compound defines those terrorists who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods and helps separate them from devout Muslims who want no part of terrorist means." Christopher Hitchens has also publicly defended the term in Slate, noting along with the fact that he finds the comparison apt, that the names for other forms of religious fascism, like clerical fascism have a less contested existence.

Author Malise Ruthven, a Scottish writer and historian who focuses his work on religion and Islamic affairs, opposes redefining Islamism as `Islamofascism`, but also finds the resemblances between the two ideologies "compelling".

Michael Howard has defended the use of the term drawing parallels between Wahhabism and European Fascist ideology.

Examples of use

  • "It is right for us to be on the offense against Islamofascism, and not wait until they attack us on our soil. Unlike any war we have ever fought in this nation, this is not a war for soil. It is a war for our soul. We will either win it or we will lose it. This nation must rally to the point where we recognize there is no compromise. There is no alternative. We must win; they must lose. Islamofascism must disappear from the face of the earth, or we will." — Mike Huckabee
  • "What we have to understand is ... this is not really a war against terrorism, this is not really a war against al Qaeda, this is a war against movements and ideologies that are jihadist, that are Islamofascists, that aim to destroy the Western world." — Clifford May
  • "[Islamic terrorist] attacks serve a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane. Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism and subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom." — George W. Bush

See also


  1. The New Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition, Erin McKean (Editor), 2096 pages, May 2005, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-517077-6
  2. Hitchens, Christopher: Defending Islamofascism: It's a valid term. Here's why, Slate, 2007-10-22
  3. William Safire (2006). "Islamofascism Anyone?" The New York Times, Opinion-Editorial. Retrieved August 28, 2007
  4. William Safire (2006). "Islamofascism Anyone?" The New York Times, Opinion-Editorial. Retrieved August 28, 2007
  5. "Construing Islam as a language", by Malise Ruthven, The Independent, September 8, 1990 "Nevertheless there is what might be called a political problem affecting the Muslim world. In contrast to the heirs of some other non-Western traditions, including Hinduism, Shintoism and Buddhism, Islamic societies seem to have found it particularly hard to institutionalise divergences politically: authoritarian government, not to say Islamo-fascism, is the rule rather than the exception from Morocco to Pakistan."
  7. Berman, Paul (2003). Terror and Liberalism. W W Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-05775-5.
  8. Boyle, Michael, 'The War on Terror in American Grand Strategy', International Affairs, 84, (March 2008), p196
  9. "Propaganda is neutrally defined as a systematic form of purposeful persuasion that attempts to influence the emotions, attitudes, opinions, and actions of specified target audiences for ideological, political or commercial purposes through the controlled transmission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual) via mass and direct media channels. A propaganda organization employs propagandists who engage in propagandism—the applied creation and distribution of such forms of persuasion."
  10. "Islamofascism is nothing but an empty propaganda term. And wartime propaganda is usually, if not always, crafted to produce hysteria, the destruction of any sense of proportion. Such words, undefined and unmeasured, are used by people more interested in making us lose our heads than in keeping their own."
  11. "...there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t."
  12. Wajahat Ali, 'An Interview with Norman Finkelstein' "'Islamo-fascism' is a meaningless term. If I am not mistaken, it was coined by the commentator Christopher Hitchens. The term is a throwback to when juvenile leftists, myself among them, labeled everyone we disagreed with a 'fascist pig.' So this is a kosher-halal version of that epithet. Fascism used to refer to a fairly precise historical phenomenon, although it's even doubtful that the term accurately encompasses regimes as different as Mussolini's Italy and Hitler's Germany. But when you start using the term to characterize terrorist bands who want to turn the clock back several centuries and resurrect the Caliphate, it is simply a vacuous epithet like 'Evil Empire,' 'Axis of Evil' and the rest.
  13. "The idea that there is some kind of autonomous "Islamofascism" that can be crushed, or that the west may defend itself against the terrorists who threaten it by cultivating that eagerness to kill militant Muslims which Christopher Hitchens urges upon us, is a dangerous delusion. The symptoms that have led some to apply the label of "Islamofascism" are not reasons to forget root causes. They are reasons for us to examine even more carefully what those root causes actually are."
  14. Report: 'Islamofascism' blinds U.S. "(Islamofascism) creates the perception that the United States is fighting a religious war against Islam, thus alienating moderate voices in the region who would be willing to work with America towards common goals."
  15. "The word “Islamofascism” never had any meaning, except as a catch-all for whatever regimes and groups the word’s users wished to make targets for military action. Hitchens is also well known for his tendentious misunderstandings of all forms of religion, likening theism to a supernatural totalitarian regime and attributing all of the crimes of political totalitarianism to religion. It was therefore appropriate that he should promote the term “Islamofascism” since it defines a religious movement in the language of secular totalitarianism."
  16. "…what we see at the moment is an attempt to interpret our present predicament in a rather caricatured World War II idiom. I mean, “Islamofascism” illustrates the point well, because it’s a completely misleading concept. In fact, there’s virtually no overlap between the ideology of al Qaeda and fascism. It’s just a way of making us feel that we’re the “greatest generation” fighting another World War, like the war our fathers and grandfathers fought. You’re translating a crisis symbolized by 9/11 into a sort of pseudo World War II. So, 9/11 becomes Pearl Harbor and then you go after the bad guys who are the fascists, and if you don’t support us, then you must be an appeaser."
  18. "There is nothing in any part of the Muslim World that resembles the corporate fascist states of western history. In fact, clan and tribal-based traditional Islamic society, with its fragmented power structures, local loyalties, and consensus decision-making, is about as far as possible from western industrial state fascism. The Muslim World is replete with brutal dictatorships, feudal monarchies, and corrupt military-run states, but none of these regimes, however deplorable, fits the standard definition of fascism. Most, in fact, are America’s allies."
  19. 'Islamo-Fascism Week' Stokes Debate
  20. U. disavows ties to Horowitz's program
  21. Muslim Student Association's Response to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (IFAW)
  22. [[Walter Laqueur, The Origins of Fascism: Islamic Fascism, Islamophobia, Antisemitism, 2006]
  23. William Safire: Islamofascism, The New York Times, October 1, 2006
  24. A Fury For God, Malise Ruthven, Granta, 2002, p.207-8
  25. Michael Howard, ‘A long war?’ Survival 48: 4, Winter 2006–2007, pp. 7–14.

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