“Inspired” by the article by Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji in the current edition of NewsWeek on "Islamic Fascism", I want to point out something that every single commentator I have seen on this subject - from Ganji to Blair/Bush, and points in between - has failed to engage with. What exactly IS fascism?
Ganji, Blair and Bush engage in reductionist thinking akin to undergraduates the world over who unthinkingly trot (sic) out the word "fascist" as an insulting epithet for authoritarians and/or nationalists, but who seemingly have little historical understanding of what fascism actually is.
Whilst fascism lacks the ideological canon of what some regard as its philosophical twin, communism, there are definitions and characteristics available from original Italian "thinkers" and from the fascist parties in general of Europe in the 20s and 30s. The word "fasci" was borrowed from the undifferentiated sticks contained in the "tribute" paid to a Roman emperor. Hence the indistinguishable whole of a single nation united in reverence for Il Duce, the Reich Fuhrer, et al.
In the fascist thinking of Europeans - akin to communist party organisational thinking it is true - a single united, and of course highly centralised, single party would embody the mission and leadership of one people, one nation, and "revive" their faded glories, and seize absolute control of the state. Its methods and symbolism gave great importance to military and personal strength. In the Italian version under Mussolini it embodied corporatist anti capitalist thinking part borrowed from his Marxist background; in the German Workers Party (National Socialist) an ideological and personal divide on this issue showed that fascism lacked clarity on some key points. Furthermore, Mussolini did not lead an Italian Fascist Party that was initially obsessed with the Jews. Fascism in general in Europe however did embrace ideas of racial superiority as part of a nationalist creed of a people's revival under one true leader. Furthermore fascism's relationship to religion was often distrusting. Christianity was a cultural legacy of the Italian or German or Spanish nations of course. But the catholic (and in the case of Germany catholic and protestant) church in these countries were toughly policed and engaged with pragmatically. While not necessarily the enemy (far from it in the case of the Falange in Spain), the clerics were not ideological partners, much less sources for the leadership or the shock-troops of the fascist movement.
What we can gleam from this is that fascism is a totalitarian ideology that reveres and organises around a single "secular" leader and a single party, and is geared toward mass mobilisation behind national and, to some extent, ethnically pure objectives.
Does this remotely have anything to do with theories or idea of an Islamic umma (NOT a "watan" nor a "qawm") subject to clerical leadership and largely distrusting of political parties? How on earth does anything about the thinking of the current Iranian president equate with fascism when the Iranian political system and constitution that he upholds is made almost inchoate by differentiated power centres with key players far from purely Persian and unable by dint of ideology to clearly embrace Iranian nationalist language or purely national interests? Sure Hitler played to the aspirations of other nationalities outside of Europe as part of a strategic calculation, not least in the Middle East. But his ideological goals and identifiers were clear, and fascist. Sure the Muslim Brotherhood are organized a political parties and the movement’s Egyptian founder Hassan al-Banna found things of interest in Nazi Germany. However the Ikhwan are NOT Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Kuwaiti nationalists, even though their focus is largely on what used to be considered “artificial” national (“watan”) lines. What is fascist about the Islamist political concept, and supposedly governing model in Iran, the velayat-e-faqih ?