Clerical Fascism & Totalitarianism

Chip Berlet cberlet at
Tue Oct 16 18:59:16 PDT 2001


Setting aside the annoying supercilious arrogance of this post, the answer to the question is not that difficult since the person being interviewed answers it. I have used this interview as an example of the difference between integralism and fundamentalism.

Integralism is often used to describe totalitarian nationalism or other forms of totalitarianism, often a form of organicist fascist nationalism. ie Nation=Race=Culture=Religion=State.



The drafters of the Indonesian Constitution believed that integralism that treated the state as "an integral arrangement of the society, where every region, every group, and every member of society is interrelated with all the others in the organic whole as the most appropriate for the Indonesian context."

Let's start with the most obvious answer to the question:

> NPQ: Am I to conclude that you foresee an Islamic Algeria?
> BEN BELLA: Yes, Islamic, but under the sign of the choura, or consultation
> of the population commonly known as democracy.

Both fascists and totalitarians denounce democracy, Ben Bella embraces it within a religious tradition. So he is neither a fascist or a totalitarian. He is essentially calling for a state-sanctioned religion with democratic participation. One can call it exclusivist, but not much more. His is a liberation struggle.

Furthermore, Ben Bella uses the term fundamentalism in a different way than many analysts such as Karen Armstrong and the Chicago Fundamentalisms project.

The Battle For God by Karen Armstrong

Chicago Fundamentalism Project

What Ben Bella is talking about is orthodoxy or devout Islamic belief being restored, as in a revitalization movement. Not necessarily fundamentalist in the current scholarly use of the term.

Anthropologist Anthony F.C. Wallace calls revitalization movements "a deliberate, organized, conscious effort by members of a society to construct a more satisfying culture."

See: ements.htm

Stop with the trick questions.

-Chip Berlet

----- Original Message ----- From: "Charles Jannuzi" <jannuzi at> To: <lbo-talk at>; <lbo-talk-digest at> Sent: Tuesday, October 16, 2001 9:32 PM Subject: Re: Clerical Fascism & Totalitarianism

