September 24, 2006

Islamic fascists? Evildoers?

Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a nice essay in the Week in Review about the struggle to figure out what to call the enemy in the war on terrorism (or is it the war on terror?):
[The term "Islamic fascists"] turned up in one of the president’s speeches last year, and resurfaced in August when British authorities foiled a plot to blow up airliners headed for the United States. It was, Mr. Bush said then, “a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom.”

By Labor Day, Islamic fascists and Islamo-fascism were the hot new conservative buzzwords.

And then, just as suddenly, they were gone — at least from the president’s lips.

“The debate that we wanted to launch was about an ideological struggle against an enemy that has very specific plans, ambitions and aspirations, much like movements of the past, like fascism and Nazism,” said Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president. Addressing the term Islamic fascists, Mr. Bartlett said, “I’m sure he’ll use it again.”

But it seems unlikely Mr. Bush will use it again, given the outcry it provoked....

David Frum, a former speechwriter for Mr. Bush, said the president turned to “evildoers” right after Sept. 11, 2001, in part because it translated well in Arabic and in part because it appeared in Psalm 27, which Mr. Frum says is one of the president’s favorite psalms. (“When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh.”)

But evildoers has a kind of comic-book sound, and in any event, Mr. Frum says, it isn’t specific enough.
Well, some of it is delivery. I'll bet Ronald Reagan could have sold "evildoers." But really, when did the Biblical start sounding comic-book-y?

Let's consult this article from yesterday's NYT: "Religion and Comic Books: Where Did Superman’s Theology Come From?"
[Peter] Parker had been walking home after competing in a wrestling match, vain in the aftermath of his victory, and as a robber dashed past him, he did nothing. That same robber proceeded to attack and kill Parker’s uncle.

Coming upon the scene, the nephew was struck by such guilt and remorse that he resolved to spend the rest of his life fighting crime.

As any fan of comic books, including Rabbi [Simcha] Weinstein, would recognize, Peter Parker is Spider-Man, created by Stan Lee and drawn initially by Jack Kirby and then Steve Ditko. Parker’s moment of moral awakening occurred in the first issue of the Spider-Man strip, published in 1962 and discovered by Rabbi Weinstein during his own boyhood in the early 80’s.

Something else that Rabbi Weinstein came to learn much more recently was that Lee and Kirby were Jewish — born Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzberg, respectively. So it seemed to the rabbi no accident that their comic resonated with a quintessentially Jewish theological theme....

“... I knew the writers were Jewish. That’s a historical fact. And when I bought all the comics, and gave them my rabbi’s reading, I saw something there. Judaism is filled with superheroes and villains — Samson, Pharaoh. And it’s a religion rich in storytelling and in themes of being moral, ethical, spiritual.”
So the Biblical seems comic-book-y because comic books drew from the Bible. Does that mean we can't take "evildoers" seriously?

Weinstein, by the way, has a whole book on the subject: “Up, Up and Oy Vey!” Here's his website, where he calls himself the "Comic Book Rabbi" and writes about "Jewperheroes."

32 comments:

CB said...

It seems to me that there are actually very few people "struggl[ing] to figure out what to call the enemy." (columnists, academics, and assorted navel-gazers) The rest of us simply call them what they are: terrorists.

David said...

It is important that whatever we call the current war it needs to be stated as such and not whitewashed as a police action! Given the tepid response from rank-and-file, so-called Islamic moderates, Islam is verfiably violent. It needs to be dealt with on that basis.

Pope Benedictus recently stood up to Islam and made them prove the ancient thesis that Islam is indeed violence prone. Islam will sanction murder and mayhem to prove that it is peaceful! Pope Benedictus is signalling an end to Christian patience regarding this
fatal flaw.

