Though he is 15 years my junior, I think we found we had much in common in ministry, especially an interest in the arts in worship and the importance of the church's call to minister to both the spiritual and physical needs of those outside her walls.
When it comes to our politics, however, we are from different planets. I discovered that when I made an unguarded remark about my disdain for the current administration and expressed my desire to see its key players someday prosecuted in a court of law. He was never anything but the greatest Christian gentleman but I read right away that he disagreed with me. Still, the lunch ended on a friendly note.
On Thursday, December 27, he responded to the Bhutto assassination.
I have considered his post for days now and respond with the following:The neologism, Islamofascist, is stock neoconservative propaganda. Niall Ferguson is a conservative British historian on record as supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He was asked to respond to the use of the term in an interview:
Today, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated at a rally in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.(Actually she died an hour later at a hospital.) A suicide bomber then blows up himself. Now, normally the usual "analysis" concludes Islamo-fascism has arisen in response to any US military presence and campaigns in the middle east. Obviously, if we were not in Afghanistan (and especially in Iraq) attacks like this would never have happened. We are at fault for not placating Islamo-facism. The hate-America secular left here in the States loves to bloviate this rhetoric. The more extreme versions of this even condemn the World Trade Center to deserving its 9-11 demise. The Bush administration are condemned as war criminals by this radical left.
However, I fully believe this utterly absurd notion is blown sky high by our friendly neighborhood suicide bomber. The attacks were against Bhutto and the reforms she was advocating ... just like they were against her father, who was also assassinated. Islamo-facism has arisen not simply in response to any specific efforts of the US in the middle-east per se. Rather Islamo-facism has arisen primarily in response to significant challenges to the status quo of the 6th and 7th Century and to the primacy the Golden Age of the world-wide caliphate. Anything short of the world-wide caliphate garbed in 7th Century Arabic culture is an afront to Islamo-facist dignity.
Question: As a historian you must get very frustrated at the extent to which the policy debate distorts history. We mentioned already the concept of "Islamofascist" appeasement. All of these very important policy debates get implicated in a distortion of what history demonstrates. Of course, there's always an argument in history but this goes beyond that. How do we deal with that? Besides getting everybody to read your book!
Response: Well, that would help. That would be a good start!
No, I think this is a really important point, because 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.
Al Qaeda is unarguably a declared enemy of the United States. Fascism is a political philosophy that is anathema to our system of government. One bears no relationship to the other - a point driven home in the linked interview. The term "islamofascism" was manufactured by propagandists gifted in Orwellian Newspeak, the language of 1984 developed to make alternative thinking virtually impossible - a "thoughtcrime." The very act of challenging the veracity of the term makes one an America hater and possibly the member of a sleeper cell. One of the characters in the book states, "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."
But we are drawn to World War II, and therefore when politicians want to make us feel that we're fighting the good fight, that we're on the side of the angels, they can use World War II era language and distort our predicament. As a historian, my only possible response to that is to run around writing books, op-eds, and doing television interviews, trying to persuade people that "Islamofascism" is a fantasy. If anything, bin Laden is more like Lenin than he is like Hitler, because he's got a vision of international revolution, he's certainly an anti-capitalist, he'd like to undermine the United States partly by economic means, he's very good at recruiting what Lenin used to call "useful idiots," too. So, there's a parallel to be drawn, but I think it's more with Bolshevism, pre-1917 Bolshevism, which was, in many ways, a terrorist network of extreme Communists. That's a useful parallel but of course, it has much less moral salience than the "Islamofascist" cliché.
My friend seems to believe that those of us who oppose our presence in Iraq also oppose our efforts in Afghanistan. On the contrary, seen as a justifiable response to the attack on 9/11, the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan has enjoyed wide support across the political spectrum in the US and around the world. The invasion of Iraq is seen as a tragic distraction from the original goals of capturing or killing the perpetrators of 9/11 and eliminating the Taliban as the incubators of anarchists.
I am not sympathetic to the 9/11 conspiracy theorists. While their concoctions are creative and, in my most cynical moments quite seductive, I believe the 9/11 attack was conceived and executed by bin Laden and his lieutenants while given sanctuary by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom was and continues to be a just and logical response.
It does not require one to be a conspiracy buff to believe that the invasion and occupation of Iraq is a brain child of those who were disappointed that President George H. W. Bush stopped Operation Desert Storm before taking out Saddam. Members of the Project for a New American Century were pushing for action against Iraq long before 9/11/2001 and saw the attack of that day as an opening to soften American public opinion in their direction. All it would take is a link between Saddam and 9/11 and the door would be open to establishment of a permanent military presence in the oil fields of the middle east. Our valiant men and women in uniform are pawns for these Machiavellian machinations and the language of Orwellian Newspeak is making it possible.
Finally, on the issue of war crimes and the Bush administration. I was connected to this quote by conservative blogger, Andrew Sullivan.
George Orwell was a huge believer in words. Words mean things. It is the hallmark of totalitarian dictatorships throughout history that, when the meaning of a word becomes politically inconvenient for the goals of the regime, they simply redefine the word. In the literal sense, this is where the term “politically correct” comes from—Stalinist Russia. “Yes, it might be correct to say that we are torturing these people, but it would not be politically correct to do so, so we will refer to it as an enhanced interrogation technique.” Hitler did this too. The Jews were “resettled” into the east, but we all know what “resettling” meant and it sure as hell didn’t mean “resettled.”
There has been a definition of “torture” in place for 60 years. We’re now violating that definition. You can tart it up however you like, you can use whatever euphemism allows you to convince yourself that we’re not actually torturing people, but according to any accepted definition of torture, including the ones we wrote ourselves, that’s exactly what we’re doing. All I ask is that, if you support this type of behavior, at least be intellectually honest enough with yourself to call it torture and stop b***sh***ing yourself with “enhanced interrogation techniques.”