Careful With Those Comparisons:

I was quite struck by this comment on the Jonathan Rauch on the Bush Presidency thread:

Conflating existential threats like 1930's Germany and Japan with today's terrorists is simply not serious. As others have noted, in this time of "great danger", you're 66 times more likely to die by drowning while swimming or in the tub than of terrorism (based on National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine figures).

That isn't to say that it isn't a problem, but hyping fear for political payout is (and I've been saying this since 9/11, and I live in NYC) not only wrong, but in fact doing the terrorists' work for them.

I do think that's important to keep a sense of perspective about various threats — but this analysis (which I note because I'd heard similar assertions in the past, though they were rarely quite as striking as this one) doesn't really work.

To begin with, note that Germany and Japan weren't existential threats to the United States in the 1930's (I assumed from the context that the commenter was speaking of their threats to our country, not to, say, Russia or China). I know of no evidence that in the 1930s Germany and Japan had serious designs on American independence, or that any reasonable Americans thought that they did. Until the nuclear bomb was proven feasible, there was no way that they could have invaded the U.S., or otherwise jeopardized our existence or our nationhood. Of course, people could have feared that decades down the line a Germany and Japan that had conquered Europe and Asia could have turned their attention to America and seriously threatened our national existence; but if something at that level of long-term speculation counts as an "existential threat," then a great deal qualifies as "existential threat" — one can certainly come up with similar 50-years-down-the-road speculations about militant Islam.

As to "66 times," that's the first time I'd heard that statistic, and some quick searches uncovered no evidence for it. But I do know how to use the CDC's invaluable WISQARS system, and it reports to me that from 2001 to 2003 there were under 3500 accidental drownings (of all sorts, which I suspect includes boating as well as swimming and bathtubs) per year in the U.S. Even if one looks at the last 6 years, one still gets only about 7 times fewer (rather than 66 times fewer) people killed in the U.S. through Islamofascist terrorism than in drownings.

But more fundamentally, it makes no sense for anyone, whether the NAS Institute of Medicine or anyone else, to say that you're "X times more likely to die by drowning while swimming or in the tub than of terrorism." No-one can know what the actual likelihood of dying in an Islamofascist attack against the U.S. might be. It could be that 2001-06 is representative of the future, and we'll have four-digit death tolls once every six years or so, and quiet otherwise. It could be that the future will be considerably more peaceful, whether because we've adequately disrupted al-Qaeda, because the lethality of the World Trade Center attacks was a fluke, or for whatever other reason. Or it could be that the future will be considerably more lethal, with smallpox terrorism, nuclear terrorism, or who knows what else. An "X times more likely to die by" statistic just can't be sensibly used to compare an unknown but not implausible risk of a death toll in the five to seven digits (or more? who knows?) with a nearly constant stream of under 3500 deaths per year.

So by all means resist what you see as excessive or unjustified responses to the risk of terrorism. But don't pooh-pooh the risk using senseless comparisons.

David Brown (mail) (www):
Seems like the same stupid comparison could have been made in 1941 that you're X times more likely to be hit by a car than being bombed by a Japanese dive bomber, so why go to war with Japan... (much less the other Axis countries).
9.11.2006 3:29am
Kevin L. Connors (mail) (www):
There is no logical basis for comparison of these two hazards. As, with swimming and bathing, we balance the utility of the act against the possible hazards. From our perspective, there is no utility to terrorism.

But, in any event, if we are wise, we endeavor to take all effective and economically prudent actions to minimize the risks to ourselves and those we care about. The actions required of us with regard to al-Qaeda, Iran, or others that might seek to harm us have little to do with building a fence around our pool, or installing a grab bar in the shower. But they are quite analogous to those most analysts fell should have been done with regards to Germany and Japan, circa 1936.
9.11.2006 3:30am
HankP (mail):
I stopped paying attention to your post when I hit the word "Islamofascist". You seem like a fairly intelligent person, you must realize that there is nothing about Islamic terrorism that is fascist in any way. Unless you are using the word "fascist" to mean "really bad people", it makes no sense.

As to your main point, Germany was a major industrial power, and in many ways the #1 scientific power when WWII started. I don't see those sorts of resources behind the Islamic radicals, they pick up our throwaways to make war on us.
9.11.2006 3:32am
Kevin Jon Heller:
I find it intriguing — and a bit ironic — that Eugene uses the term "Islamofascist" in a post entitled "Careful with Those Comparisons." As Katha Pollitt has pointed out — and her opinion is echoed by numerous historians and Middle East scholars — not only does the term fail as a historical analogy, it elides the critical differences between the various groups indiscriminately referred to as "Islamofascist":
What's wrong with "Islamo-fascism"? For starters, it's a terrible historical analogy. Italian Fascism, German Nazism and other European fascist movements of the 1920s and '30s were nationalist and secular, closely allied with international capital and aimed at creating powerful, up-to-date, all-encompassing states.


Second, and more important, "Islamo-fascism" conflates a wide variety of disparate states, movements and organizations as if, like the fascists, they all want similar things and are working together to achieve them. Neocons have called Saddam Hussein and the Baathists of Syria Islamo-fascists, but these relatively secular nationalist tyrants have nothing in common with shadowy, stateless, fundamentalist Al Qaeda—as even Bush now acknowledges—or with the Taliban, who want to return Afghanistan to the seventh century; and the Taliban aren't much like Iran, which is different from (and somewhat less repressive than) Saudi Arabia—whoops, our big ally in the Middle East! Who are the "Islamo-fascists" in Saudi Arabia—the current regime or its religious-fanatical opponents?
Eugene's thoughts would be most appreciated.
9.11.2006 3:33am
talboito (mail) (www):
So the argument is that Japan and Germany, two industrialized, modern states, were not existential threats while some splinter cell non-state actors are, maybe, possibly, will be existential threats in the future if some unspecified technological changes occur?

Just asking.
9.11.2006 3:34am
fooburger (mail) (www):
re Kevin Jon Heller:
Islamic fascism is a term that fairly accurately describes Iran. While fascist movements of the early 1900's were indeed secular, the vehemence with which they believed in their particular secular faiths is the same with which the islamic fascists of the world believe in their own.
Iran is the best parallel here because its oil reserves and other state owned business feedback into its single-party rule, suppression of dissent and war machine.
Its single-party rule nature, effectively an oligarchy, makes draws quite a parallel.
Other fascist states of today would include China.
Though I will agree that Al Qaeda/Bin Laden are not currently 'Islamic Fascists', I believe that their/his intentions are to bring about such a government.
I don't think it's an unreasonable extension, conspiracies about the boogeyman 'international capital' not withstanding, to call them 'islamic fascists'.

What I find disconcerting about the original article, is that the reason we cannot compare drownings to terrorism, is that terrorism is a man-made event, and is far more preventable by direct action of the US government than drownings.
Certainly we can put up more drowning warning signs, and require people to wear life preservers while sitting on the toilet, but action against terrorist groups is much more directly profitable.
One simply cannot compare drownings to terrorism, or murder, or drunk driving deaths. One is the result of statistical abberation, the others are man-made.
9.11.2006 3:52am
Brian Garst (www):
Does being a "splinter cell non-state actor" make one any less an existential threat? Do you really believe that Global Jihad is not a threat to our existance? I find it rather depressing that so many are so willfully thrusting their heads into the sand in that regard.

