When President Bush recently used the phrase "Islamic fascists," there was much more critical attention paid to the first word than to the second. Yet the reference to fascism was more significant in many respects and arguably more appropriate. The dictatorial theocracies of the Taliban and Ayatollah Khomeini could properly be described as fascist, but so could the secular genocidal dictatorships of Saddam Hussein and Idi Amin.
A few of President Bush's supporters thought he used the word "fascism" to mean what Arabs refer to as anti-Zionism (because Arabs are Semites). Yet not all fascists are racists and not all racists are fascists. Mussolini was not hostile to Jews until October 1938, when it became politically opportunistic to placate Hitler. Italian and Spanish fascists were not members of Quisling's "Nordic race" or Hitler's misnamed "Aryans" (a linguistic group of Indo-Europeans, notably Iranians).
The only thing all fascists had and have in common is not bigotry but statism -- the absolute rejection of individual rights and freedom. As Mussolini put it, "Everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state."
Eugen Weber's 1964 book "Varieties of Fascism" began by noting, "The 19th century had seen the heyday of liberalism, the rise of parliamentary and democratic institutions, the affirmation of private enterprise and individual liberty. The 20th century would be dominated by tendencies -- collectivistic, authoritarian, antiparliamentary and antidemocratic -- which stressed elitism against equality, activism and irrationalism against reason and contract, the organic community against the constitutional society."
Weber's reference to collectivist authoritarian regimes and movements included fascism, but obviously applied as well to communism, which was then powerful in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and Vietnam. The similarities were later made explicit in James A. Gregor's "The Faces of Janus: Marxism and Fascism in the Twentieth Century."
Fascism is a collectivist system in which some megalomaniacal gang leader such as Mussolini, Hitler or "Papa Doc" Duvalier seizes totalitarian political power for life and then uses raw force to steal property and to murder and imprison people at will. Communism, by contrast, is a collectivist system in which some megalomaniacal gang leader like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceausescu or Castro seizes totalitarian political power for life and then uses raw force to steal property and to murder and imprison people at will.