In one of those strange moments of symmetry that have marked their respective histories, Osama Bin Laden and the neocons are both kicking off the week with a renewed dedication to their shared cause: a worldwide war between the Western powers and all of Islam. No surprise, really. It's in their mutual interest to make sure the rest of the world's Muslims stay invisible.
Bin Laden released a new video - man, this guy kicks out more product than Ryan Adams - just as a shaky cabal of radical rightists was launching something called "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." As Barbara Ehrenreich points out, this loosely affiliated group doesn't hesitate to draw anti-Semites into what it claims is a pro-Israel platform. They also bring out ardent anti-feminists to argue that their global war on Muslims would advance women's rights.
What they don't say is that the invasion of Iraq - the prime achievement of their movement - was an enormous blow to the rights of Muslim women in that country. And, while they claim they like some Muslims, they're usually hard-pressed to name any - except those who have left their faith of origin and replaced it with the dogma of neoconservatism.
The very name "Islamo-Fascism" incorrectly uses the word "fascism," which by definition includes extreme statism, nationalism, and corporatism. Those forces are all abhorred by Islamic radicals. It's a neocon head game designed to make dangerous terrorist fringe groups look like an existential threat to the West, like the Axis or Soviet Communism. They want you to think that Islamic extremists aren't just violent and horrible people, but that they can destroy our way of life.
That's the perfect justification for the authoritarian, citizen-spying, militarized, corporate world they seek to create. What's more, it's the perfect propaganda framework for that other big prize, an attack on Iran. That's why another mirror-dancer, Dick Cheney, is also busting a move this week by keeping the war rhetoric hot. And that's why President Bush used the words "World War III" in reference to Iran last week.
"Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" is another part of the heating-up process, to convince the American people (or enough of them) that war with Iran is part of a fight for our very survival. That's why Democrats like Hillary Clinton who voted for the Kyl Amendment played into the neocons' hands. Do they really think that their vote would result in "diplomacy"?
Still, fair is fair. Since we mentioned Sen. Clinton, here's a reason to support her: If she's elected, at last our enlightened "Western" nation will finally have a woman for a leader - something an Islamic nation accomplished nearly twenty years ago. Yes, many women are terribly oppressed in some Islamic cultures, and we must fight that. But the election of Benezir Bhutto in 1988 proved that we're not fighting all Islam, just that segment of it that wants to drive women out of public life.
In the midst of all this, it was a perfect week for Osama to come out with his latest monologue. Yawn ... another static shot of him declaiming his philosophy. He needs a new director to liven these videos up. It's "My Dinner With Andre" stuff, not exactly boffo at the box office.
And that's something else worth noting: In the Islamic world, Bin Laden isn't doing great box office. Even in war-torn Iraq, Al Qaeda fighters are a tiny minority of the insurgents. Administration blunders have greatly increased Bin Laden's visibility and prestige, but he's still not getting a lot of traction among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.
Plenty of Muslims seem to feel the same way about Bin Laden as most of us do: namely, that he's an asshole. Dangerous, yes. (He's killed people I knew and liked.) But an asshole just the same.
While imams aren't likely to use that language, many of them around the world have made anti-terror statements. They don't get the media attention they should, and you certainly won't hear them from the crowd making noise this week. For example, you probably haven't seen this list of Muslim voices against extremism and terrorism, or this bumper sticker for Muslims who denounce terrorism. And does this phrase ring a bell?
"Genital mutilation must be considered as criminal aggression against mankind."
Probably not. But that's what 20 conservative Muslim clerics said in Egypt when asked to protest that practice.
The great irony of misguided propaganda jihads like "Islamic-Fascism Awareness Week" is that they make us less safe. They focus on the wrong threats in fighting terrorism. If we're to fight terrorism successfully we'll need allies, friends - even intelligence sources - among the very party we're alienating with this petty bigotry. And loaded terms like "Islamo-fascism" weaken the hand of reformers who want to bring much-needed change to the Islamic World.
And, it's funny. The neocons will "coddle terrorists" when it suits them. The Right doesn't seem to have a problem with the Bush Administration cozying up to the man who murdered so many Americans aboard the Lockerbie flight. In fact, there was hardly a whisper of objection when the Administration reopened its diplomatic mission in Libya in 2004. So it's true, as they often insist, that they don't oppose all Muslims. They've found a man they can work with in Moammar Qaddafi.
Bin Laden and the neocons are both publicity-hunting this week . Bin Laden's tape, if it's verified, is a desperate attempt to seize leadership of the civil war in Iraq and of Muslim unrest in the rest of the world. And "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week" will try to make it look as if he already is the leader of the Islamic world.
George W. Bush. "Awareness Week." Dick Cheney. Osama Bin Laden. It's mirror-dance time. As Madonna used to say:
"Strike a pose."