Columbia and Islamofacism

By Dan Streib

Columbia University is losing credibility in the mind of this Illini. And it’s losing it fast.

Approximately one month since the top brass there allowed Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak on campus, the Columbia University College Republicans are now trying to match the administration in intellectual silliness by inviting a few guests of their own. Although no guest short of Vladimir Putin, who is trying to claim the North Pole for Russia, could possibly match the leader who wants to “wipe Israel off the map,” in absurdity, The Republican group’s guests for “Islamofascism Awareness Week,” come close. Columbia: Ann Coulter and David Horowitz have arrived.

For all of you who don’t know, Ann Coulter is the columnist who called Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards a faggot. She has made a living off of angering liberals and getting wild press coverage for it. David Horowitz is a close friend of Coulter’s who runs the rather extreme and biased David Horowitz Freedom Center. And it is that center that put on the “Islamofascism Awareness Week.” Given Horowitz and Coulter’s tendency toward anti-Muslim propaganda, their use of this term is causing a lot of justifiable resistance among anti-discrimination activists. Yet, before one can criticize the idea, it is important to understand the term when it is used by people other than these bigoted fire breathers.

Fascism is defined by Merriam Webster’s online dictionary primarily as “political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual, and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.” Combining Islam with idea would seem to suggest that one would replace the nation/race part of that definition with religion. But isn’t that just an exaggerated way of saying theocracy? At first, the term appears to be a nice tool for propagandists to play off World War II sentiments.

Yet, after looking in the circles of people who use the term, I found a surprisingly reasonable explanation of Islamofascism by the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Schwartz in “What Is ‘Islamofascism?’: A history of the word from the first Westerner to use it.” Although his claim in the title is dubious, he uses interesting logic.

He points out that European fascists, although conservative, did not try to bring back or strengthen old orders such as Italian kings and German Kaisers. They were so reactionary that they instead used extreme destabilizing force to bring down all order – old and new – to rise up a new, purer, yet more ancient regime. He says that Al Qaida, Hezbollah and others are attempting this very thing. And the Iranian government and Saudi Arabian governments once did this or are at least take from this philosophy. Thus, calling them theocrats would be a tame definition according to Schwartz’s logic.

It is an interesting idea to be sure, but America is friends with the Saudis and can easily call the others terrorists or terrorist supporters. And the term Islamofascism is still subject to much scholarly debate. Yet, the idea behind the Islamofascism week is simple: make sure people do not forget that the enemies we face in the world today, who pervert the fine religion of Islam however they are to be called, are our enemies. Most people in America do indeed understand this. So that makes the idea behind “Islamofascism Week” fine, but still rather pointless.

Thus, we come back to the speakers. It is really Coulter and Horowitz that are the problem. If Columbia wanted to have an intellectual debate about the importance, or lack thereof, of the Islamofascist/terrorist threat, it would have been best served to invite respected pundits to argue their points, not crass, hated ones. This is an ironically similar situation to the University leadership’s blunder of letting a foreign leader bent on destruction of a close ally speak on U.S. soil. Political scientists talking about U.S. – Iranian relations would have been more constructive. It seems, more than anything else, that Columbia’s students and administrators do not understand the ideas of moderation or sensibility. And that is the true reason why Columbia is not deserving of this Illini’s respect or, for that matter, anyone’s.