They don't need a state to be an existential threat. They don't even need an army. All they need is one nuke and the ability to get it into America. What do you think would happen if NYC was wiped off the map? America would, the very next day, cease being a Republic and instead become a police state. What's more, the public would demand it. I pray you realize the seriousness of the threat before, rather than after, such an occurance.
9.11.2006 3:55am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I use the term "Islamofascism" because as I understand its ideology, it is confessedly anti-democratic -- not just choosing a nondemocratic path for itself but viewing democracy, or at least what we in the West generally understand as democracy, as inherently corrupt -- and systematically dismissive of basic individual rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

It is also nationalistic, though in a way that's focused on the Islamic world as a religious-political body, rather than on race. I'm not sure whether such nationalism is a necessary component of fascism (it most certainly isn't sufficient), but it is a point of similarity -- Mussolini's attempt to regain the lost glory of Rome seems to me to have something in common with some jihadist theorists' attempt to regain the lost glory of the Islamic political/religious/cultural world.

Naturally I would not use the term "Islamofascism" for secular regimes, since those aren't Islamic.
9.11.2006 4:11am
godfodder (mail):
As these comments indicate, some people are inclined to dis-believe Bush at all costs. In fact, there really is almost nothing to the arguments used against your post except "you used a word Bush uses, so you're stupid like he is!!"

Well, here's something for the Katha Pollitt readers out there. What if the role of the state, and the belief in Hitler and the Nazi mythology, served a very similar role in 1930's Germany to the role that extreme Islam plays in Iran (and played in Afghanistan)? What if an ideology acts like a religion, but refuses to call itself one? Woa... heavy.

What if likewise, a "nationalism" refused to identify it self as such? Or was more akin to "racism" than nationalism? Or if the "nation" it referred to was imaginary? Like the long lost Caliphate?? Or the idea of an Arab "race"?

I particularly liked Katha's vague effort to implicate "international capital" in the rise of Hitler's Germany. But since she mentioned it, I understand that Iran has a bit of cash lying around. Fourth largest oil producer and all.

And last, but certainly not least, is her mention of "up-to-date" as a criteria for the title of "fascist." Do I even need to rebut that one? Wasn't that dragged out simply to try to disqualify Afghanistan? Yeah... I thought so. (And, I would like to add, a lot of Hitler's mythology and iconography was quite rustic, and celebrated the rural glory of the Aryan peoples. "Up to date" was as likely to be labeled "perverse" as not).
9.11.2006 4:14am
Kate1999 (mail):
Germany and Japan were certainly considered existential threats to the United States in the early 1940s. We were watching for the invasion of the West Coast by Japan, and Germany was hell bent on world domination. You couldn't watch these countries take over half the world in '39-'42 and automatically assume that the U.S mainland was safe.
9.11.2006 4:14am
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
I really have trouble understanding what's meant by assertions that these statistics "just can't be sensibly used to compare" terrorism-related and non-terrorism related deaths (Volokh), or that there is "no logical basis" for the comparison (Connors). Is there a great deal of uncertainty in our predictions of risks of terrorist attack in the future? Of course. Should we keep in mind the limitations of predictions based on past experience? Sure. But it is definitely not the case that that uncertainty renders all risk-based analysis futile, or that past experience is of no predictive value.

Every time we decide whether or not to perform a certain anti-terrorist activity, we engage in some form of risk-benefit analysis, just as we do every time we make any other sort of practical decision. It's true, at a high enough level of abstraction, that "there is no utility to terrorism", but no one's suggesting that we actively choose terrorism, on utility grounds or otherwise. Being "for or against" terrorism is not very meaningful; what counts is being for or against particular proposed (putatively) anti-terrorist activities. And there's no way that we can make any decision about any one of those proposed activities unless we engage in some kind of risk/benefit balancing. For any more concrete proposed anti-terrorist action X, there will be possible benefits and costs for doing X and possible benefits and costs for not doing X.

In order to reach such a decision at all rationally, we have to associate risks with all those costs and benefits; we may do it unconsciously, we may even deny we're doing it, but we're still doing it. And past experience is going to (and properly should) factor into those calculations; it's not always dispositive, and uncertainty about the predictive value of numbers of deaths or changes in circumstances since the period to which the numbers refer might well cause us to evaluate probability distributions differently than we would in a more conventional actuarial context (drowning in the bathtub, for example). But if it didn't count at all, then it's hard to see what basis we would have for even beginning to assign probabilities. (I assume that no one will assert that we can evaluate the risk of terrorism on a priori grounds.) And, insofar as every plausible anti-terrorist decision involves both material and opportunity costs, I think it's reasonable to look at resources allocated to other risks, of known or imputed magnitude, in order begin the task of balancing. Indeed, I'll go further and say that we can't avoid doing it, consciously or unconsciously, if our global set of resource allocations and the beliefs upon which they rest are to be rational (in the minimal, Bayesian sense).

The upshot is that moving from "no-one can know what the actual likelihood of dying in an Islamofascist attack against the U.S. might be" (true, but unimportant; there are lots of objective probabilities which we can't assess on the basis of induction without serious higher-order uncertainties) to the implied consequence "no one can explicitly form reasonable judgments, on the best evidence available, of those probabilities for use in cost/benefit balancing" is illegitimate.

If you think that direct extrapolation from the experience of the last few years underestimates high-damage risks, fine; offer evidence to that effect and give an alternative evaluation of the risks. But it's far too facile to demean the entire enterprise of comparative risk-evaluation in the process; frankly, it's the only thing we rationally can do in order to go about making decisions concerning an uncertain future. And it's also inappropriate to reject statements like "dying in mode X is N times more likely than dying in a terrorist attack"; any belief set leading to a rational resource allocation, or even a rational set of expectations for the future, will entail some kind of belief of that form. There is nothing illegitimate about making that explicit, provided that we recognize that the evidence on which we've formed that belief, like all evidence for practically relevant decisions, is limited.
9.11.2006 4:16am
ThirdCircuitLawyer (mail):
I'll join others who say that the use of "Islamofascist" is a bad idea for the purposes of open and respectful debate. I assume that anyone who calls anyone else a "fascist" because they seem undemocratic or insufficiently respective of rights is pretty much a hack. The left calls Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld "fascists" for exactly the same reason, and I don't think the right should get to use the term on the same rationale.
9.11.2006 4:18am
Eugene Volokh (www):
I agree that calling some a "fascist" "because they seem undemocratic or insufficiently respect[ful] of rights" is unsound. Yet isn't al Qaeda just a wee bit beyond "seem[ing] undemocratic or insufficiently respectful of rights"?

More broadly, I hope it's clear that I'm not trying to call al Qaeda "Islamofascist" because I'm trying to blacken its reputation, or make my readers believe that it's a bad organization (one reason that some people call Bush, Cheny, and Rumsfeld "fascists"). I'd like to think that it already has a not very good reputation, at least among this blog's readers.

I have no desire to be "respectful" of al Qaeda, and while I'd like to be respectful of most other people, I hardly think it's disrespectful to my readers (including ones who disagree with me about the issue at hand, which is how we should evaluate the risk of terrorism) to call al Qaeda "Islamofascists." So say what you will about the merits or demerits of the analogy between the Mussolinis of the world and the Bin Ladens -- I dealt with that in an earlier comment -- but concern for "open and respectful debate" seems like something of a red herring here.
9.11.2006 4:34am
C. Owen Johnson (mail):

What's wrong with "Islamo-fascism"? For starters, it's a terrible historical analogy.

