Monday, August 21, 2006

Fascism: A Word Not To Be Thrown Lightly

The following is a piece written by Sergio Romano, an Italian historian, who knows what fascism means, and what it does not. Mr. Bush should know better than to use the word so lightly... or maybe he just doesn't...

Corriere Della Sera, Italy
Lesson for Bush: Saddam is a Fascist, the Islamists are not
By Sergio Romano*
Translation Provided By Nur-al-Cubicle [Nur-al-Cubicle Blog]
August 12, 2006

Today, the word, fascist, has lost its original meaning and simply signifies a certain violence, intolerance and perhaps even a scoundrel. Many of those who use the term have only a vague notion of its meaning, but have understood that it's an insult and therefore good for verbal attacks by political figures. But when the President of the United States says that his country is at war with "Islamo Fascists," even though his declarations are often imprecise, we should suppose that he knows from whence he speaks.

George W. Bush is not the first to use the expression. An American leftist intellectual recently used the term, "Muslim Totalitarianism" and just before the thwarted London bombings, British Minister of the Interior John Reid warned his audience of threats from those who could be termed, fascist. Does Islamo-Fascism therefore exist? And if it does, who are its ideologues, its prominent leaders, and what are its political formations?

Suspicions began to be raised when European diplomats and intelligence agents reported to their governments in the 1930s, that intellectuals and military men of certain Muslim countries expressed a definite interest in and admiration for the fascist regimes [Germany and Italy]. One of the first to realize that such sympathies could be turned into a useful political trump card was [former Italian dictator] Benito Mussolini. From that moment, Fascist Italy began sending out feelers to anti-British and anti-French nationalists in North Africa and in the Levant [countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean], with particular attention to Palestine. An Arab language radio station, Radio Bari, was created. Contacts were made with Habib Bourguiba , founder of the Tunisian nationalist movement, Neo Destur, derived from a prior group called Destur [the word means liberty or constitution], which was more moderate and conciliatory.

When Mussolini went to Libya in 1937, the Colonial Governor, Italo Balbo , arranged an extraordinary welcoming pageant in Bugara, outside Tripoli, where 2000 horsemen saluted him with war hymns and drumrolls. One horseman, Iussuf Kerbisc, rode out of formation and presented Mussolini with A sword of solid gold. At this moment, reverberating next to our own hearts, he told Mussolini, are the hearts of all Muslims of the Mediterranean who, full of admiration and hope, see in you a great Man of State guiding our destiny with a steady hand.
Contacts with Arab nationalists increased during the war, when Italy and Germany hoped to foment an Arab revolt in British Empire's backyard, similar to that led by T. E. Lawrence and Faisal , son of the Hashemite Sharif of Mecca, against the Ottoman Empire in 1916. The principal pawns of this policy were an Iraqi man of state, Rashid Alì al-Gaylani , and the Grand Muftì di Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini .

As Manfredo Martelli recounts in his book, Arab Nationalism and the Policies of Mussolini [I nazionalisti arabi e la politica di Mussolini, Edizioni Settimo Sigillo, 2003], that Rashid Alì al-Gaylani came to power in Baghdad with a coup d'état at the beginning of 1941 and declared war on Great Britain with modest assistance from Axis aviation. It lasted until the end of May, when British troops entered Baghdad and forced him into exile in Iran. He fled to Iran together with the Mufti of Jerusalem, who avoided arrest by the Iranian police and crossed into Turkey (says Martelli), in possession an Italian passport, with dyed hair and a shaved beard. When he finally arrived in Rome on October 10, 1941, he was received by Mussolini in the presence of [Foreign Minister] Galeazzo Ciano . The conversation took place in French, and Mussolini told him that he would spare no effort to assist the Arabs "politically and spiritually." They also spoke of Jewish aspirations for Palestine.

The fascist leader (who, during the 1930s had supported the Zionist Movement against Britain) reassured him. If the Jews want their own state they'll have to build Tel Aviv in America. They are our enemies and there will be no room in Europe for them. From Rome, the Mufti went to Berlin, where he remained until the end of the year. He also made a trip to Bosnia to urge Muslims in the region to collaborate with the Axis; thus, the Handzar Division, comprised of SS who wore distinctive headgear - a red fez - was conceived of.

