Before I begin, I would like to say that I have the deepest respect for people on any side of any political debate who have carefully thought-out and researched opinions, but I am deeply scornful of anybody who thinks that parroting what they hear on talk radio, repeating catchphrases, or voting the party line is an adequate way to organize their thoughts. So what I say here is not, I repeat not an attack on American conservatism in general, but slapdash facile conservative ideology in particular.
What is Islamofascism? It's a buzzword. It's a tool for simplifying enormously complex issues of diplomacy, race, religion, economic warfare, international terrorism, interparty politics, and many other things into a single, easily digestible, word that's fun to say and low in calories.
What is an Islamofascist? The origins of the word are fuzzy; I could not find strong enough sources to make a claim of where it came from. But to understand it, one must first ask another question:
What is fascism? It's a convoluted and challenging debate. Fascism is usually defined as a philosophy of government where national unity and identity are promoted, where there are strong ties between the government, the military, and industry. Stereotypically, there are also great efforts to quash any attempts to speak out against the leaders, through imposing strictures on published materials, government control of the media, making dissidents disappear, and other methods.
It should be clear at this point that there are definitely fascists in the Muslim world. The governments of several countries in the Middle East fit the above definitions. So there are Muslim fascists. But where I get off the train is when the phrase is used to apply to anybody in the Muslim world who disagrees with the Bush administration and their friends, or anybody in the Western world who sympathizes with with the Muslim world. If an islamofascist is anybody who's on the bad side of the pundits, the word is meaningless.
Before it became trendy to call American dissidents communists in the 1950s, it was trendy to call them fascists. This had its roots in fear of the Italian and German governments of the 1920s through 1940s, and eventually, the remnants of World War II-based hostilities. Accusing somebody of being a fascist was the sort of thing that would bring a good party to a halt, with an almost audible record-scratch noise.
If the term were Muslim fascist, I would not be so leery. But when you prefix it with islamo, I'm made uncomfortable. With two separate words, it's clear that it's referring to those fascists who are Muslim, or those Muslims who are fascist. But making it one clever word makes it seem like there is a group of people who have Islamofascist identity, who meet and discuss Islamofascist goals. Indeed, the very cuteness of the word bothers me. It seems designed for a speaker whose audience would get bored if they have to listen to too many syllables.
I've also found that the word is frequently thrown around in situations that have nothing to do with fascism. For example, to label the attacks of September 11, 2001 as Islamofascist ignores the fact that the attacks were a response to perceived American aggression and Israeli relations — not about establishing a fascist Muslim state. I would like to challenge anybody who calls another an Islamofascist to give a cursory definition of fascism; I think the results would be frustrating at best. The word calls up images of evil totalitarians, and asks us to associate anybody in the Muslim world who is against the Western powers with them. It asks us to pretend that there are no causes behind Muslim terrorism other than their hating our freedom. It belies the complexity of political theory, religious, economic, and class struggles, Cold War diplomacy and aggression, British imperialism, the policies of fifty years of American presidents, the millennia-old struggle for Jerusalem, and a million other intractably detailed subjects. It's an insult to anybody who recognizes how deeply entrenched we are in the problems of the Middle East, and how long it will take to find a solution — a solution which will, unfortunately, not be able to be described in two sentences.
If you've made it this far, you may well be ready to rip my head off. I would love to see a defense of the term, but like I said at the outset of this writeup, I would like to request that responses be well-reasoned and not about resentment of any group, or about partisan politics. My problems with the term have nothing to do with my political views, but out of a sense that many of the people using the word Islamofascist are using it as a tool to simplify political debate to name-calling.