Are Daesh Fascists?

16/12/2015 09:28 GMT | Updated 15/12/2016 10:12 GMT

The link between militant Islamism and 20th century fascism apparently dates back to 1933. It is a controversial subject and events since 2001 have obviously fuelled its debate. However, I have noticed an emerging trend for this debate to surface in mainstream discourse in recent weeks, in particular the attachment of the label 'fascist' to ISIL / ISIS / Daesh. Perhaps our inability to attach a name to them inclines us to attach a label instead. This may be the case but this is certainly the wrong label to use and I would suggest its usage says more about the people doing the attaching than it does about the people to whom the label is attached.

For sure Daesh share characteristics in common with the 20th Century fascist regimes insofar as they are totalitarian, embrace violence and support the idea of the total moblilisation of society behind a single ideology. But stray beyond these characteristics, which in many ways could be applied to almost any authoritarian regime, and many differences become apparent. Most obvious, of course, is religion. Fascist regimes were largely ambivalent about religion, preferring to encourage the worship of individual, militaristic leaders rather than abstract figures such as gods. Despite our attempts to find such leaders amongst militant Islamism, they have largely been characterised by their absence and even their removal when they can be identified has had little effect on the strength of the overall movement. Neither were fascist regimes fighting a war with history, seeking to return to a previous historical state while eradicating evidence of all others. Daesh also lack the imperialist and expansionist ambitions of 20th century fascism. Despite what governments have been keen to insist, militant Islamists have no wish to establish an Islamic state in Britain or Europe, they only wish to establish such in the area of the world where such a state existed in history.

I think Daesh are labelled fascists by those who have an interest in encouraging the belief that they represent a threat to liberal democracy as big as that posed by fascism. It is a label of convenience. It provides a layer of justification for current or previous declaration of wars and invasion or bombing of countries. Crucially it also allows those that oppose such actions to be cast in the same light as the appeasers of fascism in the 1930s. It is yet one more example of the promotion of wilful misunderstanding, providing a ready-made justification that requires no further interogation rather than engaging in the difficult and painful business of developing a real understanding of, to quote Donald Trump, "just what the hell is going on". I must stress at this point that my sympathies with Donald Trump both begin and end at that idea that our elected representatives need to develop a better understanding of what the hell is going on.

Sustaining an argument that Deash represent a threat to this country as great as the Nazis is difficult, largely because of the lack of credible evidence to support it. This is why such an argument is rarely advanced. However, describing Daesh as fascists allows us to borrow from the power of such an argument without the inconvenient need to actually prove it. It is therefore a label of choice for those well versed in the politics of deception and deceit. By all means let the more scholarly discussion begun in 1933 continue, but in the context of the current political debate I would suggest that usage of the term fascist to describe Daesh would best be understood as a label that should be hung around the neck of those who wish to hang it around the neck of others.