Friday, August 11, 2006


As visitors to HOTM know, I'm no fan of President Bush. But he certainly got it right yesterday when he said of Wednesday's foiled terrorist plot, "This was a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists."

In some ways, Bush's construction was odd. After all, according to the administration, we're in a Global War on Terror -- or, if you prefer, in a Struggle Against Violent Extremism. Why, then, didn't the president say, "This was a stark reminder that this nation is at war with terror and violent extremism?"

Because terror is a tactic and extremism a mindset, and wars can be fought against neither. Real wars, as opposed to the "moral equivalent" or other metaphorical variety, can only be fought against human actors. And the human actors who are in fact the enemies of our civilization are defined and identified by the nexus of Muslim religion (Islam is the only true way, everyone else is an infidel who needs to be killed or converted, etc.) and fascist ideology (the state should be all powerful and control the personal behavior of all its citizens, who exist to serve the state). Hats off, then, to President Bush for, whether deliberately or instinctively, correctly identifying the enemy: Islamic fascism (the terminology I prefer is Islamofascism and Islamofascists because the focus feels tighter to me, but this is a quibble).

The president's new terminology is welcome not just because it's correct, but for other reasons, as well. The language of tactics is the language of law enforcement. Acts are illegal, not the people who do them. From running a red light to bank robbery all the way to murder, the law prohibits acts. War is different. We didn't fight World War II against Panzer or kamikaze attacks. We fought it against the Germans and Japanese. If we really are in a war now, and I believe we are, I hope other leaders and the media will take their cue from the president and stop obscuring the issue with language that smacks of law enforcement. War is the sword, law enforcement the shield. They are different tools and we ought to be clear about which we're using and for what purpose.

Another benefit of using the proper nomenclature is that doing so tends to linguistically wrongfoot the Islamofascists. Monikers like Islamicists, Militant Islam, militants, Mujahadeen, and jihadis are points of pride to these people. Why are we acceding to their attempts at self-branding? They're islamofascists. Let's attach that powerful word -- fascism -- to its proper recipients and let them explain why they're really something else.


David Terrenoire said...

I don't have any problems with whatever the president calls them (although I wish he spoke without sounding like he had a mouthful of potatoes) but, and I know I'm going to get flamed for this, I think this is a law enforcement issue, not a war.

Think of it this way: You can be an Islamofascist, the same way you can be a skinhead neo-Nazi white supremacist, and you pose no threat other than that of boring me to death.

But the action, whether it's kicking a gay kid to death or flying a plane into the WTC, is what makes the guy a criminal.

I can hear Charlie's hair catching on fire, but bear with me here. If we call these people warriors, that's making them something they're not. They're criminals, thugs, miscreants, skells, unsubs, whatever you want to call them, but they are not warriors, not in my definition of the word. They are cowards and punks, whackjobs and psycopaths, but they are not warriors.

To call them such is to demean those who are are true members of an honorable fraternity.

As to tactics, what has been most effective in ridding us of this gutter scum? Law enforcement. Law enforcement backed up by hard men carrying MP5s, but they're still cops and investigators and prosecutors who put the original bombers of the WTC behind bars. It's law enforcement that thwarted the orginal liquid explosive plot in 1995. It was law enforcement that caught the guy in Pakistan whose laptop yielded more names for UK law enforcement to roll up. It was law enforcement that caught yesterday's pig fuckers.

What has military action gotten us? A bloody occupation in Iraq, a country that is now the Harvard of insurgent warfare, and an unraveling situation in Afghanistan.

I am not against using military action to give muscle to law enforcement. But to call this a war is to elevate the Islamofascists far beyond what they deserve.

Now, let the fire begin, I've put on my asbestos underwear.

Anonymous said...


Great write!

could not agree with you more. several Muslim/Islam orgs came out yesterday trying to school America on Bush's identification of the enemy, islamofacist. unbelievable, no word on their trying to distance their ideology from the perpetrators of the terrorism, but instead an attack on our President (Bush).

Anonymous said...


i agree with the part about not wanting to give the enemy any "honor", but it is still a war.

they are an ENEMY, imbued with all of your descriptors....and deserving of no legal protections and deserving of an immediate delivery to their allah. lower case emphasized!

Anonymous said...

I can hear Charlie's hair catching on fire ...

True story ... my wife asked me to color my hair for an A&E shoot last week ... it was her birthday and I let her do it ... the next morning I was so horrified (I looked like a 340 pound Tom Jones wannabe), I ran to the barber and had him shave my head. Now I look like a 340 pound cue ball. It ain't pretty, brothers.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot to comment. I don't care what we call them just so long as we whack as many of them as we can as quickly as we can.

Anonymous said...

It is true that the US can't have a war on terror, any more than it can have a war on drugs, or a war on poverty. Unfortunately, though the terminology is superior, it can't have a war on Islamic fascists, either. That's like declaring a war on illegal immigrants. Where are they? How do we get to them? A country can only make war on other countries or territories--Japan, Germany, North Vietnam, the Confederacy (or the Union), England, Afganistan, Iraq.

