Friday, June 17, 2011

Islam versus Islamism - a distinction without a difference?

By the Anti Jihadist

When reading anything regarding Islam and Islamic terrorism -- something more and more common nowadays -- it doesn't take long to find references to 'Islamism', 'Islamists', and 'radical Islam', especially in the politically conservative side of the blogosphere. Most often, these words are mentioned when observers and pundits speculate as to the motives of the Muslim men (and sometimes women) who carry out, or attempt to carry out, their various terrorist atrocities. This sort of thinking represents a vast improvement over the usual politically correct narrative, namely that (Islamic) terrorism is caused by some combination of poverty, unemployment, so-called 'Islamophobia', US foreign policy, and the like. However, even if we accept the 'Islamism' explanation for Islamic terrorism, we are still short of a full and complete understanding of the motives of those who carry out this evil.

Here are some typical ways of how conservative commentators mention 'Islamism' and/or 'Islamist':

  • A recent article at American Thinker is entitled "The Egyptian Revolt and Imperial Islamism" (link)
  • "Islamist terror is in fact driven by a vile, totalitarian, hallucinatory ideology - Islamism." (link)
  • "Islamism is an ideology that demands man's complete adherence to the sacred law of Islam and rejects as much as possible outside influence..." (Daniel Pipes)
Daniel Pipes' quote comes from his article "Distinguishing between Islam and Islamism" dated June 30, 1998. Pipes characterizes 'Islamism' as a totalitarian ideology that, at the time of the article was written, ruled three countries (Afghanistan, Iran and Sudan).  He further describes 'Islamism' as a "...huge change from traditional Islam."  To support this assertion, Pipes says that 'traditional Islam' is when a person is committed to personally following 'sacred' laws, whereas 'Islamism' is an ideology geographically delineated in certain countries, and all persons in said jurisdictions are compelled, presumably by an organized central authority, to follow such 'sacred laws'. Pipes' implication here is, 'Islamism' is inherently political, whereas 'traditional Islam' is not.

Yet Saudi Arabia, a nation long noted for its strict adherence to Islamic law, a country which proudly proclaims the Quran as its constitution, is not listed as an 'Islamist' state by Mr. Pipes, at least as of his 1998 article. One might ask, are there any appreciable political or religious differences between Saudi Arabia and Sudan? Both are totalitarian states, with Shariah enshrined as the law of the land.  Both feature tyrannical, non-elected governments. Both employ ruthless religious and lifestyle police apparatuses with sweeping and arbitrary powers of arrest, detention, torture and imprisonment. Both have long-standing, atrocious human rights records. Yet one is characterized by Daniel Pipes as 'Islamist', and not the other. But Saudi Arabia, a nominal US ally, was home of most of the 9-11 terror team, a team which struck at the very heart of the 'Great Satan' in both New York and Washington to commit acts of mass murder, a 'victory' hailed by many Muslims and 'Islamists' alike. Isn't this precisely the sort of violent, aggressive act the very raison d'être of 'Islamism'? 

Pipes' own article discusses how Muslims, in the mere span of a single century, and in accordance with the wishes of their prophet, seized control of a sprawling tract of territory from Spain to India. In other words, the followers of Mohammed built an empire, not only an innate political act, but a quintessentially imperialistic enterprise. When the 'righteously guided' caliphs conquered much of the world, and ruled its conquered peoples with a heavy hand, should this be described as 'Islamism' or 'Islam' in action? Are there in fact any appreciable differences between Islam and Islamism? Along similar lines, are there any differences between a Muslim and an 'Islamist', or between a Muslim and a 'radical or fundamental Muslim'? If one posits the evil twin 'Islamism', then one must also posit some sort of non-totalitarian, non-imperialistic 'good' Islam, which hence must be supported somewhere in Islamic scripture.

The Quran itself, the very heart of Islamic ideology, is a document that devotes much of its length to the treatment of Muslims and non Muslims. The Quran says that Muslims are fated to rule the world, and everyone in it. While Jesus of Christianity says, "My Kingdom is not of this world," Muslims are explicitly commanded to do otherwise, to make the world an Islamic kingdom. In other words, the Quran is an inherently political document. Consequently, there is no separation between mosque and state in core Islamic texts. In traditional Islam, dating back to the time of its prophet, the spiritual and the political are one.  

Drawing distinctions between Islam and its '-ism' is a false dichotomy. There is no political Islam, no 'Islamism', no 'Islamists' -- there are only Islam and Muslims. The so-called 'radical', 'fundamentalist' or 'militant' Muslims, the 'Islamists', and indeed the terrorists, are the ones faithfully practicing the dictums of Islam, exactly as Islam's founder intended.

The Anti Jihadist writes for Jihad Watch, FrontPage Magazine, and Infidel Bloggers Alliance.

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