Evil is loose in the world today. Most of us were taught morality, ethics, and principles through stories such as "The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Engine That Could, etc." The media of books morphed into comic books with super-heroes fighting the good fight, to Mel Blanc and the Bugs Bunny/Roadrunner comedy hour on TV, to video games today. Unfortunately, the medium has become the message (McCluhan) and the morality plays from ancient times, books and TV of today, have become silly entertainment with a liberal social agenda.

"The wolf is always knocking at the door!"

Jim said...

"Freedom fighter" sounds good to me and would to the majority of world denizens who have suffered under US hegemony, genocide of indigenous Americans, drug wars, agricultural subsidies, rendition, "liberation" of Panama and Grenada, McCarthyism, Anticommunism and Operation Condor.

Noam Chomsky could come up with a better term for sure.

paul a'barge said...

I think someone has Superman confused with Spiderman. Parker became Spiderman.

paul a'barge said...

"Islamic fascists? Evildoers?"

I call them Muslims.

Yes, there are some moderate muslims out there. They are very few and far between, and they're very, very quiet about it, and when polls are taken, you find out just how unmoderate most of the moderates are.

It was the same in WWII. We didn't have to defeat German fascists. We had to defeat Germany.

paul a'barge said...

Yep. I just went and read the link. The only mention of Superman is with respect to the name of his father.

Can the idiots at the NYT write, or what?

AllenS said...

"Freedom fighters", yeah, Jim, that's it. If they won, just think of the freedoms that I would have. If my wife gave me any grief, I could throw stones at her head, and not get in any trouble. If my daughter was raped, I could kill her so she wouldn't embarass the rest of the family. I can hardly wait.

Derve said...

"Can the idiots at the NYT write, or what?"

Paul,
The goal of newspaper writing is 6th grade comprehension, so you are probably in good company. They should have spent more time on the headline, but...

The article is about the rabbi's book, “Up, Up and Oy Vey! -- a study of the classic superhero comics”. The book's about Superman's "theology" too, and the the headline refers to what the title of the book is punning on.

Confusing though beginning with the Peter Parker excerpt. Just not the big error you think.

10:31 AM, September 24, 2006

David said...

I am certain a lot of thought went into the name Peter Parker!

Interesting name for a confused high school kid that morphed into an action hero!

Doug said...

"Freedom fighter" sounds good to me and would to the majority of world denizens who have suffered under US hegemony

So it is your assertion that Bin Ladin, the Taliban, the Mullahs in Iran, the people who killed a nun in Somolia , and assorted suicide bombers who blew up children in pizza parlors are just suffering from bad press and simply need to remarket themselves or frame their message better?

Maybe you are right, in 30 years, perhaps spoiled college kids will no longer be wearing "Che" t shirts, they will have Kim Jong Il's face on their chests.

The Drill SGT said...

Maybe you are right, in 30 years, perhaps spoiled college kids will no longer be wearing "Che" t shirts, they will have Kim Jong Il's face on their chests.

Kim has to wait his turn behind Pol Pot, another true revolutionary hero.

Zach said...

The book to read if you're interested in Jews and superheroes is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Actually, that's the book you should read, regardless. Fantastic book.

Seven Machos said...

Islamic jihadists. That's what they are.

Also, the fact that our enemies keep coming up as new groups -- "The Brotherhood of the Islamic Revolution," "Al Qeda," "Al Amsir Brigades," etc. -- suggests a woeful inability to central teh kind of central power structures that would be needed in an actual military campaign. That's good for us in the long run.

JorgXMcKie said...

Face it, people, sometimes a 'freedom fighter' just has to kill a few million 'innocents' to make everyone free to do exactly as the 'freedom fighter' orders to do.

As for what to call them, the problem is the labeling fight that stems from whatever the heck we're calling semiotics or post-modernism or the more current phrase. The actuality of a thing is not nearly so important as the label that gets attached. Especially to Leftists.

Thus jim is just making another attempt at hi-jacking and controlling the use of language. "Freedom" indeed.

Historically, governments (almost all of which were oppressive) tried to control three things: the use of force, food distribution, and information. The modern oppressors have now included language (perhaps as an important subset of information).

