Crib Sheet: “Islamofascism”
Debunking a Conservative Smear Tactic

By Annika Carlson and Sarah Dreier
October 22, 2007

In the days following 9/11, Americans across the ideological spectrum united in support of increased protections against terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. But a handful of conservatives used the attacks to promote division among Americans and their allies abroad. For example, conservative writer Stephen Schwartz employed the term “Islamofascism” in a Weekly Standard article to describe the ideology of America’s enemies in its newly minted “war on terror.” Unfortunately, the moniker stuck with many prominent conservatives. Right-wing pundits, policy makers, and journalists started using the term, and even President Bush has employed it to describe terrorist networks in the Middle East.

That’s a shame, because Islamofascism is a misleading and harmful label: Instead of correctly identifying America’s enemies, it inaccurately describes modern terrorism, wrongly demonizes Islam as a violent religion, and dangerously obscures America’s real national security threats.

Here are the top four reasons why conservatives should stop using the term Islamofascism, and an explanation of what ideas and policies they should be promoting instead.

Islamofascism misrepresents modern terrorism and Islam.

It makes little sense to use the word “fascism” to describe today’s terrorism threat. Al Qaeda and other 21st century terrorists do not rely on the nation-state concept that defined 20th century fascism. Whereas fascists used violence to create control out of disorder, contemporary terrorists derive ammunition from chaos.

Nor is it appropriate to employ a term that strongly implies that Islam and terror are synonymous. At first glance, one might agree with conservative New York Times columnist William Safire in his assessment of the label: “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.” But most who use the term fail to make this crucial distinction; instead, they employ Islamofascism to imply that Islam and terror are fundamentally entwined. National Review columnist Deroy Murdock, for instance, supplements his case that Saddam Hussein supported Islamofascism—and therefore could be tied to Al Qaeda—by pointing out that Hussein “began to pray publicly to boost his ‘mosque-cred.’” David Horowitz, known for his fallacy-ridden attacks on academia, has organized “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week” on college campuses across the country and has encouraged students to show the film “Islam: What the West Needs to Know.” According to Horowitz’s website, the movie depicts “the violent, expansionary ideology of the so called ‘religion of peace’ that seeks the destruction or subjugation of other faiths, cultures, and systems of government.”

Despite the claims of some of its supporters, Islamofascism is not used “sparingly or precisely.” The label has been slapped onto groups and individuals as diverse as Hezbollah, Saddam Hussein, and the Saudi government—denigrating Islam as a violent religion in the process. Theologians recognize Islam as a peaceful religion that shares theological roots and principles with Judaism and Christianity. Religious leaders such as Pope John Paul II and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as political leaders such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and President Bush, have all publicly stated that Islam is a peaceful religion that warrants respect.

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