The past week or so has seen some renewed attention to the longstanding hawk-pundit gambit of referring to people as “Islamofascists” since the President, in what I can only understand as a sign of increasing desperation, decided to more-or-less sign on to this agenda by adopting the slightly-less-absurd formulation “Islamic fascists.” The other day, Spencer Ackerman made the fundamental pragmatic argument against this — Muslims everywhere really, really, really don’t appreciate this terminology.
That aside, however, it’s worth calling attention to the function of this rhetoric. “Fascist,” in this context, just roughly means “bad.” Add in the “Islamic” and what you come to is the conclusion that we’re in a war and that the enemy in this war is Muslims who subscribe to bad ideologies. This has the consequence of taking a set of institutionally and ideologically distinct actors — Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, Iraq, Iran, Syria, al-Qaeda, the Mahdi Army, Iraqi insurgents, etc. — and treating them as a single phenomenon. To do so would be a serious mistake. And to call it a mistake is not to deny the obvious fact that these are groups that are to some degree interrelated. There’s some ideological overlap. Some of these groups are allied with each other at the moment. Some have been allied in the past. Some might ally in the future.
Nevertheless, they are different things. And the essence of sound strategy has long been to look at potentially hostile actors and try to divide them. To decide what your top priority is and focus on it. The “Islamofascism” rhetoric is part of a continuing campaign to do the reverse.