Why the west uses this silly term, Islamism?
Many people in the west are not aware that words like; Islamist and Islamism appeared in academic and public debates in France in Eighties and were used by the French sociologists i.e. Professor Olivier Roy, Professor Gilles Kepel, Professor Gilles Dorronsoro. For them, Islamism didn’t refer to just anyone who viewed the world through the lenses of “Islam”, but rather it referred to a very specific group within that who had a specific ideology and sociological profile.
After 9-11 though, the American media lumped all Muslim movements together calling them Islamists. The Neo-Con movement in USA and to some extent also the anti-Islam lobby in Europe started using the term Islamist, for anyone in the Muslim world who opposed or rejected Western lifestyle, political narratives, New World Order, repeated interferences in the internal affairs of Muslim majority nations and the so-called; War on Terror. The connotation behind the word was, that Islamists were violent, anti-West and who wanted to wage Jihad against the Christian West. So much so that the word started taking its own dynamic and even the many liberals and secularists among Muslim communities started using it, just to be on the “right side” or in some cases to be accepted by the Western audiences.
Now the word Islamist is being commonly used – right from terrorist outfits like Al-Qaeda, Taliban, and Bako Haram to democratically elected President Erdogan of Turkey, former deposed President of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi and Pakistani politician, Imran Khan. Even internationally respected scholars of Islam, like Professor Tariq Ramadan, Professor Reza Aslan and theologians like Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri who wrote 600 pages Fatwa against terrorism and Yusuf-al-Qaradawi, chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars have not been spared.
The question arises: Why is it, that words like Fundamentalist, Islamist, Islamo-fascism and all other derogatory phrases are coined by some academics/lobbyists in the West and that too, for demonization of Muslims. Everyone knows that any word added in front or behind the word Islam, automatically takes a special meaning, which usually presents the religion of Islam as extremist, dangerous and unacceptable to live with.
The interesting aspect of this narrative is, that one cannot mention one scholar, journalist, politician or NGO in the Muslim world that has known, much less used this term, prior to its invention in France and propagation by the USA through Western media and politicians. Why it is that West labels people and movements in the Islamic world with impunity and does not use similar for Christians, Jews and even Hindus? Has anyone heard the word; Christianist for Bush, Blair and Trump for their hawkish ideological stand point or Jewist to describe Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian lands or Bernard-Henri Lévy, the French Intellectual for advocating war against Libya or Hinduist, while writing of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra ModI’s massacres of innocent Muslims in Gujrat-India or call Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar, a Buddhist murderer for her deafening silence about Rohingya Muslim communities.
That is my point.
One can give whatever pseudo-intellectual reason to justify the use of derogatory term for Muslims and Islam, the fact remains that many, if not all decision makers in the West, have been and still are, anti-Islam and would do everything in their power to malign and demonize a religion, which the Christian Europe has always felt uncomfortable with. This anti-Islam narrative started with the 8th century Arab domination of Spain, Portugal and part of France and later peaked during crusading campaigns. This mindset continued up to Ottoman Empire’s demise in 20th century and has surfaced again with migration from Muslim countries in late fifties and sixties. There is no denying that religious revivalist movements in some Muslim countries have been described in the West, first as Fundamentalist and since 1986, as Islamist and now as Jihadist.
There is ample proof in the history books and anyone who rejects the legitimacy of this argument, has his/her eyes hermetically closed to the reality or even worst, is acting like an ostrich, with head buried deep in the sand.
In this modern age of information, if a zealot person claiming to represent Islam says, that kidnapping, suicide bombing, or terrorism is permitted in Islam, such statements by irrational and insignificant persons or movements are taken on face value and accepted as the truth. On top of this, such irresponsible person is described as representative of the entire faith. But if the same person starts talking about Western cultural arrogance, hypocrisy in foreign policy, using double standards by preaching human rights in the Muslim world while at the same time, siding with friendly dictators and despots, resources exploitations, committing state terrorism by drone killings and unending military interferences in the Islamic world, he/she is quickly labelled as Islamist, militant, a danger to peace and a Muslim Jihadi terrorist.
Why such mind-set has evolved?
It can be safely stated that Islam is considered as a danger in the West and the best way to counter this perceived threat is to produce an atmosphere of fear. To do that, one needs appropriate terminologies that can be sold easily to predominant ignorant populace. Ordinary people have no chance to check or verify such terminologies, thus they end up accepting the statements of the politicians and description in the media. Behind the development of this present-day discourse, lies historical prejudices, cultural arrogance, ethnic discrimination, religious rivalry, colonial hangover and last but not least, Islamophobia.
That is why, it is paramount that we in the West – Muslims, Christians and other members of faith comunities – do away with the whole concept of one way blame game and start focusing on the mutual interests, inter-faith foundation and universal values.
Let me illustrate this blame game with a counter narrative.
We all know, how Islam is presented, as inherently violent and uncompromising faith but there is no effort to compare such picture to, what Christian Church has been doing.
In 13th Century, Christian crusading army on its way to Jerusalem entered the Rhone Valley to attack the heretics of Southern France who did not subjugate to Papal orders of Pope Arnaud Amaary. Before the battle of Beziers on 1st July 1209, the Crusaders asked the Pope as to who should be killed and who should be spared. The Pope replies; Kill them all. God will recognise his own servants”.
Does that mean that Christianity is inherently violent and cruel?
Of course, not, but some of its followers – past and present – are violent, terrorists and killers as are the followers of Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and every religion on the planet.
As a non-religious person, I would argue that we have to come to terms with the fact that religious parties are an integral part of Muslim politics and societies and they are not going away. Since the late 20th century religiously oriented candidates and political parties in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Bahrain, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia have opted for reform through ballots, not bullets. They have successfully contested and won municipal and parliamentary seats, held cabinet positions, and served in senior positions such as prime minister of Turkey and Iraq and president of Indonesia. Elections since late 2001 in Pakistan, Turkey, Bahrain, and Morocco as well as in Palestine, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt have reinforced the continued saliency of Islam in the politics in the 21st century.
A critical challenge today, is to distinguish between mainstream and extremists’ and secular and religious groups, and to work with democratically-elected religious parties and not label them as Islamist, meaning extremist, non-co-operative and with anti-Western values. America and European governments that advocate self-determination and democracy need to demonstrate by their statements, policies and actions that they respect the right of any and all movements and political parties, religious as well as secular, to participate in the political process.
That is where our future would be tested.
( Note; Photos in this post are some of the personalities that are called Islamist – right from terrorists to democratically elected head of states)