"Fascism and Its Relation to ISIS"

Andrew Lee
November 2, 2014

ISIS is the latest scare to emerge in western society. They are a terrorist organization that wants to form an Islamic state containing Iraq and Syria. They technically began in 2004, but recently became a threat due to their actions against Iraq.

During June of this year ISIS took over Mosul, one of Iraq's biggest cities. This catapulted them to national infamy. Today, they are growing in size and even recruiting Americans to their cause. What would motivate an American to join such an organization? I believe if we look back at Fascism in the 20th century we can get a glimpse at the kind of mentality that warrants this behavior.

In The Authoritarian Specter, Dr. Rob Altemeyer communicates the psychology behind fascism. I believe in this context, fascism shares a lot of characteristics with ISIS and the Americans that are eager to join it. What Dr. Altemeyer says is that you can derive the classic right wing fascist phenomenon from three things: fear of filth and impurity, fear of change from "ancient tradition," and obsession with unambiguously knowing one's place in any hierarchy.

Brain scientists have even studied the brains of these types of people and found they have an exaggerated emotion reaction of disgust when in contact with something "impure" or "unclean." This is the basis of a lot of the fascist "cleansing" that we see throughout history: mass genocide, bombings, and concentration camps. Whether these cleansings are based on religious, sexual, or ethnic backgrounds, the sentiment is the same.

Now relating this back to ISIS, we see very similar patterns. ISIS wants to "cleanse" the world of people who do not follow their version of Islam. They have even gone as far as to execute those who do not conform.

Looking at the second trait—fear of change from ancient tradition—we can see some similarity as well. ISIS has its own version of Islam that it follows strictly and Islam is certainly an ancient tradition. Dating back almost as far as Christianity, it is a religion that is very traditional.

Let us move on to the last trait of extremists—obsession with unambiguously knowing one's place in any hierarchy. ISIS satisfies this desire by asserting its dominance within the world. ISIS uses fear as their most potent tool to establish superiority. They behead foreign visitors on camera, execute random deserters, and enslave women. They even believe that they will take over parts of Africa, Asia, and Europe over the next five years.

Hopefully the above information has been useful in educating you about the connection that the current state of ISIS has with Fascism and general extremist authoritarianism throughout history. As people like to say, "nothing exists in a vacuum" and I think the above points may provide some context to the apparently cold and psychopathic actions of ISIS today.

Works Consulted

Feldman, Stanley, and Karen Stenner. "Perceived Threat and Authoritarianism." Political Psychology 18.4 (1997): 741-70. Web.

De Grand, Alexander. Italian Fascism: Its Origins and Development. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Altemeyer, Bob. The Authoritarian Specter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1996. Print.

Seal of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.