When President Bush writes his own speeches, they use words like fascist.
Not a great idea for presidents to use the language imprecisely. Too
much of the world out there watching. Probably ill-advised to do so,
but still in all, they’re out there paying attention.
And so it is, President George W. Bush found himself at the end of a
tether, looking forlorn and certainly diminished by the scale of
airport upon which he stood, using a hot-button word–fascist.
Ill-advisedly, one might add, but then there was no advice.
He was reported to be off the linguistic leash (not a comfortable place
for George) and to have written his brief message to America himself.
So, the President of the United States reintroduced us to fascism.
Yep, right out there in the sun, squinting into the glare and
addressing his ‘fellow citizens,’ the unedited man made himself and his
notions of the world just a little more plain. Plain-spoken presidents
are rare. Harry Truman was one, Ronald Reagan another, but to
paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen, I knew Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan and Mr. Bush, you are neither.
Which is why there are presidential speechwriters. Which is why the
departed Michael Gerson is so sorely missed among administrative
operatives. Gerson could turn a phrase without distorting and insulting
the faith of the world’s 1.3 billion already touchy Muslims.
George unplugged (from his wordsmiths) is an interesting phenomenon.
Fascist is also a particularly problematic word for a sitting
president who has been criticized for a dictatorial approach to his own
(and other) democratic institutions. A dicey choice for a man accused
of repressing opposition. A singularly odd framing for a leader who’s
grip on office depends upon unquestioning and fear-based nationalism.
The dictionary, a tome that may not be easily found on Air Force One, defines Fascism as
dictatorial government of Mussolini: a system of government practiced
by Benito Mussolini in Italy between 1922 and 1943 that was
characterized by dictatorship, centralized control of private enterprise, repression of opposition, and extreme nationalism (italics mine) [Early 20th century. From Italian fascismo, from fascio, (see FASCIST).]
According to the transcript, Mr. Bush’s exact words were
recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a
stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who
will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our
Characterizing an enemy in terms that fit the politics and circumstances of the moment is also a distinction of fascism. It was a mercifully short speech, 277 words that only used ‘fascists’ once, and yet it was the word heard ‘round the world.
From Radio Free Europe in Prague,
The Islamabad-based newspaper “Ausaf” writes today that the words are an “insult to the religion” of Islam. The high-circulation Urdu-language daily added that “at
a time when Washington gives full support to Israel in its fight
against Lebanon, such words only harm the United States’ reputation in
the Islamic world — a reputation that is already decreasing day by
Again, according to RFE, Muslim groups in the United States have been equally critical.
believe this is an ill-advised term, and we believe that it is
counterproductive to associate Islam or Muslims with fascism,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations advocacy group.
reports that Juan Cole, a professor of modern Middle East and South
Asian history at the University of Michigan, calls it (fascism)
offensive and a far-too-broad confusion of religion and politics.
is a sacred term to 1.3 billion people in the world. It enshrines their
highest ideals. To combine it with the word ‘fascist’ in one phrase is
a desecration and a form of hate speech.”
The president ended his airport speech with
American people need to know we live in a dangerous world, but our
government will do everything we can to protect our people from those
Everything, apparently, except inflaming an already volatile rhetoric with hate speech. Were ‘Fascists’ to
find itself scrawled across mosques and spray-painted on walls in
predominantly Muslim-American neighborhoods, what could it be called
but hate speech?
And with that, Mr. Bush turned his back on a quarter of the world’s population, one one-hundredth of one percent of which is violently anti-American, and walked away. The other 99.99% of the Muslim world will be left to draw their own conclusions.
Additional opinions about President Bush’s choice of words can be found at: