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Plain Speaking
January/February 2016

November 14, 2015: The Eiffel Tower turns its lights out in memoriam to the victims of the terrorist attacks the night before (©Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The most striking thing about that speech — the one given by Hilary Benn in the Commons Syria debate on December 2 — was not that it gave dozens of Labour MPs the courage to rebel against the party line laid down by Jeremy Corbyn, nor that it catapulted this hitherto most shadowy of shadow Foreign Secretaries into the role of Labour leader-in-waiting. It was not even the reminder that great oratory still matters in politics — especially when it comes from an unexpected quarter, the orator in this case having been accustomed all his life to belittling comparisons with his father, Tony Benn. No, it was the revelation that words with a strong moral charge (“fascist” and “evil”), when applied to Islamic State, still have the power to shock, just as the appeal to a sense of duty (“time for us to do our bit”) can still inspire.

In his peroration, which was specifically addressed to his own party, seated behind him, Mr Benn used the f-word twice: “And we are here faced by fascists. Not just their calculated brutality, but their belief that they are superior to every single one of us in this chamber tonight, and all of the people that we represent. They hold us in contempt. They hold our values in contempt. They hold our belief in tolerance and decency in contempt. They hold our democracy, the means by which we will make our decision tonight, in contempt. And what we know about fascists is that they need to be defeated.” He then reminded his colleagues of their forebears’ resistance to Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. (Never mind that from 1931 to 1935 Labour was led by the pacifist George Lansbury and the party voted against conscription as late as April 1939, four months before war broke out.) Mr Benn ended with a straightforward moral choice, cast in a very British idiom: “And my view, Mr Speaker, is that we must now confront this evil. It is now time for us to do our bit in Syria.”

Churchill himself could not have put it better. It was refreshing to see and hear the electric effect that such old-fashioned language can still have. If we are to defeat the enemies of Western civilisation, we have to find the right words and ideas. When George W. Bush used the terms “Islamofascism” and “Islamic fascists” in 2006, he provoked protests from American Muslim organisations. No Western politician has used them since. But the ideology of jihadist organisations such as Islamic State has a great deal in common with fascism — not least its implacable hostility to the West. Historians have even found direct historical connections between the Nazis and the rise of Islamism. And so when Hilary Benn called the IS butchers “fascists” and their ideology “evil”, he struck a chord.

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Odysseus
January 14th, 2016
3:01 PM
I find the comparison with Soviet Russia to be more apt, if less used. At least Fascism didn't make pretenses towards peace and altruism, while it (arguably, if conversely) could have existed without an external war. Not so the Soviets - or Middle-East Islamists - with their respective 'front-lines of peace'. Meanwhile, their ambition for total intellectual control denies them the ability to innovate anything more than a locust-like approach to resources. The reports of shortage and hardship inside the Caliphate remind me of similar reports from the USSR (while I am sure the landscape is starting to look a lot like Central Asia c.1983). Ironically - and thankfully - this denies them both the very durability and control they crave, just as it did the Ottomans. By contrast, Fascism's embrace of private ownership and enterprise could potentially have allowed it to stabilize outside of a war footing. Both intellectually and economically, neither Soviet Communism nor Territorial Islamism can do that. Of course, Fascism and Islamism share their genocidal intent towards the Jews (taken together, still the original and only really accurate use of the word) but that would be a syllogistic comparison. As a dog whistle to get the Labour Party engaged against ISIS, 'Fascism' is of course a far more expedient comparison - as indeed it is with the wider media, given the wistfulness with which many parts of it still seem to regard State Socialism. So I nonetheless wish the phrase Islamo-Fascism well outside the rarefied environment of the Standpoint Comments Section. (This issue of Standpoint also excellent for bringing to light that the phrase 'Islamophobia' was invented by none other than that cheery pluralist, Ayatollah Khomeni).

amcdonald
December 27th, 2015
2:12 PM
Very true. But Zizek calls all the political language of the last 50 years `Tartling`. The 20 th century is over. The only country actually in the 21st century is Uruguay. Corbyn and Cameron, the Pope and Queen are unable to announce that the beacon of light in the darkness has been voted into existence by the people of Uruguay. Standpoint should publish an article on it . Straight talking in a bent world - Islam and western civilisation (and China and Russia) have everything to learn from Uruguay. The `Uruguayificaton` of the planet is the full answer not endless political/religious tartling and bombs.If Isis believe they are superior it is because they are actually inferior (and they know it). The retro-quotation of Churchill etc by Mr Benn is not a full answer. Churchill would have said something better today. Islamic State (at home and abroad) needs to be wiped out for sure. 21st century methods and thinking are now necessary. The humble house of the President of Uruguay is not a posh enough photo-call for Cameron (or Prince Charles) and those he likes to be seen with ?

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