While I actually don't much like the term "Islamo-fascism" to describe our current enemies, the statement above would seem to display a certain ignorance of history. "Islamo-fascism" is not a analogy by any means. Fascism was quite popular and influencial in the Middle East in the 30s and 40s. Some of the movements it influenced were secular and some were not. Some were secular to begin with and turned to Islam later without changing their fascist philosophy. So "Islamo-fascism" does accurately describe real movements within the Middle East.

To debate how well "Islamo-fascism" describes the assemblage of groups arrayed against us is to engage in a good rousing round of hair splitting and nothing more. The term has common currency and nit-picking commentary on it does not to detract from the actual point of the post.
9.11.2006 4:36am
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
The most obvious problem with calling Al Qaeda "fascist" is that the type-examples of early-to-mid 20th-century fascism were all structured around (1) the nation-state as the ultimate horizon of political power and (2) the party as the central agent in the conquest of that power.

As far as I can tell, Al Qaeda is not really a "party", not even an underground one, and its goals seem to involve remaining outside the realm of state power, as a kind of trans-statal counterweight to Arab governments which are (from its perspective) at best minimally acceptable and at worst wholly satanic, exercising influence over them indirectly through terrorism. Some of the Qutbist parties in Egypt might possibly be legitimately termed "Islamic fascism" (I'd have to do some more research before reaching a firm opinion on this question); but I don't think Al Qaeda can be without diluting the term. (None of this means, of course, that al Qaeda is inherently "better" or less dangerous than this or that given fascist movement; to think that by denying the applicability of the term "fascist" one engages in apology, even indirectly, is to confuse historical and sociological categories with moral ones.)
9.11.2006 4:39am
Eugene Volokh (www):
Evelyn Blaine: Saying that "event A is X times more likely than event B" presupposes that we have a decent estimate of the likelihood of events A and B. Once the risk of A or B becomes sheer guesswork, with very little really useful numerical data to back it up, any such "X times more likely" statements become senseless.

It's true that we have to figure out as best as we can how to proceed in the face of such deep uncertainties. But saying "66 times more likely" is not, I think, a sound way to proceed.
9.11.2006 4:40am
C. Owen Johnson (mail):
Evelyn Blaine:
I could be wrong, but I think you are missing the point. The point isn't that we don't do comparative risk-evaluation or trade-offs WRT to terrorism. The point is that these risks cannot be compared in any meaningful way to risks like drowning because the risks are qualitatively different. By meaningful, I mean a result that has predictive power or is useful in evaluation or assessment. Past history of terrorist attacks has no such power, but past history of drowning does. So to try to compare the two is in effect to divide by zero.
9.11.2006 4:52am
fishbane (mail):
I'm honored to be attacked here. Thanks, Eugene.

As for the statistic, I don't stand behind it. I saw it elsewhere, and it may well be wrong. I was meant merely to illustrate the hyperbole of people freaking out about terrorism. You may disagree with my risk analysis, and that's fair, but I think we can both agree that, for instance, driving a car is a far more risky behaviour than Existing While American Under Terroristic Threat.

The "Islamofascist" schtick is just partisan flavor of the day, and I'm going to ignore it.

As for my point about existential threats, do you really want to compare a ragtag group of religious nuts with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan? That's what I meant by "not serious". Personally, I wouldn't want to state such a silly notion in public, but that's me.

A gang of psychopathic killers is, of course, worth paying attention to, especially when they have demonstrated surprisingly skillful operations. But that is all they are - a bunch of psychos. Conflating a band of thugs with Hitler demeans the people who acually won that war. And I hope you'll forgive me for thinking that there might be a whiff of political caclulation behind the effort.
9.11.2006 5:01am
Shahid Alam (mail):
I just find it funny that ThirdCircuitLawyer can compare the validity of use of the term Islamofascist to the left's use of the term fascist to refer to Bush, et al. Apparently the terrorists and Bush's coterie are similarly undemocratic. Who knew?

Evelyn, consider the difference in what you might evaluate as the risk of dying from a terrorist attack in the US on 9/10/01, versus what you might similarly evaluate on 9/12/01. With rare enough events with no real awareness of causal factors, calculating risk would seem to be tantamount to pulling numbers out of hats.

I'd also suggest that if risk evaluation was such a science, we wouldn't expect to see significant changes in actuarial models following hurricanes, floods, and, yes, terrorist attacks. Never mind figuring out the differential risk in terrorism cases of doing nothing versus doing something.
9.11.2006 5:06am
C. Owen Johnson (mail):
Evelyn Blaine:
Al Qaeda is not a party, but it represents one. It's goals are distinctly state-oriented. Keep in mind that in Islam, and especially radical Islam, there is no recognition of the state as a secular institution. Al Qaeda's goal is to unify Islam under it's version -- the Wahhabi version -- of the ideal Islamic state. The distinctions between how Islamic groups implement fascism and how Europeans did is why people put "Islamo-" in front of it.

Still, I don't like the term; I wish people would settle on a term like Jihadi that I think clarifies some important differences much better.
9.11.2006 5:08am
C. Owen Johnson (mail):
Odd that you would think yourself "attacked" but perhaps you being jocose. However, you misperceive the nature of the threat, as do -- unfortunately -- many people. You do however put your finger on the central contradiction of this war: how a "ragtag group of religious nuts" can present an existential threat to us?

There is a resolution to this contradiction, and if you are interested you can read is here. It is rather long I'm afraid and requires some patience to get through. You may not find it convincing but I would hope it would at provide food for thought.
9.11.2006 5:19am
Donald Kahn (mail):
A. Drowning and automobile accidents are random events and I am guessing that a year by year comparison would display a small standard deviation.

Such events are simply not in the same category as an intentional terrorist attack, and so cannot be compared for any purpose.

B. To argue whether these Islamic murderers are fascists or not displays a lack of seriousness. What you call such phenomena makes not the slightest difference in the real world - excepting perhaps college bull sessions.
9.11.2006 5:24am
eric (mail):
Found this on Wikipedia. Added comments in [].

A recent definition is that by former Colombia University Professor Robert O. Paxton:

"Fascism may be defined as a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victim-hood [the big bad USA oppresses all the Muslims of the world, don't ya know] and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, [obediance to Allah and all that jazz] in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist [religious] militants [terrorists], working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites [mullahs], abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion [terror]."

Sounds a lot like Islamofascism to me. All that is missing in the religious aspect.
9.11.2006 5:44am
talboito: "So the argument is that . . . some splinter cell non-state actors are, maybe, possibly, will be existential threats in the future if some unspecified technological changes occur?"

The technological changes are only "unspecified" if you completely ignore the words "smallpox" and "nuclear" in the original post.

Evelyn Blaine: "As far as I can tell, Al Qaeda is not really a 'party' . . . and its goals seem to involve remaining outside the realm of state power, as a kind of trans-statal counterweight to Arab governments"

Yeah, I guess if you consider establishing a pan-Islamic Caliphate as being "outside the realm of state power." But then again, the Axis was also "trans-statal" (across states), and Hitler's objectives were hardly restricted to the boundaries of Germany, so maybe there is no such thing as fascism!

fishbane: "As for my point about existential threats, do you really want to compare a ragtag group of religious nuts with Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan?"

