Terminology: If not “Islamic fascists,” then what?

Terminology: If not “Islamic fascists,” then what? September 29, 2006
What’s in a name?

President Bush, hours after a terror plot in Britain was foiled, declared to the nation that the plot was “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.” Since that time, there has been an uproar on both sides of the debate over what to call those who wish to kill and maim Americans at any cost.

Muslims bristle – rightly, I believe – at the term “Islamic fascists.” Dr. Ingrid Mattson, newly elected President of the Islamic Society of North America, said in a press conference: “This is a term that had very bad resonance in the Muslim majority world and makes us feel uncomfortable. We’re hoping there can be some adjustment to this language.”

Those on the Right strenuously defend the term, one which they have been using long before President Bush adopted it in his lexicon. “The common denominators,” wrote Victor David Hanson in the September 8 Chicago Tribune, “are extremist views of the Koran (thus the term Islamic), and the goal of seeing authoritarianism imposed at the state level by force (thus the notion of fascism). The pairing of the two words conveys a precise message: The old fascism is back, but now driven by a radical fundamentalist creed of Islam.”

Yet, is the term “Islamic fascist” even remotely accurate? The dictionary defines fascism as: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”

Autocracy, racism, dictatorship, and forcible suppression all all contrary to both the letter and spirit of Islam. There is nothing remotely Islamic about fascism. Moreover, I do not recall anyone calling Hitler – who professed Christianity – a “Christofascist”; no one called Nazism “Christian fascism.” I have not seen any reference to Warren Jeffs as a “Christian rapist,” even though he has used the Bible to justify his alleged actions. So should it be with Islam.

Yet, having said all that, a cogent argument has been made that these religious extremists are indeed fascist in their ideology. If we maintain that the term “Islamic fascist” should not be used, as it should not, a very valid question is raised: what should we call them? Well, why not simply “fanatic” or “extremist”? Alas, it seems this term is not glamorous enough for the 21st Century. Consequently, we should be able to come up with another more accurate term. Yet, does such a term exist?

Absolutely. They are more accurately called “neo-Kharijites.” The murderous fanatics who kill in the name of Islam are trying to cast themselves as “Muslim heroes.” They try to claim that they are “defending the ummah” with their acts of terrible destruction. Yet, we easily see through their facade of piety for the satanic murderers that they truly are. Just like the Kharijites, these fanatics consider all those Muslims who do not accept their twisted interpretation of Islam as “infidels,” whose blood is lawful to be shed. Just like the Kharijites, these extremists have committed a number atrocities against their own co-religionists. Just like the Kharijites, these murderers threaten the safety and security of the Muslim ummah, and what is worse, today’s “neo-Kharijites” even threaten the very existence of the Muslim ummah.

The fit could not be more perfect. Usama bin Laden, Ayman Al Zawahiri, and their ilk are our modern-day khawarij, and as such, we should begin calling them “neo-Kharijites.” Some have argued that these fanatics should be called muharibun, based on the verse in the Qur’an. While this is a technically correct characterization, the word muharibun is too foreign to be accepted by the mainstream. Admittedly, “neo-Kharijite” is a strange term that may not garner much acceptance at first. Yet, that should not dissuade us. At first, “Islamofascist” was strange, but with the Right’s incessant use of the term, it has become part of the American lexicon, with many who now vigorously defend its use. So will it be with “neo-Kharijite.”

Moreover, we can argue to the non-Muslim public that, not only does “neo-Kharijite” more accurately describe the terrorists than “Islamofascist,” it does not garner the same anger and offense of the world’s Muslims as “Islamic fascist.” Linking Islam with fascism – which is what “Islamic fascist” does – gives bolster to the claim of the fanatics that the West is at war with Islam. On the other hand, linking groups such as Al Qaeda to the Kharijites can help poison their perception in the minds of those Muslims who are tempted to see terrorists such as Usama bin Laden as “Muslim heroes.” This would help to further isolate these extremists from the Muslim mainstream.

For far too long, others have defined for us who we are and what we are about. They have introduced alien terms such as “Islamic fundamentalism,” “Islamofacism,” and “jihadist” into the lexicon and have made them so commonplace that our protest at these vague and unclear terms is made to seem alien and out of place. They have turned jihad – a beautiful concept of the sacred inner struggle to better our souls – into an ugly image of blood and terror. It is high time we take back our faith – in an act of true jihad – from those who seek to seriously harm it – both from within and from without. And part of that jihad consists of using terms and concepts on our terms, such as “neo-Kharijite” instead of “Islamofascist.” It may be trickle in a pond, but it is a start, and we all have to start somewhere.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at

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