The Blog

What Is 'Islamofascism'?

A history of the word from the first Westerner to use it.

12:00 AM, Aug 17, 2006 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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If such concerns seem absurdly self-interested, it is also interesting to observe how Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia, dealt with the formulation of Islamofascism as an analytical tool. After a long and demeaning colloquy between me and a Wikipedian who commented negatively on an early book of mine while admitting that he had never even seen a copy of it, Wikipedia (referring to it collectively, as its members prefer) decided it to ascribe it to another historian of Islam, Malise Ruthven. But Ruthven, in 1990, used the term to refer to all authoritarian governments in Muslim countries, from Morocco to Pakistan.

I do not care much, these days, about Wikipedia and its misapprehensions, or obsess over acknowledgements of my work. But Malise Ruthven was and would remain wrong to believe that authoritarianism and fascism are the same. To emphasize, fascism is something different, and much worse, than simple dictatorship, however cruel the latter may be. That is a lesson that should have been learned 70 years ago, when German Nazism demonstrated that it was a feral and genocidal aberration in modern European history, not merely another form of oppressive rightist rule, or a particularly wild variety of colonialism.

Similarly, the violence wreaked by al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and by Saddam Hussein before them, has been different from other expressions of reactionary Arabism, simple Islamist ideology, or violent corruption in the post-colonial world. Between democracy, civilized values, and normal religion on one side, and Islamofascism on the other, there can be no compromise; as I have written before, it is a struggle to the death. President Bush is right to say "young democracies are fragile . . . this may be [the Islamofascists'] last and best opportunity to stop freedom's advance." As with the Nazis, nothing short of a victory for democracy can assure the world's security.

Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.