Right, the threats aren't exactly the same. I guess that might account for the difference between deploying about a seventh of the pre-existing military in one case and mobilizing a tenth of the entire U.S. population in the other.
9.11.2006 7:55am
A. Zarkov (mail):
While the origin of the term "Islamofascist" remains vague, Dr. Malise Ruthven used the term as far back as the Sept. 1990 issue of "The Independent." One could argue that the term is mere wartime propaganda because strictly speaking, what the renegade Muslims are doing is not exactly fascism because it lacks the essential elements of extreme nationalism, corporatism, anti-Communism. But let's face it; the usage of the term "fascist" has drifted from the original to something like "extreme anti-liberalism" coupled with violence. One must also remember that Islam goes beyond other Abrahamic religions, to a polity. It seeks to squeeze out everything between the family and the state crushing civil institutions. This characteristic takes it out of the realm of being a purely personal belief into the political arena. Let's also not forget that Mohammad Amin al-Husayni (The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem) enjoyed tremendous popularity in the Arab-Muslim world and collaborated with the Axis Powers to the extent of even creating Muslim Waffen SS units in the Balkans. As a Mufti he was an interpreter and expounder of Islamic law. Therefore his activities, popularity and authoritative status created an early nexus between radical modern Islam and fascism.
9.11.2006 8:44am
Kristian (mail):
WRT to the statistic, it gets even worse if you count the deaths duw to IED in Iraq as terrorist attacks. It seems disingenuois to claim all allied casualties are war deaths, but all Iraq/Afghan deaths are civilians, and thus war crimes...but then there has been a bit of a double standard, no?
9.11.2006 8:45am
goesh (mail):
Cripple us economically and we will kill ourselves off without any outside assistance. If people get trampled when a big store opens it doors for a sale and people fight over a Harry Potter book, they will act 100 times worse over perceived and genuine shortages. The Laws against yelling "fire" in crowded Public places are based on common sense. I regard any system of belief as facist that sees violence as its only means of persuasion. Lastly, if people are smart enough to kill 3,000 of us using box cutters, they certainly are capable of getting a nuclear device into New York or D.C.
9.11.2006 8:47am
Hans Gruber (www):
"You may disagree with my risk analysis, and that's fair, but I think we can both agree that, for instance, driving a car is a far more risky behaviour than Existing While American Under Terroristic Threat."

Historically? Absolutely. The actual probability TODAY? Unknowable and that's Eugene's point! This sort of moral calculus also ignores the fundamental difference between violence and accidental death. Violence, particularly terrorism, is destructive to society as a whole in ways that accidental death and general risk are not. How many millions of Americans die every year? Using your preferred perspective, how many hundreds of thousands would have to die until it was a significant enough problem to worry about?

Also, given this "perspective," what would have been the rational response to Pearl Harbor given the number killed and the lack of a credible threat against the US mainland?

RE: to the "respect" discussion within the comments. While I am no fan of radical or even "moderate" Islam, I think the point made by the commenter above was that the term "Islamofascism" is disrespectful of the faith of Islam, not that it disrespected terrorists or their sympathizers. If we, for example, called abortion bombers "Christianfascists" one could object to the term because it insulted the entire faith of Christianity needlessly.
9.11.2006 8:47am
johnt (mail):
I'm not to keen on Islamo-fascism myself preferring Muslim Murderers. I hope that's not too indelicate, we must tip toe around what we call the people who would like to destroy us.
But apart from islam it does appear that the word "fascism" has gained currency, sometime even being applied to republicans who have yet to fly a plane into a tall building.
Not that such is fascistic. Maybe we could substitute totalitarians for fascist, or is that also indelicate?
9.11.2006 8:58am
"RE: to the 'respect' discussion within the comments. While I am no fan of radical or even 'moderate' Islam, I think the point made by the commenter above was that the term 'Islamofascism' is disrespectful of the faith of Islam, not that it disrespected terrorists or their sympathizers."

It seems like any term containing "Islam" will be objectionable to some on that basis, and any term *not* containing "Islam" will not be descriptive of the movement we are facing. What do you propose?
9.11.2006 9:37am
noahpraetorius (mail):
Utilitarian thinking regarding dealing with terrorism takes us back to pre-9/11 thinking, no? And it might even win the next presidential election (didn't work for Kerry though). But it definitely goes against the grain of human nature and would vanish instantly in the aftermath of another large-scale attack. Then we would have another replay of the last 5 years in our political discourse. Is that what we want? Not me.

If the left would spend half as much time demonizing radical Islam as they do attacking evangelical Christians, the propaganda war in the West would already be won. But I strongly suspect that young muslim men would still be strapping on bombs, because we are dealing with a perversion of religion not reason. No amount of ass-kissing will stop them. If anyone has the slightest bit of evidence that it will (even anecdotes!) please present it for discussion.
9.11.2006 9:44am
"Islamofascist" is defensible because "fascist" has no meaning except as a general-purpose perjorative (see Orwell's 1944 essay "What is Fascism?").

But it's an awkward word: "Jihadist" is both shorter and more precise.
9.11.2006 9:59am
Hugo Black (mail):
noahpraetorius - a man assembled a data base of every suicide attack in a recent period ... i think 1999-2003 (pape). almost all of the attacks were motivated by a secular and strategic goal of getting the military presence of a western "democracy" out of what they perceived to be their homeland.

"Lastly, if people are smart enough to kill 3,000 of us using box cutters, they certainly are capable of getting a nuclear device into New York or D.C."

this is an absurd statement. but it does bring up a related matter that runs throughout these comments: no one knew the buildings would collapse. should those extra deaths count as being inflicted by design? i.e. be included in our threat assessment?

can the american right really be this frightened of terrorists. the people of NYC, the victims of the attack are not (btw an overwhelmingly liberal group, the vast majority of whom oppose the policies put in place to "protect" our freedom).

9.11.2006 10:14am
Dave Griffith (mail):
I was under the impression that most bathtub deaths weren't from drowning, but were from broken necks/skulls/backs in falls. For anyone other than infants, invalids, and the severely chemically altered, drowning in a bathtub is extremely difficult, while even able-bodied adults are able to injure themselves when you combine slippery tile and naked feet.

I now let you return to your regularly scheduled ranting.
9.11.2006 10:19am
SeaDrive (mail):
The use of the term fascist is imprecise since it does not apply in this case to National Socialists, but a shorthand for describing a nationalist dictatorship.

A bigger question is whether the threat to liberty in the USA is bigger from within or without. Not that I think that the Bush Administration would attempt a wholesale abrogation of the Bill of Rights, or that current Congress would lie down for it if they did, but the widespread and uncompromising demand for secrecy and war powers in the face of the threat posed by a relatively small terror group lays the groundwork for future limitations of individual rights on most any minor excuse. The "War On Drugs" or a "War Against Illegal Immigration", for example. I don't see the US demanding that Muslims wear crescents on their lapels, but how far are we from having country of origin (or religion) on national ID cards?
9.11.2006 10:20am
marco (www):
historical comparisons can be a misleading tool when used to understand "nazi-islamic" actual politics as there's no doubt they do have a political goal while religion zaelotism, propaganda and terror are just their tactics.
surely they exploit and leverage the same old ways to drive consensus towards their sake power, roughly obliterating the unwilling, but the way they build and increase their power through money is completely different from the 30's and 40's dictators.
backtrack their money if you really want to cut off their power, their consensus and finally their grip on our throat.
9.11.2006 10:31am
JosephSlater (mail):
One on hand, the precise term we use to describe murderous dictators and wannabe dictators may not matter much. On the other hand ...