Perhaps with the advent of widespread blogging the attempts such as jim's will be more obvious and their probably motives recognized.

Jason said...

I go with "Jihadists". It's what they call themselves and it very clearly identifies who our enemies are.

Doug said...

Kim has to wait his turn behind Pol Pot, another true revolutionary hero.

He probably does, plus Kim would look kind of dumb on a t shirt with those big glasses of his.

Revenant said...

the war on terrorism (or is it the war on terror?

I try to be careful to only say "war on terrorism", but sometimes I get lazy and drop the "ism". Trying to eliminate the use of a political/military strategy is hard enough. Trying to eliminate an emotion is venturing into science fiction territory. :)

Revenant said...

the majority of world denizens who have suffered under US hegemony, genocide of indigenous Americans, drug wars, agricultural subsidies, rendition, "liberation" of Panama and Grenada, McCarthyism, Anticommunism and Operation Condor

It is, of course, a well-known fact that the majority of people in the world spend a lot of time being bitter and angry about the genocide of indigenous Americans during the 18th and 19th centuries. And then when they're done, they often complain about the behavior of long-dead US senators.

But then what *really* grates their cheese is rendition! Why, those bastard Americans sometimes send Syrians... to Syria! And Egyptians... to Egypt! And to top it all off, they try to eradicate mind-altering drugs, rather than simply killing everyone who uses drugs the way a good Muslim is supposed to. Why, it just gets the blood up, thinking of all those innocent plants and meth factories cut down in their prime.

You did make one tiny little mistake in your otherwise extremely clever and original post, however -- the liberation of Grenada. I really doubt that many people are bothered by the fact that Grenada has free elections now and a healthy opposition party. But other than that minor mistake -- bravo! You've given me a lot to think about, what with the US hegemony and all.

Theo Boehm said...

"Evildoers" is a very hard word. It has the Bible-thump about it.
(Personally, I read the New Testament, not thump it.)

If anyone was entitled to use the word "evildoers" in the modern world, it was Winston Churchill.
Were the Nazis anything else?

Yet when Churchill gave his "Victory in Europe" speech on 8 May 1945, there was an audible gasp in the House of Commons when he said, "Finally almost the whole world was combined against the evildoers, who are now prostrate before us...."

Churchill was immediately criticized by some Members as well as the press for using this word.

If it couldn't be said effectively to describe the Nazis, how should we use it today?

Revenant said...

Churchill was immediately criticized by some Members as well as the press for using this word.

Because they hadn't been at war with the Nazis, they'd been at war with the Germans. It was the implication that all Germans were "evildoers" that caused consternation.

Todd said...

Kim would look kind of dumb on a t shirt with those big glasses of his.

I agree. His head would look much better on a stick.

Johnny Nucleo said...

What's tricky about this is that the enemy, like the Nazis, are very much like comic book supervillains. Like all supervillains they seek to rule the world or destroy it.

We didn't have this problem with the Nazis because, masters of propaganda that they were, they gave themselves a comic book supervillain name, as well as a supervillain logo and supervillain costumes.

Though they do not (yet) have a supervillain logo or supervillain costumes, calling Islamofascists the Legion of Doom would not be inappropriate.

PatCA said...

"That's good for us in the long run."

I agree, based on historical precedent. Europe defeated the terrorists of the '60s by watching their supporters, arresting them, cutting off the terrorists' supplies. Surviving members related that it took two people on the outside to keep one fugitive supplied with the basic necessitites of life, not to mention of revolution, and eventually they ran out of people willing to go to jail for them.

The Euros and the US are doing the same by staunching the money flow from "charities" and by prosecuting enablers. A nuclear Iran would change that balance, but o/w it seems we're on the right track.

Theo Boehm said...

Revenant, exactly so.

