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 various commentators have mentioned ‘Islamism’ and/or ‘Islamist’:
- A recent article at American Thinker by G. Murphy Donovan is entitled “The Egyptian Revolt and Imperial Islamism” (link)
- “Islamist terror is in fact driven by a vile, totalitarian, hallucinatory ideology – Islamism.” markhumphrys.com (link)
- “…the Islamist enemy … is not some hyper-power capable of inflicting existential””or even grave””harm.” Shikha Dahlia, Reason.com “What Islamist Terrorist Threat?” (link)
All of this discussion of ‘Islamism’ naturally begs the question: what is the difference between it and Islam? Or is there any appreciable difference between the two? Conservative commentators and other online sources typically characterize ‘Islamism’ as a movement, a totalitarian ideology that has ruled or rules certain countries, namely Afghanistan (under the Taliban in the 1990s), or present-day Iran and Sudan. The 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 widely considered as an ‘Islamist’ state. 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 in both countries. 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 ‘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 New York, Washington and Pennsylvania 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’Ãªtre of ‘Islamism’?
Let us not forget 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 Mohammad 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? When modern-day Muslims agitate for the re-creation of a caliphate, an Islamic empire, in our own time, is this Islam or ‘Islamism’? Are there 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 in some substantial way by 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 particularly 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 remake the world into an Islamic kingdom and all religion is for Allah (Quran 8:39). 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 corresponding ‘-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 dictum of Islam, exactly as Islam’s founder intended.