Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Separating ‘Fanatics’ From Real Muslim Grievances

I’m going to do something I don’t usually do: Compliment Pres. George W. Bush. I made this compliment right after the event happened, but I didn’t have a blog then, so it bears repeating. Bush showed more wisdom than his base shortly after 9/11 by reminding the nation and the world that the terrorists who want to kill us are extremist fanatics who twist the teachings of Islam–not all or even most Muslims. While Christian leaders who should have known better (e.g. Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, etc.) were busy fanning flames of hatred, Bush reminded the nation that Islam is a religion of peace. Muslim terrorists were and are no more representative of genuine Islam than cross-burning Klansmen are representative of genuine Christianity. Although some of Bush’s policies reinforced the fear among Muslims that the U.S. had declared war against Islam itself, much of Bush’s early rhetoric denied this. That was both wise and good.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t lasted. In the wake of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah, Bush has begun to use the term “Islamic Fascists,” a variation on “Islamo-fascists,” a term long favored by rightwing pundits and bloggers. Fascism, which Mussolini defined as state power plus corporate power, has little to do with the ideology of the Islamic terrorists. The term seems to be a propaganda move–intended to bring the Nazis to mind and reinforce the Neo-con view that the so-called “war on terror” constitutes World War III–lasting for years and justifying all kinds of suspensions of civil liberties. This doesn’t seem accurate at all, unless we make it so. There are real threats out there, but it is important that they be named and described accurately, if we are to respond in such a way that actually deals with the threat effectively.

Writing in the Guardian, Max Hastings points out the folly of Bush’s recent remarks that indicate a global Islamic conspirancy against the West. Some, like al-Qaida, are fanatic madment. Others have legitimate beefs against Western policies (e.g. failing to push Israel for the creation of a viable Palestinian state and supporting autocratic dictators like the House of Saud) and failing to address those could send them into the arms of some terrorist group. Painting all Muslims with one brush makes it all the more likley that we get a self-fulfilling prophecy. In Hastings’ words:

If the United States insists upon regarding all Muslim opponents of its foreign policies as a homogeneous enemy then that is what they become.


Is that what we really want? Do we love war and alerts and the militarization of everything so much? In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Bush rejected this path as foolishness. Now, he has apparently embraced it completely. That is both foolish and dangerous. The nation and the world could have reason to wish Bush had remembered his earlier wisdom. Call the White House comment line and remind him today. Ask the president to separate the legitimate Muslim complaints (which should be addressed quickly) from the irrational hatred of the terrorists–and to reject global conspiracy theories and misleading terms like “Islamo-fascist.” 1-202-456-6213.

August 15, 2006 - Posted by | interfaith, Islam, terrorism prevention


  1. Good post Michael. Like you, I prefer if Bush simply refers to them simply as terrorists. No need to throw the religious term in there.

    I wouldn’t want abortion clinic bombers to be called “Christian terrorists”, just plain old terrorists.

    Comment by Chance | August 15, 2006

  2. Yes. I have objected strenuously when secularists or liberal Christians have referred to members of the religious right as “Christo-fascists!” Moreover, I heard American Muslims condemn such a term. So, why should I not object equally to the term “Islamo-fascist.”

    The Franklin Graham-type hatemongers and the Neo-Cons in his own administration seem to have overridden Bush’s earlier good sense. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, here. I’m assuming that Karl Rove didn’t write both sets of terminology–one for when Bush needed to appear statesmanlike and full of leadership after 9/11 and one now when, desperate for GOP votes in November, he is trying to rally his bloodthirsty base. I don’t want to be that cynical.

    But it is hard. He hasn’t talked just now like a negotiator who has just brokered a fragile peace, but, even as the ceasefire began, he’s sounded like a cheerleader for Israel. AND he is urging Congress to rush more cluster bombs to Israel–which by their very nature kill more innocent bystanders than carefully chosen targets.

    What is a progressive who WANTS to give the president the benefit of the doubt to think?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 15, 2006

  3. Michael, I am mostly with you. The islamo-fascist rhetoric is erroneous and quite damaging to the whole dialog. Launching verbal Kayushas at Islam is especially harmful, given the Christians who live among them.

    Comment by Looney | August 15, 2006

  4. So, Looney, you called the comment line and said this to the White House?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 15, 2006

  5. Actually, I have never called a politician.

    Comment by Looney | August 15, 2006

  6. Looney said: Actually, I have never called a politician.

    Well, there’s no time like the present to become an active citizen, doing more than voting, but exercising your constitutional right to “peacefully petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | August 15, 2006

  7. As I said earlier, I am mostly with you on this topic. Where I differ, however, is that I think Bush is wrong about the nature of Islam. We have a notion here that fundamentalism is a mental disorder, rather than based on fundamentals. Yes, there are plenty of examples regarding the mental disorder theory in the US, but we also have 300 million people, so there are examples of everything.

    My contention is that the common ingredient between Islamic Fundamentalism and Christian Fundamentalism is the way they view the Koran and Bible respectively, and not the mental disorder commonality theory.

    Even if Bush is wrong about Islam, it is still politically wise for him to adapt the rhetoric that he did.

    Comment by Looney | August 16, 2006

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