Rhetoric aside, ultra right conservatives and Islamists have much in common in terms of how they perceive the world and form their beliefs. In fact, it is not differences in values, as they claim, that make them such enemies, but rather their similar belief structures. Both sides fail to comprehend the complexities of the world and instead tend towards dogmatic categorizations. The differences they have are simply due to the societal peculiarities specific to the geographical regions in which they arose.
Beneath the polarized extremism of their respective discourses, there are similar modes of “reasoning” at work. Superficially different beliefs need not be the result of different modes of reasoning; the content of beliefs often vary depending on specific geographical and historical contexts while still being grounded in the same mode of reasoning. Person A might believe in a paradise crossed by rivers of wine, for instance, whereas person B might believe that a river of crystal clear water runs through paradise. The irrational justification common to both beliefs suggests a similar mode of reasoning.
A closer look at how ultraconservatism and Islamism function as ideologies will further elucidate this point.
- Othering as demonizing: both sides operate on the basis of demonizing large parts of the planet’s population according to extremely oversimplified, ahistorical visions of a world divided fundamentally between good and evil. The collective bases of these divisions, whether they be actual or imagined, cannot account for the personal beliefs of the affected individuals. Thinking in terms of such de-individualizing and homogenizing categories ultimately aims at denying the Other their personhood as a first step towards legitimizing their elimination.
- The Other as a threat: the fascist mentality can only feel secure in a world of absolute sameness, and thus every perceived difference is viewed as a threat. Both ultraconservatives and Islamists seek to establish a community of brotherhood based on “purity”, i.e. free of differences of any kind, ranging from political views to sexuality.
- The fascist need for an enemy: both Islamists and ultraconservatives existentially need an enemy, and if there is none, they will create one. Fascism is carnivalesque and as such it thrives in circumstances of insecurity and fear elicited by an enemy. The image of the enemy is something fascists rally around, and hatred for that image is the glue that best solidifies the bond of the fascist inner-circle. In this sense, Islamists and ultraconservatives are essentially in need of each other. It is in each side’s interest to exaggerate the power of the other, and that is exactly what they do. To Islamists the entire world is waging war against the so-called Islamic nation, and to ultraconservatives the more than a billion people classified as Muslims pose an imminent threat to the West.
- Cult of violence: the fascist pattern normally includes violence for the purpose of eliminating the evil, threatening enemy. Islamists cherish war as the ultimate solution to “cleanse” the world of their enemies, who are also “enemies of God”. Likewise, the most favored solutions put forward by ultraconservatives to protect the West are military action or other forms of violence.
- A sense of self-entitlement to lead: the assumption that people’s values are decaying and the ensuing sense of responsibility to undertake the metaphysical task of correcting the course of history is clearly something both Islamists and ultraconservatives have in common. In order to justify their presumed right to lead, both have what seems to be a metaphysical image of the people qua the nation. Their opponents are therefore in some way or another part of a conspiracy against “the nation”.
It would be a grave mistake to overlook these fundamental similarities and to instead buy into the pseudo-duality of Islamism-ultraconservatism. They are not reactions to each other, but rather one and the same phenomenon. For this reason, it is crucially important that we do not allow the rise of one to in any way excuse the other.
Our response to Islamism must avoid directly or indirectly justifying the rise of ultraconservatism. No matter how many more atrocities Islamism commits, the racist categorization of people is categorically wrong, not only ethically but also logically. Trump’s demonizing, fear-mongering rhetoric should be seen for what it is: the product of fascist modes of reasoning.
By the same token, Trump’s rise should not make critics of Islam tone down their unconditional rejection of Islamic law. The racist hatred spread by ultraconservatives based on groups of people’s place of birth or appearance in no way changes the fact that Islamists are committing genocide on a daily basis. A critical mode of reasoning must reject all forms of fascism, whatever the circumstances.