Nov 10, 2007

Islamism is not Fascism: A Critique of the Three Way Fight

Published on: October 30, 2007
Author's note: The following article is from Issue #5 of the journal Upping the Anti. Please help support this "Journal of Theory and Action" by ordering hard copies and a subscription at

from the article:
At the moment, imperialism poses a much greater danger to humanity than fascism. And Islamists - not the left - are the main force resisting it in Western Asia, where it is most brazen and barbaric. This does not mean that the American left can't criticize Islamism and Islamists, but to do so by mechanically applying a "theory" derived mostly from white anti-racist work in North America to the Middle East on the basis of little knowledge of the history, politics, and social movements of the region is highly problematic. The result is a reliance on generalizations, a lack of concrete examples (historical, current, or even personal experiences) and, therefore, little context - all of which contribute to racism and Islamophobia. This is not to say that Lyons, Staudenmaier, and others who subscribe to the TWF are racist. But their lack of, to use Staudenmaier's phrase, "a sophisticated and dynamic political analysis" of issues related to Arabs and Muslims does nothing to fight racism and may even contribute to it.


Anonymous said...

The following text is attached to the end of my exchange with Rami El-Amine in Upping the Anti-:

Some Brief Clarifications
Michael Staudenmaier
September 23, 2007

I am happy that Upping the Anti- chose to publish the text of my talk, and I am encouraged that Rami El-Amine chose to continue the discussion in the form of a written response. At the same time, I am disappointed with a handful of misrepresentations in El-Amine’s piece.

El-Amine repeatedly implies that the three way fight analysis equates Islamism and fascism. He describes in some detail the many points of divergence among various Islamist movements, and criticizes me for my supposed ignorance of this diversity. The problem here is not only that I argued (following Matthew Lyon’s lead) that Hezbollah in particular is not fascist, but also that El-Amine selectively quotes my talk. He leaves out an important sentence: “Other [versions of Islamic fundamentalism], it is important to note, represent competing factions of global capitalism; Iran’s ongoing friendship with Russia and China serves as an example of this alternative.” El-Amine knows the details here far better than I do, but we agree that Islamist movements are diverse. We disagree about the proper response to these varied movements, but no one is arguing that “Islamists are fascists.”

Nonetheless, El-Amine seems convinced that I have made fascism the end-all and be-all of my analysis. This is somewhat ironic, given my introductory remark that “at its core, the three way fight is a critique of authoritarianism as much as it is a response to fascism.” Regardless, in El-Amine’s view my focus on fascism “prevents [me] from seeing how someone could be conscious of and opposed to anti-Semitism and still be a racist.” The reality of both my analysis and my personal experience is quite different. For example, those of us who have been involved in anti-fascist organizing in Chicago, a city with sizeable Jewish and Palestinian populations, have repeatedly been forced to deal with militants from the Jewish Defense League, whose hatred of neo-Nazis is only slightly more intense than their prejudicial response to Palestinian struggles.

Finally, El-Amine criticizes me for applying the three way fight analysis “mechanically” to the Middle East, and for doing so with a lack of knowledge. But the three way fight is not a dogmatic theory, it is a developing line of inquiry. As for my ignorance, I have consistently acknowledged that these topics are not in my area of expertise. For precisely these reasons it should be clear that there is no mechanical application here, but rather an open and questioning approach to a set of difficult and important issues. With that in mind, I look forward to further discussions of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and the three way fight, in this venue and others.

truggle45 said...

Yes, it is exactly this dangerous tendency to view Islam as a monolith and to grind the worlds complexity down until you can lable everything and one either "us" or "them" that we mock on our site........

Matthew N Lyons said...

Since there are now two Matthews writing posts or comments on Three Way Fight, I'm going to start using my full name. I'm not connected with tshirtinsurgency and didn't write the previous comment on this thread.