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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Islamic Fascism vs. Christian Zealots: A lesson in conservative hypocrisy

(Bumped from Tuesday night, where it got lost among the elections stuff, and updated with more examples. I'm bumping it because I think this deserves more attention, particularly from the conservative portions of the Cheddarsphere. New examples added to the text below are in gray.)

I didn't spend all of Tuesday night watching poll results come in. I also toodled around the Cheddarsphere a little bit and I found--with some measure of predictability--that the right is displeased with our Russ Feingold. Here's what Russ said:
I call on the President to stop using the phrase “Islamic fascists," a label that doesn’t make any sense, and certainly doesn’t help our effort to build a coalition of societies to fight terrorism. The President has often correctly referred to Islam as a religion of peace, but this reckless language, much like his prior reference to the fight against al Qaeda as a ‘crusade,’ completely cuts the other way. Fascist ideology doesn’t have anything to do with the way global terrorist networks think or operate, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam.
There are two key elements to this paragraph. First, there's the all-important question of whether fascist is the right term to describe what it is that we're facing. I say no, as does David Neiwert, who goes further than I would in identifying some calling-the-kettle-blackism. And Neiwert has the background knowledge and the links to prove that it's not fascism at all:
"Islamofascism" is also, as I've pointed out a couple of times, a generally inappropriate term. This is especially so because fascism, as we have known it historically, only arises from a democratic state in a state of decay or crisis. Indeed, fascism, as I've explored in some depth, is a specific pathology constituted of a constellation of certain traits, only some of which are described by Islamic radicalism, and some of which are specifically repudiated by it. Perhaps they intend "Islamic totalitarianism," which would be accurate; but fascism is a very specific kind of totalitarianism, and what we see in the Islamic world today does not fit the description.
And yet conservative Cheddarsphereans have latched on to fascist; it's hard to escape it when even such normally-measured blogger types as Marquette Professor John McAdams seem to have embraced the term. And the debate over fascism's appropriateness precedes Feingold's statement. For example, it came up last week at Michael Caughill's From Where I Sit. My favorite--and don't miss the comments to this one, either--may be last month at Fred Dooley's Real Debate Wisconsin:
Instead of being critical of the President's language, why don't you direct your outrage towards those who are continuing to plan and atempt to put into place terrorists plots. [. . .] Frankly I don't care how you feel about language while other Muslims are trying to kill me.
But focusing on this takes away from what is, to me, the most important part of Feingold's statement and, in fact, represents a serious misreading of it.

This reckless language, Feingold says, [. . .] doesn’t have anything to do with the overwhelming majority of Muslims around the world who practice the peaceful teachings of Islam.

There is a strong case to be made about the imprecise language, but I think what Russ is asking for, instead, is a certain level of sensitivity to the world's second largest religion. Associating fascism, accurate or not, with Islam is not exactly the best way to win friends and influence people across a large swath of the civilized world. But the conservative Cheddarsphere only sees a target. Missing that point entirely, Owen goes off on the Senator, quoting and, based on some complex linguistic argument, declares Russ "unfit to be President." The Asian Badger wonders if Feingold went "off his meds." Kate pointedly blames Muslims, saying
If they do nothing to help stop the "hijacking" of their religion, then they have no right to be offended. If people claiming to be Christians were behaving in such a barbaric manner, there would be such a backlash, there would be no traction, and they would be extremely lonely in their endeavors.
And finally, Peter DiGaudio, with his usual charm and grace, proclaims that "RUSS LOVES THOSE ISLAMISTS" and calls Islam--not just radical Islam, but all Islam--"a bloodthirsty cult of murder, violence and death."

It took me a couple of days to remember exactly what this whole debate over "Islamic Fascism" reminds me of. But it is, in fact, something that happened right here on the pages of this very blog. Last New Year's Eve, Bryan Kennedy guest-posted about his progressive religious values. Here's how he opened his post:
How is it that conservative religious zealots have seized my Savior and determined His values? Why do they try to tell me how to live my life and how to follow Him? How did they come to the conclusion that Christ was pro-war, pro-business, and that He spouted hatred for people who were not like Him?
I admit, it's no "bloodthirsty cult" kind of talk, but it sure raised hackles! It became the subject of the Spice Boys' second post ever, garnering a terse dismissal. But it was enough to catch Owen's eye:
Ah yes, we can’t be judgmental, can we? Unless, of course, you are a liberal and you are judging conservatives as hateful zealots. Then it’s okay. [. . .] I think it’s funny how so many liberals love to wax moral over the virtues of tolerance and acceptance while rejecting as intolerable a philosophy held by a large portion of the population.
Professor McAdams was also miffed:
[Bryan Kennedy] has posted a tantrum, directed against “conservative religious zealots” on folkbum’s rambles and rants blog. [. . .] There is an excellent Yiddish word to describe what liberals are showing when they talk about religious tolerance. The word is chutzpah.
And should we even talk about how much Fred blew up?
Let me tell you something, in the first 7 words of his "essay" Brian Kennedy managed to insult Christians. That might offend some people, would you not think? Brian Kennedy is running for Congress in a VERY conservative district. What he published here at the very least was monumentaly stupid, though obviously an honest reflection of his beliefs. To Spiceblog, it was just an essay with an odd disclosure.

By the way the 7 words, How is it that conservative religious zealots. I do not really care what else he had to say. My point is in 7 words he managed to insult bunches of Christians by calling them zealots. Not a great way to start an open dialouge is it?
Here's what I see:
  • Bryan Kennedy speaks out against a narrow group of fundamentalists who seem to have hijacked an entire political party and ruined, for many of us, a peaceful and loving religion. Owen, Fred, and Prof. McAdams--all Christians who feel unfairly maligned--find that unacceptable.
  • George W. Bush throws around the emotionally charged word fascist, which may or may not accurately describe a narrow group of fundamentalists who seem to have hijacked and ruined a religion of love and peace. Owen and other Cheddarsphereans (I can't even imagine what the national bloggers are saying) find that not only acceptable, but deem Senator Feingold insane or something for daring to think that perhaps Muslims might feel as unfairly maligned as they did when Bryan Kennedy spoke.
I can suggest two new words to look up on for these Feingold critics: empathy and hypocrisy. Not necessarily in that order.

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