Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Islamism: What are you talking about?

There is one word that has become increasingly popular in media, political and academic discourse of late – Islamism.

No other words however annoy me as much.The word is redundant. It can mean absolutely anything.

In media and political discourse – Islamism is pretty much synonymous with “bad Muslim” – the evil, extremist, terrorist, ‘fanatic in the attic’ Muslim; more often than not, it is used as a slur.

In more refined quarters, it is used to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood and groups inspired by it, or used as an equivalent to the equally pointless term ‘political Islam’.

The fallacy of Islamism is perhaps best demonstrated by Wikipedia, which hosts no less than nine definitions.

At its mean – a word should convey some shared understanding to allow communication of ideas between people. Islamism does not fulfil this criterion.

If Islamism is the philosophy and ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood, then it needs to be restricted to this and not diluted by refering to a host of other groups with sometimes radically different beliefs than the Brotherhood (for example, Saudi Arabian Salifiyyah are often referred to as Islamist despite stark differences).

If Islamism is to refer to ‘political Islam’ then this should be done with integrity and intellectual honesty. ‘Political Islam’ can not be considered a new movement (as if Islam has made no political claims prior to the twentieth century). Nor can it be restricted to describe only one end of the political spectrum. To be sincere in this definition then, we must also describe British Muslims for Secular Democracy as Islamists.

Finally, if Islamism is to refer to the bogeymen of Islam as it is often in the media and even our Prime Minister, then we must have an honest conversation about what ‘Islamism’ is and what makes it a problem. It is unacceptable to bandy about Islamism as a slur and an insult with no further thought, simply replacing Marxist/Marxism as the new threat to modern society.

Ultimately, I think academia, the media and polity would do better to abandon the word altogether – though I welcome someone to prove me wrong.


  1. "If Islamism is to refer to ‘political Islam’ then this should be done with integrity and intellectual honesty".

    Perhaps an oxymoron to use integrity alongside political islam.

    But i agree with you. I hate redundant words, they are unjust.

  2. Salaam, thank you for the comment.

    Do you mean to say that political Islam has no integrity?