Linguist Geoffrey Nunberg takes a close look at "Islamo-fascism" in an LA Times article:
IT WASN'T THE first time President Bush had described the United States as at war with "Islamic fascists." But coming in his remarks about the arrests of two dozen terror suspects in Britain last week, the phrase signaled that the administration was shopping for new language to defend its policies at a time when the evocations of the "war on terror" don't seem to stem rising doubts about the wisdom of "staying the course" in Iraq.
Hence the appeal of using "Islamo-fascism," as people often call it, which links the current conflict to images from the last "just war": Nazi tanks rolling into Poland and France, spineless collaborators sapping the national will, Winston Churchill glaring defiantly over his cigar, the black ink spreading across the maps of Europe and Asia in Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" newsreels...
But in the mouths of the neocons, "fascist" is just an evocative label for people who are fanatical, intolerant and generally creepy. In fact, that was pretty much what the word stood for among the 1960s radicals, who used it as a one-size-fits-all epithet for the Nixon administration, American capitalism, the police, reserved concert seating and all other varieties of social control that disinclined them to work on Maggie's farm no more.
... Of course, it's the point of symbolic words such as "fascist" to ease the burden of thought — as Walter Lippmann observed, they "assemble emotions after they've been detached from their ideas." And it may be that Americans are particularly vulnerable to using "fascism" sloppily, never having experienced the real thing close up.
But like "terror," and "evil" before it, "Islamic fascism" has the effect of reducing a complex story to a simple fable. It effaces the differences among ex-Baathists, Al Qaeda and Shiite mullahs; Chechens and Kashmiris; Hezbollah, Hamas and British-born Asians allegedly making bombs in a London suburb. Yes, there are millions of people in the Muslim world who wish the U.S. ill, and some of them are pretty creepy about it. But that doesn't mean they're all of a single mind and purpose, or that a blow against any one of them is a blow against the others. As Tolstoy might have put it, every creep is creepy in his own way.
I like that phrase, "assemble emotions after they've been detached from their ideas." It so perfectly captures the whole essence of name-calling.