This episode points out the difficulty of using such categorical terms. They must be used accurately to be effective. Seeming to refer to Germany, collectively, as "evildoers" was obviously not true, and diluted the moral purpose of the use of the term. Churchill should have found a way to refer to the Nazis, specifically, as "evildoers," and left the "dull, plodding mass" of Germans out of the category.

Chuchill, no doubt, would have thought of this as a distinction without a difference. The weight of the German nation had been brought to bear on the very existence of Britain, and unspeakable crimes had been committed by the German State. Were the train drivers and track repairmen, for example, who helped transport Jews to the death camps "evildoers?" Many would answer, "Yes," but if "evildoers" were limited to members of the Nazi Party, and one of the train crew not a member, does that make him less culpable?

This is a hard question, one example of many. Churchill was making a general statement, however, a large gesture in the direction of the recent horror, and was not concerned with what might be considered philosophical issues. But it wasn't a precise statement; it wasn't an accurate gesture. And so the use of "evildoer" ultimately played a role, admittedly a very small one, in helping to undermine Churchill's moral authority.

Modern politicians should note this well.

paul a'barge said...

"...categorical terms. They must be used accurately to be effective."

You want effective? You want killing the enemy. Vast numbers of them. Stack them like cordwood.

Let's keep this in perspective. Vocabulary is important, but it doesn't kill any murderous moslems.

Cedarford said...

The "evidoer" as Focus of fiction goes back at least to the Greeks in play and tragedy. Before Jewish comic book writers, the "evildoer" was well-known in other fiction formats.

The problem is in using it as descriptor of millions that follow an ideology. Because it asks people on the wings of the true believers to evaluate them as truly evil, or just people wishing for change that believe wrong or evil things.

If they pass the "evil-not evil' test in the eyes of others, then the judgement those using the "evildoer" litmus test blunder into is those others will then pronounce the true believers "OK".

The lack of insightful thought on the actual nature of the enemy has led to other bad descriptors like "The Wahabbis". "the hijackers of the ROP", "dead enders", "death cult". Islamofascists, or binning the US foe in with all foes of Israel as "terrorists".

The most accurate descriptor is that the radical Islamists are yet another movement that has arisen in Islam historically a dozen times saying the solution to Muslim problems is to return to the original strict, exclusive, war centered Islam Mohammed practiced. Where even falafel bans because Mohammed didn't eat it but Jews like it make bizarre sense.

The present version started in the 19th Century, Salafism - was popularized by the Egyptian Brotherhood combining strict Islamic practices with politica goals, and joined together precursor religious groups like Wahabbism - that the Saudis money was able to make a major part of the Salafist movement.

The Shiites were inspired by the Salafists, and those Shiites that are dangerous radicals have a variant that is infused with unique Shiite apocalyptic thinking on end of days and return of the 12th (hidden) Imam.

What to name them? What to name them?

Inside the Arab world itself they are called "Salafis" for the most part. The radical Shiites are called "Salafi-inspired". They say the main spreader of violent Islam is the Saudi oil money and the Whabbi variant.

Other scholars point out that other varieties and subtle differences exist between Sunnis and within Muslim nations, where some things are accepted in Turkey are unacceptable in Pakistan on the political side of radical Islam....

We could say "Salafis" and recognize it isn't entirely accurate. Or "radical Islam". Zionists would love to have their meme of "Nazis Version 2.0" take hold, but "islamofascism" is a force fit - radical Islam is quite different than fascism - and besides that, the world is mostly sick of the perpetually dredged up WWII metaphors.

Certainly "evildoer" fails when the radical ISlamists do not see themselves as inherently evil, and the Muslims in the wings see them as an option or philosophy they disagree with, like Republicans vs. Democrats, but justly hesitate to call such sincere, faithful oponents "evil".

It was from the beginning a very ill-thought-out basis...The few "evildoers" who "hijacked" part of the "Religion of Peace" compelling us to launch the Global War on (the tactic of) Terrorism when not involving abortion clinic bombers, Tamil Tigers, ETA, FARC, etc.