And David Terrenoire is absolutely correct about the accomplishments of military action in this so-called war.

Anonymous said...

Same comment. I don't care what we call it (police action or war), so long as we whack as many of them as we can as quickly as we can ... although there have been some accomplishments (whether we want to admit it or not). Certainly more than if we just let these things happen (9-11, etc.) and decided we needed to study all "our" faults in not understanding our enemy better. That worked just great leading up to 9-11 (the marine barracks in Beirut, First World Trade Center bombimg, the Cole, Mogidshu, etc.).

It probably is more of a police action than a war (or should be), but it still comes down to the same thing (violence) and blaming ourselves for Islamic Fundamentalism just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Barry Eisler said...

David, great points as always, and don't worry about getting flamed -- remember, HOTM is a haven from flamin'! Or something like that...

I don't agree that Islamofascism presents primarily a law enforcement issue. It seems to me the problem is too large to be dealt with primarily by investigations, arrests, and prison sentences only when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt. For this fight to be effective, I believe an outsize component will have to consist of intelligence, kidnappings, assassinations, and other hardcore activities that are hard to square with law enforcement alone. I also think the invastion of Afghanistan was necessary (although the gains we've secured there will probably be lost in part due to the distraction we created in Iraq), and an operation like the one to oust the Taliban from power also goes far beyond law enforcement.

Also, my notion of being at war is that it gives us maximum flexibility to do what we must. It doesn't follow -- at least not logically -- that because we're at war we have to wage total war; but I supposed the danger exists that because we can do something, we will do it...

Side note, as an example: I believe then-President Carter should have gone to Congress for a declaration of war against Iran when they took our embassy people hostage in 1979. Doing so would have clarified the situation at home and abroad and given the president maximum freedom of maneuver. I believe Carter's failure to do so -- in fact the abject way we dealt with that entire episode -- was the first key events that have gone on to embolden Islamofascists.

I read the Fallows piece in the Atlantic you mentioned, which as you know advocates a move away from the language of war. I didn't find the piece entirely persuasive, although it was certainly thought-provoking; there are pros and cons that I need to mull over more.

Maybe the larger question is, how do you decide when a problem is best dealt with primarily by shield, and when it requires a sword? The answer lies in the nature of the threat, I think, and in the probable efficacy of the tool you want to use. As far as the threat goes, Fallows argues that -- as long as Islamofascists don't acquire WMDs -- the main danger we face lies in our own reactions. There's certainly at least some truth to this... but the WMD wild card is a big one, and if ten planes really had been blown out of the sky last week with 3000 people dead, I wonder if he would tweak his argument.

But maybe we're both missing the point... maybe Charlie and Melospiza are on to something in arguing that it doesn't matter so much what you call it, it's what you do. It may be that nonstate actors require such changed tactics that our terminology ought to change, too. Something to ponder.

David Terrenoire said...

For this fight to be effective, I believe an outsize component will have to consist of intelligence, kidnappings, assassinations, and other hardcore activities that are hard to square with law enforcement alone.

I could not agree more. I should have been clearer. I worked in Central America and tend to take certain things for granted.

I also think the invasion of Afghanistan was necessary...and an operation like the one to oust the Taliban from power also goes far beyond law enforcement.

Again, I'm with you all the way, as are most Americans.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not averse to declaring war and I'm an avid believer in black ops. I just don't have any faith that this administration fully understands what they commit when they commit this nation to war.

A retired officer once told me he thought these guys treat the military like a rich man's toy, and while I think that goes a bit far, I believe there is some truth to it.

I also liked the idea of the Jimmy Carter/Iran thing. I hadn't thought of that before. From here it looks like like the thing to do. In 1979, four years after the fall of Saigon, I'm not sure it would have flown politically, but it's something to consider.

I'm happy you found the Fallows piece interesting. There's far too much in there to discuss in the 'sphere, however, and that's a frustrating limitation, but one I'm learning to live with.

That's why I limit my blog to fart jokes and discussions of porn.

Anonymous said...

Non-state actors ... it's weird but I never thought of it that way (I guess I did without the label). Somehow the label gets in the way (for me).

The problem becomes what do you do when they (terrorists/non-state actors) blend, purposely or not, with civilian populations who, although they might share some sentiments with fundamentalists, aren't willing to blow themselves up or even participate in a war with Israel/the U.S./or any other western democracy?

That is a very tough call but one that has to be made sooner or later. We didn't bomb the Japanese military when we ended the Pacific war ... we bombed military sites inhabited by mostly civilians.

Israel has been more than kind dropping leaflets warning civilians (and Hezzbolah) to flee (as we did in Falujah) ... I'm not sure that's very smart (tipping off your enemy that you're about to blast them), but it seems that the more nations are tied up with global politics, the better off terrorists are.

And global politics tends to engage new catch phrases willy-nilly. For me the term non-state actors gets in the way. We're talking about a guy who can't walk and chew gum at the same time so it isn't all that difficult to do, but ... it seems terrorists don't give a damn for civilian populations and until civilian populations start to take control of the situations on their own turf, willingly or not, they're leaving themselves open to the collateral damage of war/self defense/police actions or whatever else fits the description.

