The Blog

Fascism, Islamism, and Anti-Semitism

The president of the Islamic Republic is guided in word and deed by the most vicious of ideologies.

11:00 PM, Jan 2, 2006 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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Hardly anything has infuriated certain critics of the Bush Administration more than the president's vocabulary to describe the war on terrorism. Bush warns of an "axis of evil," in which rogue nations collude with Muslim extremists to acquire nuclear weapons. He regards Osama bin Laden and his cadre of suicide bombers as "evildoers." He compares the theology of radical Islam to that of European fascism and "all the murderous ideologies" of the twentieth century. Intellectuals and others reject this talk as sophomoric and supremely arrogant-just another manifestation of Bush's cowboy diplomacy. Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor in the Carter Administration, voices a typical note of contempt: "We have increasingly embraced at the highest official level what I think can fairly be called a paranoiac view of the world."

Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that these same critics remain mostly mute over the stunning remarks of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Two weeks ago the Iranian president shocked Western leaders when he claimed that the Holocaust was "a myth" created by Jews and "Zionist historians." This followed a previous slander against Israel as "a tumor" to be "wiped off the map"--or, at best, relocated to Europe. "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury," Ahmadinejad told the Organization of the Islamic Conference. His anti-Semitic tirade comes as the Iranian leader continues to defy the United Nations to pursue a nuclear weapons program. "I thought, my God, he's a Nazi," a German resident told Knight Ridder. "I couldn't believe that again the world was faced with a Nazi as a head of state. It's beyond comprehension."

The rise of Islamo-fascism in Tehran, in fact, is not at all beyond comprehension. Its emergence is perfectly predictable--given the political theology of radical Islam and the culture of victimization that sustains it. Like his mentor, the Ayatollah Khomeini, Ahmadinejad embraces an extremist Shiite view of purity, obedience, death, and redemption. Bush deserves much credit for recognizing this ideology for what it is: the totalitarian impulse, inspired by utopian illusions and sanctified by the pathology of anti-Semitism.

Osama bin Laden and his allies, after all, have repeatedly expressed their hatred not only of America but of Israel and Jews everywhere. In a tape that surfaced recently in Cairo, bin Laden deputy Ayman Al-Zawahri again urged Muslims to take up arms against the "malignant illness" of Israel and the Christian West. Bush critics imply that this message resonates with the "Arab street" because of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians (and America's support for Israel). More likely is the fact that anti-Semitism rises like a vapor from the political and cultural swamps of the Arab world. Television programs, newspapers, internet cafes, universities, mosques, religious schools--here and elsewhere Jews are regularly depicted as "satanic" enemies of Islam and instigators of U.S. intervention in Muslim lands. Holocaust denial is routine. A columnist for the Egyptian paper Al-Masaa, for example, defended the Iranian president's outbursts with these words: "What this truth means is that these massacres . . . never happened. The famous execution chambers were no more than rooms for disinfecting clothing."

It's not just political hacks or cloistered imams who are tutored in this grammar of hate. Last month Lebanon's government-run university, Universite Libanaise, held a nationally televised symposium on the Palestinian question. "My name is Hisham Sham'as, and I study political science," one student began. He then offered this modest political proposal: "Israel should be completely wiped out . . . Just like Hitler fought the Jews, we are a great Islamic nation of jihad, and we too should fight the Jews and burn them." Not long after the 9-11 attack, I met with a dozen Ph.D. students from Jordan, visiting Washington, D.C. in a program sponsored by the State Department. Here were the academic elite of a relatively moderate and prosperous Arab state. They were smart, well-heeled, and fluent in English. Yet every one of them suspected that the 9-11 attack was a Jewish plot to incite a U.S. war against Islam.

Too many critics of U.S. foreign policy betray a profoundly naïve view of human nature: They ignore the ability of propaganda to nullify reason, pervert conscience, and inflame our blackest impulses. People who believe such slurs are psychologically and spiritually prepared to believe almost anything--and, eventually, to act on those beliefs. "Nonsense in the intellect," warned C.S. Lewis, "draws evil after it."