Sunday, 12 May 2013

On Islam and Islamism: The Essential Difference

US journalist, writing in The Guardian, about the way Islam is regarded as an inherently violent religion has written
( Maher )..has become one of the most vocal and extreme advocates of the view that - while he religion generally should be criticized - Islam is a uniquely threatening and destructive force and that Muslims are uniquely oppressive and violent, and that mentality has infected many of his policy views.
The problem is with conflating Islam as a religion with Islamism which is a political doctrine. Even then Islamism is not one monolithic ideology because , in reality, there are numerous forms of Islamisms. Some are relatively moderate, as in Turkey and some violent and militantly jihadist as with Al Qaida.

Mr Greenwald himself doesn't seem to make such distinctions because he tends to think that US foreign policy alone is responsible for 'causing' violent jihadist terror threats to the USA and rationalises jihadist violence as a mere 'response' to that foreign policy.

This is not to state that US foreign policy has not exacerbated the recruitment basis for anti-Western terrorism. Yet it is a convenient myth, shared by Utopian thinkers such as Chomsky, that if only the US changed its foreign policy, then the terrorist threat would merely not exist or have come into being.

The reason for this, paradoxically, lies in the assumption shared by neoconservatives that the world could be remade anew if democracy activists had their way. For the Chomsky brigade, the difference is that If 'we' changed our foreign policy entirely, then the threat would go away.

Such parochial perspectives tend to ignore the fact that the USA being dragged into foreign wars is precisely less due to imperialism but because the USA's high octane consumer economy and it's democratic capitalist system is legitimised by maintaining that oil fuelled lifestyle.

The next problem is that the word 'Islamophobia' conflates critism of Islamisms with Islam, and by extension, Muslims. Anti-Muslim sentiments exist and should be better called Anti-Muslim hatred which is not as catchy as 'Islamophobia' but gets at what is really being described.

Words matter as George Orwell knew in Politics and the English Language. Othwerwise, mutual misunderstandings and poisoned debates on both sides of this supposed 'civilisational' conflict averted. Greenwald completely ignores these nuances while basing his whole critique on the nature of public discourse.

Islam is a global religion and many forms are benign and peaceful such as that practiced by those in the Sufi Islam tradition as Malise Ruthven points out in his Islam: An Introduction. The current tensions are not 'civilisational' but about politics, in particular geopolitical issues in the Middle East.

If Western commentators could learn more about Islam and various Islamist political ideas and differentiate them from more militant and violent Islamist ideologies and form of Islam such as Salafi and Wahhabi Islam a lot of misunderstandings could be diminished.

Islam is not responsible for wars in the Middle East that are caused by political factors that stand in need of careful and pragmatic policies that are designed to lesson conflict. As in the Israel-Palestine conflict, fundamentalist dogmas, as Ruthven suggests in A Fury for God, only 'up the ante'.

There are dangers in using Islamism because it connects a religion which is often just that with militant political doctrines that, ironically, are based on taking the revolutionary ideas of European origin and blending them with an Islamic gloss.

Violence committed in the name of Islam has to called something as it exists. Salafism could be called just that. Salafi terrorism or Al Qaida terrorism. But during the Lebanese Civil War, the Phalange were referred to a Christian militias.

Should Christian fundamentalists commit atrocities, then they should be referred to as Christian fundamentalist terrorists as opposed to merely Christians or some stupid term such as' Christianofascism just  as in 'Islamofascism'.

That would not by implication impugn all Christians. It would just point to the fact that fanatics using religion as a pretext to murder will do so. Other nad terms include 'militant Islam' , as if only strong believers in Islam want to murder ( as if it were the essence of the religion ).

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