Fart jokes and porn discussions ... whose got it better'n you, Dave?

Anonymous said...


just a little more clarification.

Those are BAD/Evil people. the kind that cut innocent peoples heads off, because they can't convert you.

i'm with Charlie, whack as many as we can, as quickly as we can...

Anonymous said...

Bayareaken, other than Clinton not taking what's his name- Ben Lousy- when offered on a silver platter, would you please clarify what opportunities the government squandered to bring the terrorist to justice?

Anonymous said...

All righty then ... time to take a break ...

Anonymous said...

Dear Ken,

the Islamofacist are folks who have an ideology of Death! hence, they kill people who differ from them. they are bad and their ideology needs to change, or suffer the consequences.

Anonymous said...

I'll tell you this much ... Israel's decision to withdraw was one HUGE mistake. Once the U.N. security forces (emphasis added for absolute sarcasm), Israel can count on Hezbollah rearming all over again.

I'm more convinced than ever that unless they take out their enemy wholesale, they're setting themselves up for disaster.

Unless, of course, they should just let themselves be missile targets while trying to understand their enemy better.

I have to wonder if those who believe we've blundered ourselves into creating an ever-growing enemy (because of Iraq) really and truly believe that had we taken out OBL instead, Islamic Fundamentalism wouldn't be as anti-American as it is today. I think those who believe that are kidding themselves.

While the war might seem to increase anti-west feelings, I suspect they were there a long time ago and ripe conditions for the Islamic revolution had more to do with poverty and opportunity than global politics; the external enemy producing internal unity was/is as opportunistic as/was the WMD argument. The one constant mantra to their cause is to "eliminate Israel" ... we might've joined their hit list, but I doubt "understanding why" (would have) or will stop their intentions.

Speaking of movies ... there's a great line from the Pope of Greenwich Village that can be used on either side of the conflict. "Sometimes you gotta cowboy it, Chaloots."

Hezbollah seems to get it while Israel has handcuffed itself.

Anonymous said...


this may be a dumb comment, and it won't be the first or last for me, but i really think Bush is the problem with Israel not attaining their stated goal of disarming hezbollah.

i am very disappointed in Israel backing down. this was the most opportune time to have Iran and Syria show their hand.

i also believe that Lebanon is not now or earlier maintaining their sovereignty. i cannot accept the excuse that they were/are victims of hezbollah. instead they are complicit in hezbollah's acts of war against Israel.

John DuMond said...

"We are at greater risk today than ever before."

I hear (and read) that one a lot. I have a question for those who believe it to be true. Why do you think it is that we have not been attacked on our own soil since 9/11/01?

Anonymous said...

jdlt: I'm full of dumb comments (ask the others here) ... but I'm afraid you may be right. Only we could really back down Israel. It is a damn shame because it was an opportunity and at least for now it is blown (not to mention the propaganda effect it is having to the lunatics who supported Hezbollah's initiation of the entire fiasco) ... and now I'm left joining the chorus (albeit for very different reasons) in asking: "and for what?"

John D., I agree, but I'm always afraid to mention that fact (nothing has happened here since 9-11) because it just seems we're so overdue (and not because we're the evil empire and deserve it or because Bush is a criminal, etc.), but because it just seems too easy to carry out terrorism against a democratic nation state ... mostly I don't want to hear the chorus of "I told you so's" afterward ... probably from the same people who said little or nothing about Clinton's lack of response to the first World Trade Center bombing (that little 6 for 2 trade that did nothing but encourage the attack on the Cole and the 2nd World Trade Center bombing) ... or still feel we shouldn't defend ourselves (especially preemptively because it will just piss off our adversaries--although the logic to that absolutely mystifies me).

Whatever we choice to call the situation in Iraq or in the world regarding radical Islamic Fundamentalism, there are people over there who want to kill us over here and I'm just not interested in the semantics of it. I was a bleeding heart liberal (and had voted for Carter) when I first heard the phrase "Nuke the Ayetollah".

I'm not anymore and the idea sounds just fine with me today.

Rob Pugh said...

Interesting to note that different sides on the political axis are questioning at whether "fascism" is 'really' what we're talking about here.

It seems to me that what we're seeing in the middle east is missing both the corporate and nationalistic aspects of what is 'commonly' [if there is such an assumption] known as fascism. At least the "traditional" Mussolini-esque understanding of the term.

"Islamofascism" as a term seems to me to be more spin than analysis. "Fascist", in politics, online and elsewhere seems to become more and more a catchall term for, simply, "the bad people we don't like."

Especially since you good as easily call it a war against "Violent Theocracy" [Theocrats?]. Though obviously using those terms might not exactly play to a significant portion of the Republican base.

Obviously, you can't ever win a war against the tactic of terror or mindset of extremism. Though you could say "extremists" as opposed to extremism, of course.

Honestly, imho, the problem is that the government doesn't really know who or what the hell they're fighting.