Another approach might be to throw it back in Muslim's faces as Intolerant Islam meaning - "those within Islam that are in favor of violence towards infidels if challenged in Islam's supremacy, and generally intolerant and unfriendly of others"...which would jack the numbers of enemy up to 500 million or so, but we had/have no problem calling the 1.2 to 2 billion people under Communism at any point between 1946 and now as the enemy.

Enemy?

*Radical Islamists.
*Salafists and related movements.
-OR-
*Intolerant Islamists.

XWL said...

Rather than Jihadis, Islamic Fascists, Evildoers, Militants, Terrorists, Muhajid, Insurgents, or any of the other terms that have been thrown about, I humbly suggest that "goatfuckers" fits these folks best.

If the only acceptable instance for saying fuck on public airwaves or in family newspapers was to descibe these goatfuckers, then I think the point would be made that these goatfuckers are a special class of crazy and deserve our enmity, pity, and ridicule.

Not all Muslims are goatfuckers, but those that are should be sent to the hell they deserve, or convinced strongly to quit their goatfucking ways.

Mark said...

I predict that within 10-15 years this debate about "what to call them" will have been forgotten. What we will call them is "muslims". Right now we're only concerned about the "terrorist", aggressive muslims engaging in violent jihad. But that's because the muslim proportion of our populations are still relatively small. As they grow, and the quiet, demographic, voter-booth jihad begins to effect us, it will become clear that these debates about what politically correct term to call these people - so as to avoid using "muslim" - are ridiculous.

They are all muslims, and their only disagreement is whether to subjugate us through violent conquest from outside or demographic conquest from within our own countries. There is little or no debate among them about whether they want the entire world converted to islam one way or the other.

Seven Machos said...

Mark -- Islam is a young religion. It really is true that other religions have done this kind of thing since time eternal. It's really odd that Western countries decided to tolerate religious differences. Hopefully, someone will rise up within Islam to say that this is the way to go for Islam as well.

I am not hopeful as well. But it really would be the best solution. "The West" is the only entity that has ever been able to annihilate cities, cultures, ideas, and civilizations. That's a radical thing to say, but it's true. It would be terrible for everyone if "the West" decided to do that again.

Revenant said...

Islam is a young religion

YoungER, maybe, but nothing (aside from geological formations) that is over a thousand years old can be called "young".

Mark said...

The West" is the only entity that has ever been able to annihilate cities, cultures, ideas, and civilizations. That's a radical thing to say, but it's true.

I think that is certainly not true. Look through history and there are plenty of examples of peoples and civilizations that ceased to exist through conquest long before "the West" even existed. The Canaanites, for example. Ghengis Khan was no picnic either. The residents of the towns and cities in Persia he utterly annihilated could have testified to that. I really dislike this tendency people have to demonize the West as some horrible imperial intruder on the rest of the world. Not only has the West contributed almost everything that makes the modern world modern, the West has shown the most remarkable forebearance of any civilization in history in terms of not taking advantage of a huge advantage in military and economic power to utterly conquer, enslave, subjugate, and even exterminate the rest of the world. We're the most powerful nice guys in history, sending billions in aid around the world, protecting friends from tyrants, giving minorities and women equal rights and the vote, and so on. The major injustice is the way the West, and America in particular, are being savaged. Frankly I wish we'd open a can of whupass on Islam and wipe it out as an ideology while we have the advantage in money and arms to do so. I'd hate to live in a world where muslim nations even had parity with us in those terms. Our european ancestors did, and they were invaded by muslims repeatedly and barely repulsed them.

Seven Machos said...

Mark -- I don't know about Khan. However, a close read of the Bible indicates that the Canaanites get wiped out more than once, but that they are still there in the same places they were wiped out of later on. Either Canaanite is a word for more than one more people, or the Canaanites regenerated after being wiped out, or the Canaanites were never wiped out at all.

I vote for option #3.