First, it is worth distinguishing between different types of murderous dictatorships for a variety of reasons (remember J. Kirkpatrick and "authoritarian" vs. "totalitarian"? OK, she was wrong about that in a number of ways, but the principle remains). Obviously, Saddam's nasty, brutal government was not founded on the same ideology as the Taliban's nasty, brutal government.

Calling it all "Islamo-fascist" does two things that the dwinding pro-Iraq war faction wants. First, it makes it sound as if Saddam and Osama were basically the same thing, so fighting one is just like fighting the other. Second, it harkens back to WWII, the comparison the pro-Iraq war folks keep stretching to make.

Finally, what about calling some of these bad guys "theocrats"? It's a much more accurate term, IMHO, for the Taliban. I suspect the problem here for the Repubs is that it might cause some discomfort for the hard religious right. No, I'm NOT saying Pat Robertson is just like Osama. But I don't think the Repubs want to push a name that implies that too much religion in government is bad.
9.11.2006 10:40am
Brendan (mail):
The argument about verbage is off topic IMO. Eugene could have just listed out: "Terrorist Organizations and Hostile States (like Al Quaeda and Iran) that support non state actors in their attempts to commit murder and other destruction against us" - and the substance of the argument would remain unchanged.

1. I assume drowning deaths are relatively static year to year and that terrorists deaths are not. Thus while you can give an average death per year, the standard deviation makes the averages mean quite different things.

2. When you use a stat as the primary support of your hypothesis (i.e. people are over reacting to terrorism since drowning is 66 times more likely) and then that stat is rebuked saying: "I was meant merely to illustrate the hyperbole of people freaking out about terrorism" is hardly a valid defence. I could use that to make up any statisic I want (terrorism is 100000 times more likely to ruin our economy) "oh i saw that that somewhere else, it may be wrong, but I was just using it to prove my point"

3. There seem to be several types of entities we are dealing with that reprsent the "Islamofascist" they range from:

+ Iraq circa 2000 - the secular facist who gives lip service to Islam, but will support terrorist if it helps him (e.g. money to suicide bomber's families)

+ Iran - Islamic state that could also be called fascist. Racist, anti-Freedom, expantionist

+ Syria - used to fit in with Iraq, now is more of Iran's puppet

+ Al Quaeda (Caliphate), Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine) etc - transnationalist terrorist oraganizations - receive degrees of state support and have dreams of setting up states which would in all likelyhood resemble Iran mode.

And lest you think there is no element of racism in these movements, see the slaughter of African Muslims by Arab Muslims in Sudan.
9.11.2006 10:41am
noahpraetorius (mail):
Hugo Black, recall the aftermath of 9/11. Like it or not, "we" were united in our desire for justice and for increased security measures to prevent another attack. GDP took a huge hit and it is said that one million jobs were lost. Because of reduced demand, I even bought gas for less the $1/gallon.

But today the utilitarians are saying it was only 3000 lives and really no big deal at all. Statistically speaking though, "no one" was saying that on 9/12/2001. That is because of a peculiar feature of human human nature. I suggest Pinker's "The Blank Slate" or more recently "Moral Minds" for more info on human nature. To expect that we will adopt the utilitarian position in light of our experience in the last 5 years is a fantasy in my opinion. Evidence to the contrary is welcome.

And please don't resort to the "conservative bedwetter" meme. Of course I don't fear terrorism but I would if I lived in Israel or Baghdad. But even in those places the risk is not enormous according to utilitarian analysis. So accuse me of being human.

Finally, are you claiming that suicide-bombers are not motivated by religious beliefs? Please.
9.11.2006 10:57am
Brendan (mail):
I would also say grouping all these threats into one category is ok. Yes there are differences, but their enough "vilians" (US, allies, Israel, infidels) now that they are happy to work together. Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and others have all been shown to give differing degrees of support to terrorists. Various terrorist organizations have been shown to be linked. The only thing in doubt is the degree of linkage. I do believe that if we do nothing and these parties start to see their plans implemented, you would eventually get battles between the parties, but as long as the US has allies in the Mid East and Israel exists they will have common enemies to keep them together. (Remember Hitler and Stalin were friends before they were enemies.)

A good analogy for Iran and Iraq (pre war) was Nazi Germany. The movements were nationalist movements and were both socialist in the sense of goverment running the economy. Beyond their theories, they also both have shown similar expansionist tendency (Iraq see Iran, Kuwait) and Iran (Hezbollah, Hamas) either through direct military action or proxies. They both also showed an unabashed willingness to implement evil upon their own populace.

A better analogy for terrorist organizations, might be the anarchist movement, which succeded in assasinating numerous heads of state around 1900 - but I think they have have different goals and are much more organized than the general public accepts.

Finally one of the ways they seek to expand their power is by creating autonomous zones within free countries, i.e. this neighborhood will be under Koranic rule of law. Out of these areas (and some exist) in Western powers - groups like Al Quaeda are certainly in a position to create great damage to us.

Calling Al Quaeda existential does not demeen the men and women who won WW2. Saying that Al Quaeda is not a real threat demeans the men and women who lost their lives on 9/11 by trivializing their sacrifice. The American Economy and the American "Dream" were critical to wining both WW2 and the Cold War, Al Quaeda strikes at both of those.
9.11.2006 11:00am
Mr. X (www):
The accurate term for referring to an ideology that seeks to establish an Islamic state through force is "Islamism," or alternatively "Salafism."

"Islamofascism" is a misnomer at best, and a scaremongering word at worst. Islamism, as with any theocratic movement, is scary enough without invoking Godwin's Law.
9.11.2006 11:25am
I realize Eugene already said comparisons were dumb, but I point this out anyway. People have been dying in bathtubs for years; certainly this was going on well before 9/11. However, many, if not all the deaths Eugene used in his own mathematical comparison were from a single year. So while it's true that bathtub deaths in the last six were 7 times greater than terrorist deaths, such a simple calculation ignores the fact that damn near everyone's got a bathtub. I suppose you could say terrorists have targeted all of us, but that would make the many risk assessments performed since 9/11 kind of meaningless. A true risk calculation would have to account for other factors affecting probability. Like the fact that people who live in Minneapolis aren't in the same danger as people who live in New York or Chicago.
9.11.2006 11:25am
Hattio (mail):
Maybe I missed this, and I apologize if anyone else brought it up. But the fact is that Japan DID invade the US. Unless, of course, you don't want to consider a territory part of the United States. But the fact is I very seriously doubt that we wouldn't consider a country a threat because they only attacked Puerto Rico. Granted, Attu and Kiska were lightly populated, as was the rest of the Aleutian Islands, but there were evacuations, a territorial guard to watch for further attacks. IOW, even though in hindsight the threat of Japan further attacking the US Coast seems implausible, it didn't at the time.
9.11.2006 11:31am
Justin (mail):
I agree a lot more with fishbane than EV, but I think fishbane is perhaps being a little unclear in his point. Here we go - even in 1930's, Germany and Japan were acting a little nationalistic. Furthermore, they had the CAPACITY, should their militarism go far, to inflict quite a bit of damage in terms of lives to innocents.

Al Queda isn't quite nationalistic - and it has no designs against other muslims. So we have to consider "innocents" to be Israel, Europeans, and perhaps non-Muslim Asians, plus Americans.

