Yesterday ConservativeHome readers reacted excitedly to David Cameron’s suggestion that it might be time to find an alternative to ‘Islamism’ as a way of defining the current terror threat. Melanie Phillips has described the Conservative leader’s remarks as "soft brainlessness" and Stephen Pollard has described Mr Cameron’s intervention as a "dangerous… attempt to woo trendy opinion".
Regular readers of ConservativeHome will know that this site is pretty
hawkish when it comes to the war on terror. It’s not for reasons of
weakness, therefore, that I am happy to defend yesterday’s remarks by
David Cameron. It’s not a 100% defence. In a second post Melanie Phillips correctly castigated the Conservative leader for comparing Islamist terrorism with IRA terrorism. They are of very different natures. The IRA bombed (successfully) in order to win a place at the table for their nationalist demands. As Senator Joe Lieberman recently wrote, the terrorists killing men, women and children in Iraq do not want a place at the table – they want to blow it up.
I do not criticise commentators’ use of Islamism – it’s an academically-established description of the interpretation of Islam that poses an existential threat to western civilisation. The trouble is, as David Cameron understands, it is a term that is most certainly open to misinterpretation. Most thoughtful people understand that there’s a difference between Islam and Islamism but there must be a danger that the term will be misunderstood by moderate Muslims in Britain and overseas particularly when used by western politicians. The academic interpretation of Islamist is not universal either. The main Turkish Islamic party is named ‘Islamist’.
So what alternatives might be possible? Here are some suggestions and I’m sure you could do better…
- Islamic-fascism: This is the term ConservativeHome has tended to use. The term acknowledges that the terrorist threat is somehow connected with Islam but is a political interpretation of it. Although some will see not like the retention of the word Islam within the description it remains my favoured term (and, certain to damn it, George W Bush’s).
- Jihadi terrorism: This, already in existence, may be just as offensive to many Muslims. For many Jihad refers to holy struggle rather than violent militarism. For Shia Muslims, Jihad is a central component of the faith.
- Wahhabism is the ideology that motivates al-Qaeda but it is a Sunni phenomenon and would not, for example, describe the threat posted by the Iranian regime and the terrorist groups sponsored by Tehran.
- Qutbism. This refers to Sayyid Qutb – the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, "the man who’s ideas would shape Al Qaeda" and who defined the now popular understanding of Jihad. It’s not a term that will be readily understandable but that may be something of a virtue. Educating people about the term might also educate people about the underlying nature of the enormous threat we all face.
For the moment I still intend to use Islamo-fascism.
Related link: Islamism – from analysis to action (by Paul Goodman MP)