Al-Gaylani and al-Husseini were not the only friends of the Axis in the Middle East. At the end of 1941, as the Africa Korps advanced toward Alexandria, a group of Egyptian officers gathered intelligence for Rommel's General Staff on the movement of British troops. One of their leaders was Anwar al-Sadat , who became President of Egypt following the death of Nasser . Several crossed over the lines to join Axis troops only to reappear next to Nasser during the 1952 [Egyptian] revolution. Jean Lacouture , in his 1971 biography of Nasser, recounted that during those days, while the Germans and the British were fighting the Battle of al-Alamein , there were demonstrations in Cairo and in Alexandria. The crowd chanted the praises of Rommel and mangled Mussolini's name calling him Mussa Nili, the Moses of the Nile.

But none of these personalities could be considered truly fascist. They were nationalists seeking assistance from the enemies of Great Britain because "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." It is certainly true that the nationalist and socialist regimes created in several European countries in the 1920s and 1930s appeared to many Arab and Muslim leaders as appropriate for their needs. The unquestioned authority of the leader, a single party, the role of the armed forces and the bureaucracy, the unbridled use of the police and secret services and the control of society and of the press appeared to be the right ingredients for a nascent state in which the masses were illiterate and the tree of democracy struggled to enroot itself. But not all authoritarian regimes can be considered fascist or communist.

The movement most resembling fascism among those groups which appeared in the Middle East during the 1900s was a movement founded in Syria in 1940. Its founder, Michel Aflaq , was a Syrian Christian. He had studied at the Sorbonne in the 1930s, had participated in the battles between Left and Right in the streets of Paris and had absorbed an intoxicating mix of political literature, from Mazzini to Lenin . He was anti-colonial, pan-Arab, proud of the Arab past but resolutely secular and socialist. When he returned home, he founded the Ba'ath Party [Resurgence or renaissance, in Arabic] and one of his first actions was to join the al-Gaylani revolt against Great Britain in 1941. Aflaq died in 1989, probably in Baghdad, as the guest of a man who had much admired him and who drew on his teachings to organize the Iraqi state. That man was Saddam Hussein.

It was he who created the Party, Saddam Hussein told an interviewer in 1980. How could I possibly forget what Michel Aflaq did for me? If it were not for him, I would never have come to this position. Iraq was therefore the Middle East's most fascist regime in the last few decades. Saddam used the Ba'ath Party to militarize the society, to set up a cult of personality modeled from that of Il Duce and Der Führer, to put the bureaucracy in uniform and to emphasize public works. At the same time, he was a nationalist and, in his own way, a socialist. This was the height of fascism in the Arab world.

But it would be very difficult for me to identify fascism in religiously inspired movements from the Muslim Brotherhood to those that following the Iranian Revolution, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the First Gulf War in 1991. Between the Ba'ath and religious fanaticism, even against a common enemy, there is an unbridgeable divide. Unlike his predecessors, George Bush seems to have forgotten that the greatest enemy of Khomeini's Iran was Saddam Hussein, and that during the long war between the two countries, from 1980 to 1988, the United States supported the fascists against the Islamists.

*Sergio Romano was born in 1929 in Vicenza and earned a law degree from the State University of Milan. Joining the Italian diplomatic service in 1954, Romano served as representative to NATO and ambassador to Moscow during the crucial "perestroika" years. He retired in 1989. He has taught history at the Universities of Florence, Paria, Sassari, Berkeley and Harvard. He holds honorary doctoral degrees from Etudes Politiques of Paris, the University of Macerata and the Institute of Universal History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. His most famous published works are Giolitti, the style of power; Gentile, the philosophy of power, Russia in the Balance (il Mulino 1989), and The Decline of the USSR as a World Power and Its Consequences

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Blogger Wordchitect said...

Words in modern usage are commonly transformed from their original meanings. When enough people consider a word to represent a particular idea, I think that that popular perception becomes the new meaning. One can find transformed meanings in words that are used all over the place these days.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Dahlia said...

Thank you, wordarchitect, for that. While I agree with you that meanings of words often shift, it is important to note that shifts occur only if we accept what the new meaning represents. In this case, to paint a whole fifth of humanity with such a foul brush renders the word, at best, meaningless, and, at worse, gives anti-semitism a whole new meaning.

11:39 AM  
Anonymous SAURON said...

U.S. supported 'facist' in Iraq after 'terrorists' in Iran seized U.S. Embassy.
President Carter's spinelessness not only cost him election, but cost the world a foothold against Islamic-Facism.

12:41 PM  
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