Even if Al Queda extends its designs (and even if their designs are as the most conservative and ignorant of the situation "hawks" (which is a polite way of describing a group that decidedly does not deserve such politeness) say they are), the only real capacity they could have is an isolated nuclear attack. But the US is acting in a way that is either unconcerned with that limited act or is wildly incompetent in so dealing - instead trying to hype them up, and fight them, as Nazi Germany - through widescale national war.

Doing so not only misstates the risk of islamic terrorism, but completely overinflates said risk. And it makes George Bush, though not a more evil person, certainly in his recklessness a far bigger murderer of innocents (and, for what its worth, a war criminal). And it makes his supporters here look pretty absurd.

Proportionalism was the word of the day in the Lebanon-Israel debate, and its eerily absent from Iran and Al Queda. The fact that the people hyping up this threat as equivalent to Nazi Germany are the same who absurdly overestimated every threat in the last 50 years (particularly Iraq, Russia, and China) should not be lost on anyone. Nor should the fact that the majority of them have neither the capacity or the desire to distinguish the very seperate and different threats that Iran and Al Queda pose. While it is, in the very loosest of the sense, theoretically possible for Iran and Al Queda to band together and act in a way whose threat is equivalent to Japan and Germany, its plausibility is somewhere in the "Aliens could annhialate us because they want to use our planet for scrap" probability of occuring.

And thus fishbane's ultimate position - roughly, that those who hype the Iran/Al Queda threat in conventional war standards are about as absurd as those who want us to build intergalactic missle defense and should be treated accordingly - is I think one that is not only correct but obviously so. Where I may (but am unsure without fishbane's contribution) disagree is in the nuclear world - it is possible (but highly unlikely) that Iran is on the verge of a nuclear weapon, and it is also possible that AQ could get its hands on a nuclear warhead through loose nukes. But the first event presupposes Iran would use it without provokation (a highly unlikely possibility, and counterproductive as they argue that we should provide the required provokation) and the second - the loose nuke issue - is one that nobody seems to care to discuss: nobody is talking about the paltry sum of money this administration (even compared to the last administration's paltry figure) is spending on protecting loose nukes.

The "islamofacist" terminology is wrong and counterproductive under Godwin's Rule and for the numerous reasons written about in these comments and by other bloggers - to that conversation I have nothing to add.
9.11.2006 11:39am
noahpraetorius (mail):
Justin, the open adoption of your point of view by the Democrats will ensure their defeat. They could finagle and finesse and maybe regain power by deceit.

The point that I was trying to make is that following another major attack, we will be back to the 9/12/2001 mindset. I'm not saying that the utilitarian approach is irrational or morally unsound. I'm saying its alien to our nature.

Its sort of like the Berkelian philosophers that argue against objective reality...their position is defensible but they carry on their lives just like everybody else who is objective reality exists.
9.11.2006 11:58am
Davebo (mail):
This may have already been covered in this long thread but..

Until the nuclear bomb was proven feasible, there was no way that they could have invaded the U.S., or otherwise jeopardized our existence or our nationhood.

This is not at all clear, and in fact, most likely it's incorrect. Had Germany and Japan seized all of Europe, beaten Russia and held their large sections of Asia an invasion of the US might not even have been required. But assuming the Axxis could have successfully occupied and integrated these areas an invasion of the US would not at all be impossible.
9.11.2006 1:18pm
"Al Queda isn't quite nationalistic - and it has no designs against other muslims."

I imagine the scores of Muslims killed by Al Qaeda bombs in Jordan and Egypt might disagree. If they were still alive to do so. Fortunately their suicide bombings targeting government buildings in Saudi Arabia were less successful.

"Finally, what about calling some of these bad guys 'theocrats'? It's a much more accurate term, IMHO, for the Taliban."

Because it's far too overbroad. What Al Qaeda wants to establish is more of an ecclesiocracy than a theocracy. And you can't accurately say that we are engaged in a war against ecclesiocracy, because that would require a sudden reversal in our relations with the Vatican. I doubt we would have much of a problem with an independent Tibet where the Dalai Lama was reinstated as ruler, either.

No, theocrats/ecclesiocrats per se aren't the problem. It's radical militant Islamic ecclesiocrats who seek to establish the political supremacy of Islam through terrorist violence. "Islamofascism" isn't perfect, but seems to fit better than anything else I've heard suggested here.
9.11.2006 2:00pm
godfodder (mail):
I am amazed at the number of people here who downplay the threat posed to us by Al Queda and the whole world of Islamic Jihadists. All I can say is "wake up, man!" This is not all George Bush's paranoid fantasy. 9-11 happened, and cost this country thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars (even discounting the cost of the Iraq mess).

Sometimes I think you guys are so loathe to admit the Bush was right about anything, that you twist yourselves into pretzels. Imagine the consequences to the world if a crude atomic bomb went off in the Hudson River, or in Long Beach Harbor. Can you imagine how absolutely horrible the changes to our world would be? Not the destruction of the US, but the destruction of our way of life in more ways than any of us could calculate.

Now consider how much effort is going to have to go into preventing that from happening-- and not just now, but for the next 5years, 10 years, 20 years. It's daunting. And it has to be done. Just passing it off as a Bush election year gambit is naive or stupid.
9.11.2006 2:01pm
Matt Barr (mail) (www):
The truly useless part of these sorts of comparisons is: I don't want terrorist attacks not to happen because I'm afraid I might be killed. My personal "probability" of being killed in a terror attack is almost completely meaningless to me. Five years ago today I very definitely was not thinking, whew! Glad I wasn't in one of those buildings! If you were, then by all means, calculate your probability of dying in the next attack and use that as a basis for evaluating how much you care about things like this. That seems selfish at best and downright creepy at worst, though.
9.11.2006 2:33pm
glangston (mail):
The potential loss of lives in the WTC could have been many times 3000. I think the number of workers in these buildings was around 80,000. 3,000 is a shocking number, no doubt satisfactory to Al Qaeda but I'm sure they hoped for more. To equate this event to chances of drowing and misrepresent the actual figures simply points to an agenda of politics. We go through this sort of thing fairly often with firearms.

Besides, the "threat" isn't merely physical, it's economic and that is less an existential item than the author cares to acknowledge.
9.11.2006 2:36pm
I think we need to more carefully distinguish two different aspects of the threat posed by groups like Al Qaeda.

Unfortunately, it is true that modern technology allows them to pose a more substantial physical threat than they could have posed in the past. The use of jetliners as weapons during 9/11 was one example, and obviously the worry that they could obtain and use a significant WMD in the United States is well-motivated, although the likelihood of such an event is not clear.

But the physical threat is not the same thing as the "existential threat". And although this is a complicated issue, I don't think these people can pose much of an "existential threat" (at least not without a lot of help from us, meaning Western democracies). The basic fact is that while they have gained influence in a few states, they really have not achieved much in terms of spreading their influence. And that is basically because nation-states still control most of the power in this world, and the people controlling most nation-states in the world are in fact enemies of groups like Al Qaeda.

So, I truly don't see these groups ever gaining enough power to pose an "existential threat" on the same magnitude as Nazism or Stalinism--provided that we don't do anything to make it easier for them to gain influence over additional nation-states. And so I also think we need to be quite careful when dealing with the physical threat posed by these groups not to do precisely that--namely, we should make sure not to aid these groups in increasing their influence in other parts of the world.
9.11.2006 4:34pm
Third Party Beneficiary (mail):
"Can you imagine how absolutely horrible the changes to our world would be? Not the destruction of the US, but the destruction of our way of life in more ways than any of us could calculate."

