The Myth of “Islamofascism”
“Violent, radical jihadists want to replace all the governments of the moderate Islamic states, replace them with a caliphate. And to do that, they also want to bring down the West, in particular us. And they”ve come together as Shi”a and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and al Qaeda with that intent.” – Mitt Romney, 5/15/07
“The first step toward a realistic peace is to be realistic about our enemies. They follow a violent ideology: radical Islamic fascism, which uses the mask of religion to further totalitarian goals and aims to destroy the existing international system.” – Rudy Giuliani 10/07.
“Islamic fascism has declared war on us and the Western world. Their intent is to bring down Western civilization,” – Fred Thompson 10/30/07
Since 9/11 conservatives have continually lumped various groups and countries together including Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran into one threat that they term “Islamofascism.” The reality is much complicated. These various groups and countries have different intentions and capabilities, often work at cross purposes and are in some cases ideologically opposed to each other. In fact, Shi’a-Sunni tension across the Middle East is at an all time high, only further reinforcing the fact that these groups are different.
The simplistic term “Islamofascism” undermines America’s national security. By confusing these various threats, conservatives make it impossible to pursue effective policies. This ideological approach has caused the United States to miss numerous opportunities, where it could have played these groups off of each other to America’s benefit. Moreover, the term “Islamofascim” creates the perception that the United States is fighting a religious war against Islam, thus alienating moderate voices in the region who would be willing to work with America towards common goals. Dividing these groups and dealing with them separately is a far better policy than lumping them together.
Islamofascism Lumps Al-Qaeda In With Other Islamic Groups Whose Ideology and Goals are Completely Different
Al Qaeda represents Sunnis while Hezbollah represents Shi’a. Al-Qaeda adheres uncompromisingly to a virulent form of Salafism going so far as to condemn Hizbullah as the “Party of Satan” instead of the “Party of God.” Alternatively, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has described Al-Qaeda as “an entity trapped in the middle ages and bent on killing innocent Muslims.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/07/07. International Herald Tribune, 4/09/07.]
Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood are very different organizations with very different ideologies. Al Qaeda’s extremist vision is not shared by the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been open to political participation. Ayman al-Zawahiri has attacked the Muslim Brotherhood for “luring thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections … instead of into the lines of Jihad.” [Foreign Affairs, 04/07.]
Al Qaeda has accused Hamas of “betraying God” because of Hamas’s participation Palestinian elections. Al-Qaeda leader Yahya al-Libi stated that “Hamas has abandoned jihad for politics. It has betrayed its youths. Its main activity is politics. Since its decision to go down the path of politics, Hamas has begun to descend on a downhill slope. They betrayed the dreams of their young fighters and they stabbed them in the back.” [Israel News, 05/06/07]
Iran was a sworn enemy of the Taliban and played a helpful role in the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. According to Flyntt Levrett, a former Bush Administration official who worked on these issues at the time, “In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Tehran offered to help Washington overthrow the Taliban and establish a new political order in Afghanistan. But in his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush announced that Iran was part of an “axis of evil,” thereby scuttling any possibility of leveraging tactical cooperation over Afghanistan into a strategic opening.” [NYTimes, 1/24/07.]
Al Qaeda in Iraq’s extremist ideology and tactics have backfired and alienated many Sunnis in Iraq and across the Arab World. In Iraq, Al-Qaeda’s heavy-handed tactics have caused even local Sunnis to reject the group entirely and side with the United States. Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, the former leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, wrote to Osama Bin Laden to say that the Shia were a greater threat than Americans. A Pew Global Attitudes Project, entitled “The Great Divide,” states that although anti-west attitudes have flourished, support for Al-Qaeda is on the wane. [PEW, 6/22/06. CFR, 7/16/07.]
Shi’a-Sunni Division Is At an All Time Peak
Iraq is in the midst of a sectarian civil war that is increasing Shi’a and Sunni tensions across the region. In Iraq, ethnic cleansing of Sunnis is so pronounced that since the American invasion Baghdad, a city of six million, has gone from 65% Sunni to 75% Shi’a. Meanwhile, Iraq’s neighbors: Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran are supporting different proxies which is only causing more division both within the country and around the region. [NYTimes, 9/2/07. Reuters, 4/09/07. Newsweek, 7/02/07. Guardian, 11/02/07.]
References to Islamofascism often position Iran at the nexus of a jihadist movement even though its increased influence is actually causing great anxiety in Sunni Arab countries. Countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia feel deeply threatened by Iran’s ambitions for the region. Jordan’s King Abdullah warned that Iran”s “vested interest”, is “to have an Islamic republic of Iraq; if that happened, we”ve opened ourselves to a whole set of new problems that won”t be limited to the borders of Iraq”. He warned of a Shi’a “crescent” stretching from Iran into Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, destabilizing Gulf countries and posing a challenge to the US.” [NYTimes, 2/05/06. The Guardian, 1/27/05.]
Iran’s increased influence has complicated relations between Sunni governments and their Shi’a minorities. “Sunni governments have used Tehran”s ambitions as an excuse to resist both the demands of their own Shiite populations and Washington”s calls for political reform. Since 2003, Sunni leaders in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly blamed Iran for the chaos in Iraq and warned that Iran would wield considerable influence in the region if Iraqi Shiites came to hold the reins of power in Baghdad. The Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, sounded the alarm last April: ‘Shiites are mostly always loyal to Iran and not the countries where they live.’” [Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006]