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Dr. Paul's Malpractice

By Tom Bevan

In the spin room after the Republican debate on Tuesday evening in Dearborn, Mich., a reporter from the Arab-American News asked Ron Paul what he thought of the term "Islamic fascism."

"It's a false term to make people think we're fighting Hitler," Paul responded. "It's war propaganda designed to generate fear so that the war has to be spread."

Now, when Paul asserts that the war in Iraq is a mistake that is bankrupting America, he's making a serious argument which current polls suggest a majority of Americans agree with -- though not most Republicans. When he says 9/11 was the result of "blowback" from decades of U.S. foreign policy abroad, he's on somewhat more precarious ground, but at least there is still some shred of intellectual basis for his view -- albeit a Chomskyite one.

But when Paul says that the term "Islamic fascism" (or, for the purpose of discussion, its synonymous twin, "Islamofascism") is propaganda designed to spread war, he's veered off into the sort of paranoid fringe kookiness that keeps his campaign relegated to a side-show novelty act.

The term "Islamic fascism" was popularized, though not coined, by Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in the aftermath of September 11 that the attacks represented "fascism with an Islamic face" - which was itself a play off of previous variations of the same phrase. Long known for his Marxist beliefs, Hitchens, who supported the invasion of Iraq, has since fallen out of favor with the left. But that hardly makes him a propagandist who uses the term with the intent of "generating fear" and trying to spread war.

Indeed, as William Safire pointed out last year, since 9/11 the Bush administration has gone out of its way to find a label for the threat behind the attacks that is both accurate and politically correct:

"For instance, Bush has been sensitive from the first days after 9/11 to the wrong of tarring the vast majority of Muslims with guilt-by-association rhetoric. In straining to be fair, however, he set out a few suggested labels but declined to choose: 'Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; still others, Islamofascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam.'"

Paul often describes the perpetrators of September 11 -- as he did again at Tuesday's debate -- as "19 thugs" with box cutters. But if people who use the term "Islamofascism" are guilty of overhyping and propagandizing the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalists, surely with this description Paul is guilty of the opposite.

Paul subscribes to the view that religious fundamentalism is not the driving force behind Islamic terrorism and that if we simply remove all of our troops from Muslim parts of the world, attacks against America and the West will cease. That's not a totally illegitimate argument. Contrary to his position on Iraq, however, it is a deeply minority one.

In truth, many people across the political spectrum believe a strain of Islamic fundamentalism inimical to Western values is a driving force behind terrorist attacks -- from the bombs in Bali to the knife sticking out of Theo Van Gogh's chest - and it represents a threat that cannot be appeased. And, as Safire concluded in his October 2006 "On Language" column, the term "Islamofascism" does in fact effectively define those "who profess a religious mission while embracing totalitarian methods and helps separate them from devout Muslims who want no part of terrorist means."

That is not war propaganda. It is simply using language to define an enemy that represents a very real threat to the United States.

For Paul to ridicule the term "Islamofascist" as propaganda and to insinuate that anyone who uses it is a warmonger seeking to spread conflict in the Middle East shows how wildly out of touch he is with the vast majority of the American public. More to the point, Paul's willingness to so severely downplay the threat posed to America by Islamic fundamentalists calls into question his fitness to fulfill the constitutional duty of the Commander in Chief to protect the country from all threats, foreign and domestic.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com

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