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American Muslim

August 14, 2006

From crusade to Islamic fascism

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

As we approach the fifth anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks and the "war on terror," American Muslim community is alarmed and dismayed at President George Bush’s remarks that that “this nation is at war with Islamic fascists.”

Adding insult to the injury, the White House Press Secretary Tony Snow says the president will continue to use the phrase. In an e-mail interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Snow said Bush has gradually shifted from general rhetoric about a war on terrorism to the more specific "war with Islamic fascists." With the new description, Bush "tries to identify the ideology that motivates many organized terrorist groups," Snow said.

Bush has used the term or variations of it in recent months. He used the term on at least two separate occasions last week. On August 7, 2006, during a press conference from his ranch in Texas, he said terrorists "try to spread their jihadist message - a message I call ... Islamic radicalism, Islamic fascism". A moment later, he said "Islamo-fascism" was an "ideology that is real and profound". Then, on August 11, 2006 after the arrest in Britain of two dozen people suspected of plotting of bomb planes traveling to the US, he said "Islamic fascists... will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom".

Webster's defines fascism as a system of government characterized by one party dictatorship that forcibly suppresses opposition. His remarks linked Islam to the fascist Italian and German regimes of the 1920s.

Asked about the expression last week on MSNBC's Hardball, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said: “It might not be classic fascism as you had with Mussolini or Hitler. But it is a totalitarian, intolerant imperialism that has a vision that is totally at odds with Western society and our rules of law.”

The phrase, Islamist fascists, contrasted sharply with the words used by British officials, who went out of their way to play down the religion and ethnic background of the terror suspects, characterizing them as criminals who did not represent the majority of British Muslim citizens.

Is it a cynical bid for votes in the election year? According to MSNBC, the administration is under pressure to convince the public that controversial security measures, as well as military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan are the right policies. Bush's approval ratings have been sagging and he has come under fire from conservative critics who have argued that his “war on terror” was too squishy, and losing impact with mainstream America.

According to Harris Interactive Poll, President Bush's approval rating is just 34%. President Bush's approval rating is 38% in a Newsweek poll. Harris Poll also indicated that if elections for Congress were held today, 45% of Americans say they would vote for the Democratic candidate and 30% would vote for the Republican. According to the Newsweek Poll, right now 53 percent of Americans would like to see the Democrats win control of Congress, compared to just 34 percent who want the Republicans to retain control.

Republican Senator Rick Santorum, who faces a difficult re-election battle against Democrat Bob Casey in November 2006, uses the phrase repeatedly. "In World War II we fought Nazism and Japanese imperialism," Santorum said in a high-profile speech at the National Press Club on July 20. "Today we are fighting Islamic fascism. They attacked us on Sept. 11, because we are the greatest obstacle in front of them to their openly declared mission of subjecting the entire world to their fanatical rule." Casey campaign spokesman Larry Smar countered that “Rick Santorum is more concerned about spin and word choice” than concrete steps such as implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

While shocked community leaders criticized his remarks, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Chairman, Parvez Ahmed, sent a letter to Bush saying that “your statement that America is 'at war with Islamic fascists' contributes to a rising level of hostility to Islam and the American-Muslim community.” The following recent three opinion polls amplify his point:

- Thirty-nine percent Americans say they felt at least some prejudice against Muslims. (TODAY/Gallup Poll - July 2006)

- A growing proportion of Americans are expressing unfavorable views of Islam, and a majority now say that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence. (The Washington Post-ABC News Poll March 2006)

- Some one-fourth (23 to 27 percent) of Americans consistently believe stereotypes such as: "Muslims value life less than other people," and "The Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred." (CAIR Poll March 2006)

Five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks President Bush called his war on terror a “crusade,” for which he later apologized as a verbal slip. But his insistence to use “Islamist fascists” leads us to believe that the "crusade" against Islam, was not a verbal slip, but - in the words of Prof. Sam Hamod - a Freudian slip. One also wonders if the war on "Islamic fascism" is less about fighting terrorism and more about silencing those who dissent from the Bush administration’s aggressive policies.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: www.amperspective.com