The only way such an event would precipitate the "destruction of our way of life" is through the hysterical overreaction of persons such as yourself. Those of us who refuse to wet ourselves every time someone shouts "Terrorist!" are doing more to preserve "our way of life" than the people who explain we must shred civil liberties to avoid a greater evil.
9.11.2006 4:40pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Usually the left has extremely risk averse attitudes. This applies to nuclear energy, environmental pollution, secondhand smoke, and even vaccinations! The conventional smallpox vaccination carries a risk of about one death per million inoculations. This was actually deemed too much by some critics. "If we vaccinate everybody then 30 people will die." Remember the issue about arsenic in drinking water that the left used to bash Bush with? His critics wanted the allowable level reduced from 50 micrograms/liter to 10. (Note below 7,000 you can equate micrograms/liter to parts per billion, so 50 micrograms/liter = 50 ppb.)

I decided to look at the real science behind this issue and found that very few places in the US even have concentrations as high as 50 ppb. Looking at Table 2 from the report A Retrospective Analysis on the Occurrence of Arsenic in Ground-Water Resources of the United States and Limitations in Drinking-Water-Supply Characterizations, we find that only 2 water systems exceed 50 ppb for systems that serve between 100,000 and 1,000,000 people. From other reports we find that the dose response model was calibrated from a single data set on water wells in Taiwan. When you drill down deep in to statistical analysis buttressing the model you find many highly conservative and (sometimes) arbitrary assumptions. Yet scare headlines appeared like Bush Mandates Arsenic in Your Tap Water.

Now the risk averse left seems to have abandoned their worrywart ways when it comes to the danger to Americans from global Islamofascism.
9.11.2006 5:21pm
eddie (mail):
Let's all take a breath and admit that relativistic comparisons do not serve anyone.

Problem one: Conflating the "War on Terrorism" with any war is seriously misleading and intellectually dishonest. Terrorism is not a state, not an ideology and not an enemy.

Problem two: Defining risk is very useful when trying to assess what is a rational approach to any particular problem. But if the only response to a factual recitation of risk factors is to dismiss the facts as "Not understanding how dangerous 'the enemy' is", well that is simply a circular argument.

With respect to the WWII comparison, it is disingenuously beside the point whether the continental US was at risk, since our European response had to do with supporting our allies. Our Japanese response was at least partially in respect to actual damage done to American property (Pearl Harbor anyone). But more importantly, there was an identifiable enemy that could be defeated.

If one is being stalked one does not deal respond by requesting a military action whose goal is to interdict and execute every suspected stalker, but by using effective police techniques to detain and punish the particular perpetrators.

By making this a war, the terrorist have already won: We have re-constituted psychopaths and assorted criminals into a sovereign state with more power than any of the enemies we ever faced in the past: more dangerous than the British in revolutionary times, more potent than the Confederacy during the civil war, more scary and purely evil than the Axis powers in WWII and certainly as immoral and omnipresent as the Soviet Union during the Cold War. And yet in all of these previous encounters, never was the core of our government, the Constitution, seen as an impediment to "victory".

The questions is continually asked, well see how safe we are because of all the actions we have taken--there hasn't been another attack.

What would be the need for another attack: We have been told that for an unspecified time we must tremble at the though of any possible terrorist act. That we must engage in reckless and pointless military adventures. And (here's the important issue for your originalists) we must simply abandon the core tenets of our political system.

All of these chest beating "warrior" have already surrendered our nation. By creating a phantom enemy that has no face, no country, not even a coherent group identity, the war can never end. And anyone clamoring for an end to the war must by definition be seen as an appeaser or worse yet, a member of the enemy itself.

Is the call for one party rule merely an election year exaggeration? Is the abandonment of any sense of checks and balances a mirage?

I challenge anyone to tell me when we will know we have won so that we can "return" to normalcy.

Or is the real message, well those founders were really a bunch of radical liberals whose idea was fine in the good old days when slavery was still okay, but in this new scary world we live in, a different form of government is necessary to preserve . . . the "Homeland". I guess when our leaders have become so consumed with merely having power instead of representing the people at some point democracy, freedom and rationalism will give sway such tribal instincts.

Our founders are all turning in their graves.
9.11.2006 5:39pm
"The Left" was opposed to smallpox vaccination? I seem to recall the Soviet Union actually called for worldwide vaccination, and it was a WHO team that eventually led the vaccination campaign to eradicate smallpox.
9.11.2006 5:50pm
JosephSlater (mail):

I hadn't encountered the word "ecclesiocrats" before. Based on an admittedly brief Google search, it seems to be a term used by folks of fairly specific persuasions in fairly specific debates. In any case, I fail to see why "theocrats" is not an accurate description of the Taliban, if we're still talking about that.
9.11.2006 8:03pm
A. Zarkov (mail):

That was more than 30 years ago. When the subject of mass smallpox inoculations came up in 2002, I remember the objections that the one-in-a-million fatality rate was too large to permit inoculating nearly 300 million people. Notice we have not had a mass inoculation campaign. In any case my argument hardly rests on the smallpox issue. The other examples I gave should be sufficient to make the point.
9.11.2006 8:10pm
JosephSlater: "I hadn't encountered the word 'ecclesiocrats' before. Based on an admittedly brief Google search, it seems to be a term used by folks of fairly specific persuasions in fairly specific debates."

Theocracy is literally "God-rule." Webster's 1913 defines it as "government of a state by the immediate direction or administration of God." This should be distinguished from government by an organized religious body, religious leader, or priestly class which does not claim to be in direct communication with God. Contrast the theocracy of Exodus in the Old Testament, where God spoke directly to Moses, with later Israel where the priests had a position of great authority, but interpreted earlier revelation rather than claiming the "immediate direction . . . of God." In an Islamic context, a Salafist would probably agree that the Islamic world at the time of Mohammed was a theocracy, because Mohammed was the Prophet who received direct revelation from Allah. A Salafist government now would look back to the practices of theocratic Islam for its guiding principles, but would not claim to receive immediate and continuing direction from Allah. A better term than ecclesiocracy might be hagiocracy - "holy rule." It's not government by God, it's government by holy men. Government with the highest end being holiness, or faithfulness to religious principle.

"In any case, I fail to see why 'theocrats' is not an accurate description of the Taliban, if we're still talking about that."

It's "accurate" (ignoring my theocracy/hagiocracy quibble above) in the sense that "humans" is also an "accurate" description of the Taliban - it's literally true, but way overinclusive as a means of defining our opponent. As I pointed out, we're not opposing them because they're theocrats/hagiocrats, because we don't perceive theocrats/hagiocrats per se as a threat to our security. No reasonable person is concerned that the Pope or the Dalai Lama will attack us next.
9.11.2006 8:43pm
MatthewM (mail):
The belief that we have nothing to fear because all we face are a few religious zealots who can only use our "throwaway" technology is unfortunately prevalant not only on the left but among some on the right (i.e. John Derbyshire.) This belief may turn out to be correct. But we'd be fools to rely upon that possibility.

