Sometimes a word just creeps up on you and you don’t even know where it came from. That was how I felt upon hearing the word ‘Islamist’, a term which has suddenly become the word du jour in international politics and the world media, in light of the popular revoutions in Tunisia and Egypt. The western media also seem to use the term retrospectively when reflecting upon the rise of Turkey’s current government and its ‘Islamist’ agenda.
What is the difference between Islamist and Islamic? The Western media seems to use ‘Islamist’ to refer to a political movement that seeks to implement Islamic values in its administration. Can Islamist and Islamic be used interchangeably? I think in most cases they can be, but ‘Islamist’ has a certain sensational ring to it – alarmist, abrupt and dangerous. Many countries in Europe are governed by Christian Democratic parties, yet nobody labels them Christianist.
Islamist is the latest term in a long line of labels the Western world haphazardly applies to a religion and a people they never bothered to understand. A few years ago it was ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ – used to refer to those Muslims who hate Christians and Jews, ban women from driving and prevent their kids from going to school. This term is misleading because such acts do not form fundamentals of Islamic teaching but are in fact deviations from it. Another deceptive term is ‘moderate Muslims’ – referring to those who are peace loving, educated and modern. This implies that you can only be a good human being if you don’t take Islamic philosophy in its totality, but only in bits and pieces.
The popular revolution in Egypt looks set to dethrone the dictator Hosni Mubarak – who authorised the torture of his opponents and the daily humiliation of ordinary Egyptians in the hands of the corrupt police force. This has happened for three decades, with the blessings of the United States (the champion of freedom) and Israel (the beacon of democracy in the Middle East). With the imminent toppling of Mubarak’s corrupt regime, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu is now warning of the possible takeover of radical Islamic groups a.k.a Islamists that could create chaos in the world. In fact, the one who creates the most chaos is this country Israel, who imprisons and kills and evicts people from their homes. This is a nation which adopts lying as its state policy and then protests when nobody believes them.
The current government of Turkey led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AK Party was elected on the back of support by observant Muslims there. Through its leadership, Turkey is now a more open society, a booming economy and a facilitator of peace and dialog in the Middle East. Thus it comes as no surprise that Turkey is increasingly looked upon as a model Muslim society.
Yet there are those for whom Islam is an avowed enemy, and they will seek to misrepresent Muslims in any way possible, resorting to desperate measures when all else fails. One such candidate is the Middle East Forum, which sees as its mission, among others, combating lawful Islamism (whatever that means), fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian acceptance of Israel, robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia and monitoring the spread of Islamism in Turkey.
To create alarm and animosity against Muslims, it resorts, in typical fashion, to hyperbole, the most ridiculous of which is this: “Today, Turkey has over 85,000 active mosques, one for every 350 citizens—compared to one hospital for every 60,000 citizens—the highest number per capita in the world and, with 90,000 imams, more imams than doctors or teachers.” The author deliberately uses the word ‘active’ to create the illusion that mosques are some sort of hotbed of rebel activity, when mosques are simply houses of worship. She makes a comparison between mosques and hospitals, imams and teachers to give the impression that we Muslims don’t value health and life, that we favour religion over education. This is such a ludicrous comparison, and it shows either a lack of understanding of Islam or deliberate ignorance in order to create hostility against Muslims.
The author further states that “The Friday prayer attendance rate in Turkey’s mosques exceeds that of Iran’s”. So what? Is that a bad thing? It is, if you have an eternal hatred towards Islam and the very sight of people praying in mosques makes you grit your teeth in anger. Perhaps that is why the people manning the Middle East Forum and others of their ilk, are so anxious about the possible rise of Islam that they would misrepresent the religion and its followers in whatever way they can, even if it means forsaking their intellectual reputation.
They can call us Islamists, Islamic fundamentalists, moderate or secular Muslims. But we know what we are, and what we’re not.