Cliff May

In his speech on the anniversary of the September 11 atrocities, President Bush said the United States is fighting “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century.” OK, but remind me: What ideology are we fighting?

Five years into this war, it remains curiously difficult to answer that question. In his address on Monday, the president did not do so, though at one point he got close, describing the ideology as “totalitarian” – totalitarians being those who favor complete control by a dictator over nations, societies and populations.

The political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union under Stalin were both totalitarian regimes, cut from the same cloth even if the former was perceived as a tyranny of the right and the latter a tyranny of the left.

Bush similarly intended to suggest that whatever differences there may be among Osama bin Ladin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saddam Hussein they, like our totalitarian enemies in the 20th century, share defining attributes, including a vehement hostility toward freedom and democracy.

In recent days, a debate has broken out over whether the ideology with which America is at war should be called “fascist” or, more precisely, “Islamic fascist.”

The original fascist movement was Italian but the term came to cover not just the regimes of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, but also that of the Japanese Militarists who aligned with them to form the Axis Powers.

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) has used the term insistently to suggest that the enemy America confronts today is the ideological heir to the enemy America confronted in World War II -- and is at least as serious a threat. President Bush used the term once last month, setting off a firestorm from self-appointed spokesmen for the Muslim community.

Parvez Ahmed, chairman of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), sent Bush an open letter complaining: "You have on many occasions said Islam is a 'religion of peace.' Today you equated the religion of peace with the ugliness of fascism."

In response, Bahraini journalist Omran Salman noted that Bush had not called all Muslims fascists but rather had singled out those who use religion to justify mass murder.

“What would Ahmed suggest calling people who intend to blow themselves up in commercial airplanes, taking thousands of innocent lives with them?” Salman asked. “Flying angels?”

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.