> In the grad school seminar, one of the most 'sophomoric' things to do is to
> say, 'Define your terms.' (they were so defined in the freshman
> textbooks).The other 'sophomoric' thing to do is to attack a coherent
> argument where it is weakest, rather than where it is strongest (have to
> agree with Wittgenstein about this one, perhaps one of the few things
> philosophers could teach other academic disciplines and those who discuss
> current events).
> First, about totalitarianism. I have to agree that this term, too, is
> over-used. In fact, it's almost reflexive. Leftists popularly said 'FASCIST'
> and rightists (and sovietologists who did not predict the mostly
> unapocalyptic break up of their topic) popularly replied 'TOTALITARIAN'.
> However, if sociologists (especially those with anthropological aspirations
> to thick description and stable nomenclature of socio-cultural phenomena)
> lay claim to 'clerical fascism' as professional jargon, then perhaps they
> can put their terminology and its 'explanatory efficacy' to test (remember
> Voltaire complaining about the explanation that a 'sleeping agent' had
> 'innate soporific qualities').
> Based on what he says, is this guy a 'clerical fascist'? Does it explain him
> or explain him away? In 400 words or less, explain your answer. Avoid the
> sophomoric traps. Show your explanatory efficacy to an unconverted audience.
> Charles Jannuzi
> Interview of Ahmed Ben Bella follows:
> Islam Is the Only Road to Salvation
> Ahmed Ben Bella is one of the last historic leaders of third world
> independence movements. Ben Bella was both prime minister and then president
> of Algeria from 1962 to 1965. After a coup in 1965, he was arrested an
> imprisoned until 1982. He was awarded the Lenin peace prize in 1964. Since
> 1982, he has been chairman of the London-based International Islamic
> Committee for Human Rights and has re-emerged as a key figure in brokering a
> peace agreement between opposition and the Algerian government through the
> so-called "Roman Platform," an accord signed on January 13 in Rome which
> united the eight Algerian opposition parties on a program to end three years
> of civil war. Ben Bella was interviewed for NPQ in Rome by Igor Man of the
> Italian newspaper La Stampa. Man first met Ben Bella in Algeria in 1963.
> NPQ: Do you think you will return to Algeria?
> AHMED BEN BELLA: Of course. And if God is willing, quite soon. Algeria is
> not breaking up. It is obvious that taking the country from a state of war
> to being a lawful state won't be easy. But peace isn't elusive. I'm
> optimistic because I'm pragmatic: Neither of the two sides, the military
> government nor the Islamic front, is capable of winning. If they continue to
> fight, they will both bleed to death. Peace does not include a vendetta;
> there will be neither winners nor losers. The army remains the main axis of
> power, the historical memory of the release from colonialism. Islam is the
> road to salvation. The only road.
> NPQ: Am I to conclude that you foresee an Islamic Algeria?
> BEN BELLA: Yes, Islamic, but under the sign of the choura, or consultation
> of the population commonly known as democracy.
> NPQ: Yet the examples we see so far of rule by sharia, or Islamic law, are
> anything but commendable. It is hard to imagine an Algeria that is basically
> non-religious and culturally modern forcing people to wear long skirts or
> beards, with women kept behind closed doors, amputating the hands of thieves
> and banning satellite dishes. Does Algeria really want to step back into the
> Middle Ages?
> BEN BELLA: In the West there is a tendency to confuse fundamentalism with
> integralism. Fundamentalism means, semantically, the recovery of the
> cultural foundations of Islam. Integralism is pure totalitarianism,
> ideological and political. Of course, many Islamists stop at the surface;
> they don't go deeper. While it is necessary to look our contemporary society
> in the face, the real problems aren't the use of the veil or the banning of
> satellite dishes, but the corruption, the lack of housing, the blindness of
> the bureaucracy. Our liberation must be cultural. Everything is contained in
> the Koran, but it is necessary to know where to look, reading it carefully,
> serenely, faithfully and intelligently.
> The recovery of our culture is fundamental. It also forces us to review our
> lexicon, in the philosophical sense. For example, we always have talked
> about "development" or about "national savings" and "gross national
> product." But real development is that which places man at its center. It is
> poetry, literature, music and prayer. What is the growth of the GNP worth if
> it neglects man and his spirit? To neglect man is to offend God.
> NPQ: When did you have this cultural revelation, this meeting with the
> Koran?
> BEN BELLA: I've always lived as a good Muslim. But I barely knew French and
> I couldn't read Arabic when I was young, so I couldn't read the Koran. Yet
> as a child, I remember that I woke up at four o'clock every morning to the
> call of prayer. All of my young life was filled with sacred chants, with the
> unique music of the verses of the Koran that my mother recited by heart,
> having learned them by ear.
> With time and struggle, I was able to learn the language of the Prophet. But
> what you call my "cultural revelation" I owe to treason, to 18 years of
> imprisonment following the coup in 1965. The authorities moved me from
> prison to prison, always in silence, never once uttering a word. During the
> fourth transfer, I told them I wouldn't move again, that they could kill me.
> And so I remained in that prison house for 18 years!
> Even one day in prison is too much if you don't respect yourself inside.
> Wrapping me in a cover of obsessive silence, they wanted to drive me mad.
> But I had obtained a copy of the Koran, and reading it, meditating on it,
> day after day, without ever tiring, strengthening myself, I saved myself
> The silence was filled with the Word; it was canceled out with the music of
> the verses of the Koran. So, you see, I am optimistic about the future of my
> country, of the eternal Algeria, not only because I'm pragmatic, but above
> all because I carry within me an enormous amount of lightweight luggage:
> faith.
> NPQ: Don't you worry that integralism will overpower fundamentalism? What
> about the growth within the Muslim world of hatred for the West?
> BEN BELLA: If and when the West understands that the Gulf War has terribly
> wounded the Islamic world in general, but particularly the Arab world, it
> will find the right words with which to communicate with those it has
> humiliated with its fierce imitation of the Crusades. It is not a question
> of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. It is that the West has violently set back
> what was very nearly a post-industrial society - Iraq, which was the pride
> of all Islamic people. You have humiliated and beaten an honest, serious,
> hard-working people. And with the embargo, you have signed the death
> sentences of the weakest: the poor and the children. If you were to think
> about the words of your Pope on this matter, the venerable John Paul II,
> maybe peace would arrive more quickly; not just in Algeria. And, at last,
> there would be a little more order in the world.

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