It is time for us to use the term “fascism” when referring to al-Dawlah al-islamiyah fil-‘Iraq wal-Suriya (al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah or IS). Fascism, when used in the contexts of Muslims and Islamic movements, elicits “Islamofascism,” a loaded term, associating Islam with fascism, deployed with the specific intention to defame all Muslims, and Muslim religious practices. Islamofascism has been used to discredit an array of diverse political parties in the Middle East such as Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Hizbullah. After the recent attacks in Paris, the term will provide an easy-short handed reference to justify further institutionalizing surveillance and targeting of Muslim Europeans, legally prosecuting domestic political opposition to Britain, France, and America’s policies in the Middle East (particularly those related to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement), and, as we have seen recently, limiting immigration from the Middle East and Africa.
With this in mind, I am proposing to consciously deploy the term “fascism” to understand IS as a fascist organization. To categorize “ISIS” as fascist allows us to understand it within a political lineage of Western fascist ideologies and locate it within a trend of militant, extremist right wing organizations rather than misidentifying it as an outgrowth of political Islam and legitimate political “Islamist” parties.
Al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah may share some pedigree with the most pernicious of Wahhabi, salafi social and political practices, which originated in a reaction against Arab and Ottoman generated modernity in the 19th and 20th century. While reactionary, salafi and Wahhabi movements are not fascist. They deploy a methodical array of juridical and theological practices based on traditional methodologies, canonical sources, and scholarly protocols within Sunni Islam that have been involved in debate with other forms of Sunnism (especially in regards to jurisprudence) for centuries. In addition to numerous salafi scholars who otherwise advocate for militant jihad, a recent study has show that the large amount of defectors from the ranks of IS leave precisely because of the “un-Islamic” practices of al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah.
Deploying “fascism” as an analytic concept allows us to acknowledge a number of fascist political, social, and militaristic practices that are particular to the Islamic State. The Kurdish media in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey have already identified IS as fascist offering us an anti-reactionary analytical term to fathom the political, ideological, and territorial battle in which they are embroiled.
A number of specific political characteristics distinguish IS as a fascist organization in contrast to other militant salafi groups including al-Qa’idah; the first of which is its territorial claims and the second is state-corporatism. Fascist ideology is inextricable from statism and territorialism and IS goals have been to institutionalize and regularize their fascist perversion of political Islam within Iraq and Syria. What we know of state building of al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah seems clearly based on corporatist, capitalist mechanisms, where the “state” and its war machine monopolize revenue through the oil infrastructure, extorted taxes, and tariffs. This corporatism is enforced by a security apparatuses and “Islamic” courts that administer a severe penal (not legal) system in order to coerce compliance.
The forced “marriage” (i.e., rape and abduction) of Muslim and non-Muslim women (whether they be Christians, Kurds, Druze, Sunni Arabs, Assyrian, or Yazidis), taken as “brides” or war “booty” is hardly inspired by pre-modern Muslim armies. The IS’s practices of abducting, forcibly “marrying,” and raping underage girls and women are more akin to Nazi “joy divisions” and the Imperial Japanese Army’s brigade of “comfort women.”
The accusation of “anti-Semitism” has been used far too liberally in the recent decade to dismiss genuine criticism of Zionism and the policies of the State of Israel. However, the fascist Islamic State is truly anti-Semitic. Its call for death of Jews in France and their use of “Jews” as a trope in their political speeches unambiguously places anti-Semitism as central to their ideological worldview.
Their hate for Jews is transnational and indiscriminate, completely divorced from the issue of Israel/Palestine. The public execution of the young Palestinian Muhammad Said Ismail Musallam inaugurated the Islamic State into a brotherhood with other truly fascist paramilitary groups in the Middle East (from Judeofascist settlers in the Occupied West Bank who burn Palestinians alive and Avigdor Lieberman who called for the beheading of disloyal Palestinian Israelis, to the Christiofascist Lebanese Forces’ massacres of Palestinians).
The execution of Musallam, in March 2015, embodies a number of fascist practices of IS. It confirms the conscription, militarization, and indoctrination of children into paramilitary groups. The intense ideological indoctrination used with children in military brigades distinguishes from other forms of child slavery and forced child conscription and is consistent with the Hitler Youth. This is not to mention the reports of enlisting children to commit acts of execution. The IS youth groups demonstrate the Islamic States’ intent is not “home guard” but, rather, to reengineer Syrian and Iraqi society, just as it was the desire of the Nazis.
The public executions of Musallam, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, and Jordanians, as well as Americans, British, and Japanese, are examples of the Islamic State’s mastery of fascist spectacle. Spectacles are arranged around executions, demolition, and book burnings. Their chain-sawing a three-thousand year old monumental Assyrian lamassu in the Mosul Museum and the bulldozing of Nimrud and Palmyra clearly demonstrate that, for all the claimed iconoclasm of the group, they have as full command of the power of spectacle as did any fascist regime. Their public executions of Sunni and Shiite Arabs and foreigners are carefully scripted, choreographed and staged. Likewise, the Caliphate itself is another perfect example where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi speeches and rare public appearances carefully manage and craft the cult of a personality that is more ideology than theology.
Legal judgments, which are carried out publically, violate procedures of even the strictest school of Islamic jurisprudence, any of which provide an equivalence to due process and protection against hearsay evidence and false-accusations. Al-Dawlah al-Islamiyah creates these fascist spectacles to establish power, fear, and order within their territory while simultaneously using them as psychological operations against their domestic and foreign enemies. The Islamic State is fascist because it intentionally misapplies Islamic hudud codes, shar’iah and holy script in order to establish its social and political order. In the process, it has collapsed religiosity into the trappings of a hyper-exaggerated, even Orientalist, and Islamophobic, parody of political Islam.
The Islamic State, like the Nazi racial program, is intent on eradicating any and all vestiges of impurity and heterodoxy, even within Sunnism. It sees itself not as Muslim, but as the only Muslims. Their emphasis on purity is a fascist trope, instrumentalizing the desire to wipe out Sunnis and Christian Arabs along with all Shiites, especially Hizbullah, who, along with the Kurds, have dealt the IS its soundest defeats in Syria.
I am arguing that we use fascism to address IS, in order to transform it into an imperative analytical concept. The affinity between fascism, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism is already recognized by those communities fighting them as expressed by those Muslim Norwegians who circled a synagogue in Oslo in February, chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia.” In the wake of the Paris and Beirut bombings of innocent civilians, such an analysis and chant seem ever more relevant.