In 1917, you would be looked at as insane for saying the following: "Within 50 years, the Bolsheviks who have just taken power in Russia will have hundreds of super-powerful bombs, each capable of totally and completely destroying an American city, which can be delivered within 30 minutes. The Bolsheviks will have the power to kill 100 to 150 million Americans in roughly one hour."

We were lucky to have escaped without a nuclear war in the last standoff with an imperialistic, chiliastic hate-cult. We shouldn't bet on that luck holding last time. Within 50 years, if certain trends are not reversed at their outset, we face the potential of encountering an islamist superstate with thousands of nuclear missiles pointed against us. It could be Pakistan, it could be Saudi Arabia, or Iran. The reality is that it is possible, and perhaps likely. Do we really want to just assume that this is not a possibility, and idly drift while unparalleled disaster approaches?
9.11.2006 9:56pm
Not perhaps the right day to be joining this thread, and any person's unnecessary death, from pure accident, corporate negligence or terrorist action is a real tragedy, and diminishes me.

But there are only two interesting facts about the 9/11 terrorist strikes, from the point of view of 20th century terrorism: they had spectacularly high impact/casualties, and they were the first to strike mainland USA.

On the first, the IRA and others have written the manual on terrorist spectaculars (often, let us not forget with funding from USA nationals which for electoral/congressional reasons successive US administrations were slow to move against). But the IRA (and ETA), in retrospect chose targets where the symbolism was often greater than the number of potential human casualties. Though have the readers of this blog forgotten the partly successful IRA attempt to blow up the entire leadership of the Conservative party at their annual convention, while they were in government? 9/11 is a spectacular "spectacular", but seen from outside the virgin soil of the USA, not necessarily more than that. The world did not change on 9/11, even if the USA did.

But this did happen in the mainland USA. Last effectively aggressed when the British burnt the White House. Welcome back to the world; it was if I remember correctly a Canadian some forty years earlier who identified the inevitable shrinking of the world into a 'global village', not that he had terrorism in mind, as far as I know. There was absolutely no logical reason to assume that, eventually, the continentally isolated USA would not experience a terrorist spectacular like those which had afflicted other continents: I wonder what odds you would have got in Las Vegas in 2000 for the bet that there would not be a major terrorist event in the USA before 2010?

So from a British (and Irish) perspective I'm inclined five years on to say let's move on: let's take rational steps to deter and obstruct the threats to public security we can identify, and apply the best analysis we can as to whether inproving road transport safety, or funding public health campaigns (or banning private holding of handguns) is more likely, for a given expenditure of the tax-payers' money, to benefit the general population than the funding of anti-terror measures. Yes, that's comparing apples and screwdrivers, but that's what public policy decision-making has to do, as best as it can. I'm not sure whether I believe 66:1 or 7:1; actuaries are well paid because what they do is difficult and arcane, but the underlying question must be addressed: just how much of the tax-payers' take is it rational to spend on anti-terror measures, as against the multifarious other legitimate demands on that limited resource.

Five years in, there is an evidence question which can also be asked: not how many potential further attacks have been frustrated, but how effectively has the flood of resources to the miltary-security complex been managed? How many roll-outs of new systems have succeeded, to time and budget? How has the recruitment and training of new staff performed? You know, the everyday stuff?

On "xxxfascists" (supply your ethnic or religious hate group to preference). It doesn't help unless it says something precise and illuminating, and I hope it dies out in this forum at least. This looks like a complex and multi-faceted issue, deriving from internal tensions in middle-Eastern states which have limited popular or democratic legitimacy, from a surge in "born-again" Islam, both in those states and in the Islamic diaspora, from the perceived emergence of a theocratic "Crusader" leadership in the constitutionally secular USA, from the opening of borders for overwhelmingly positive reasons globally, and the collapse of the cost of long-range travel, again generally a good thing, etc, etc. The conditions are different from location to location: a Kashmiri suicide bomber is different in important ways from an Indonesian, or a Palestinian, or a British muslim suicide bomber. Calling them names, let alone the same, imprecise name, cannot help uus understand them or decide what to do about them.
9.11.2006 10:05pm
jso (mail):
You can tell when a leftist is grabbing at straws when they oppose slurring terrorists with the label of "islamic fascist" because it does a disservice to terrorist mass murderers or real fascists.

As for Godwins Law thats only supposed to apply to nazis, which I thought were not the same as fascists (according to the argument going on). And the chance of nazis being mentioned in any argument that goes on long enough approaches 1.

Their real problem is that they are sympathetic to terrorists and their causes, for whatever lame reason (root causes and other bunk).
9.11.2006 10:14pm
r4d20 (mail):

What's wrong with "Islamo-fascism"? For starters, it's a terrible historical analogy. Italian Fascism, German Nazism and other European fascist movements of the 1920s and '30s were nationalist and secular, closely allied with international capital and aimed at creating powerful, up-to-date, all-encompassing states.


Second, and more important, "Islamo-fascism" conflates a wide variety of disparate states, movements and organizations as if, like the fascists, they all want similar things and are working together to achieve them. Neocons have called Saddam Hussein and the Baathists of Syria Islamo-fascists, but these relatively secular nationalist tyrants have nothing in common with shadowy, stateless, fundamentalist Al Qaeda—as even Bush now acknowledges—or with the Taliban, who want to return Afghanistan to the seventh century; and the Taliban aren't much like Iran, which is different from (and somewhat less repressive than) Saudi Arabia—whoops, our big ally in the Middle East! Who are the "Islamo-fascists" in Saudi Arabia—the current regime or its religious-fanatical opponents?
9.11.2006 10:16pm
At least he didn't say "X times less likely to die" -- or else we'd have that flamewar to fight all over again, too.
9.12.2006 10:15am
I'm puzzled that so many people just automatically accept the premise that the existential threat to the USA posed by the Axis in 1941 was so obviously greater than that presented by terrorists today. On the contrary, a bit of knowledge of the history of military capabilities indicates just the opposite.

Neither Japan nor Germany had anything remotely near the capability of launching a successful land invasion of the USA in 1941, and all military experts of the time were well aware of it. Recall that Hitler shrank from invading the UK in 1940, despite it being so much closer and smaller than the USA and on the verge of defeat anyway, not to mention the fact that he could have thrown almost the entire Wehrmacht at his objective since he was not yet engaged in Russia. Hitler decided that such an invasion was impracticable -- and rightly so. Based on what is known of the military capabilities of the era, there is little doubt that such an invasion would have been an ignominious failure. Launching an invasion of enemy territory over a sea route is incredibly difficult today, and was even more so in 1941.

If Hitler was unable to conquer the Soviet Union, a territory roughly similar in size to the United States, to which his large armies had direct land access, then how could anyone think he ever had a chance of successfully invading the USA over the sea? Look at the colossal effort it took for the Allies to launch the Normandy invasion, despite the fact that the Germans had practically no navy or air force left worth mentioning by that time.

For practical purposes, the Axis powers in 1941 had no means at all of directly attacking the US mainland, let alone being an "existential threat". One could have speculated that Germany would eventually develop the means to launch long-range bomber or rocket attacks, but even those would have been fairly insignificant pinpricks (and as it turned out, weapons with such range capabilities were not available to anyone until well after WWII -- pretty much the 50's).

Back in 1941, no one except for a group of elite physicists could have conceived of a weapon that fit in a ship cargo container and could level a whole city. I think I'd much rather face the existential threat presented by the 1941 Axis powers than the potential use of biological or nuclear weapons by terrorists today.
9.12.2006 11:09am