I don’t like the word Islamist – not one bit. Today, I would like to take a skewed opinion poll from my lagging readership. What do you think about that word? In a headline today, NYT writes, “Shiites in Iraq Back Islamist to Be Premier”.
Islamist is referenced in the very first sentence: ” Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite doctor with an Islamist bent, was chosen Tuesday by the victorious Shiite alliance as its candidate to become Iraq’s new prime minister.” With an Islamist bent. I read the article with great interest to try and find which of the two meanings OED provides for Islamist applied:
a. Islamism, n. Add: Islamist n., (b) one who is versed in Islamic studies.
b. Islamism, n. The religious system of the Muslims; Muhammadanism. So Islamist, an orthodox Muslim; Islamistic a., Islamic [OED]
So, the NYT is obviously going for the second definition, but not quite adhering to the script. Look at this para:
Dr. Jaafari, the Shiite alliance picked a soft-spoken leader whose personal modesty and ties to the Dawa Party, a victim of bloody purges carried out by Mr. Hussein, have made him, at least according to opinion polls, the most popular leader in Iraq. A native of the holy city of Karbala, where his father worked at the Imam Hussein shrine, Dr. Jaafari fled Iraq in 1980, after Mr. Hussein began a campaign of killing and torturing thousands of Dawa members. Since returning to Iraq after Mr. Hussein was toppled, Dr. Jaafari has cut a cautious political path, tacitly supporting the American presence here but staking out a strongly adversarial position on many key issues.
As a member of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, Dr. Jaafari pushed for a more expansive role for Islam in the country’s interim constitution. And he was one of several Shiite leaders who initially refused to sign the document, based on his opposition to a provision that would allow a two-thirds majority in three of Iraq’s 18 provinces to nullify the constitution when it goes before voters later this year. Dr. Jaafari, whose Shiites represent a 60 percent majority in the country, said the provision was undemocratic.
He eventually signed the interim constitution, but even now says he may lead a move to reverse the provisions he opposed last year. That prospect is viewed with alarm by many groups here, including Kurds, secular parties, and the Americans.
The CSM also used Islamist in a similiar fashion in the headline, “A ‘pragmatic’ Islamist for Iraq”, a few days ago defining Jaafari as:
As a politician, Jaafari presents a blend of a secular style, human rights rhetoric, and commitment to Islamic values that sometimes seem contradictory to Western observers. But his friends and allies say no contradiction exists – that he’s a pragmatic politician who sees Islam as the best guarantee against more turmoil, and who believes that a modern interpretation of Islam’s political role can be found that’s acceptable to most who live here.
“Iraq’s minorities must be protected, and they must be given their rights,” Jaafari said in a recent interview with the Monitor. “But we must also respect the majority, so Islam should be the official religion of the state … and we shouldn’t have any laws that contradict Islam.” “He looks at Islam as a bridge to all humanity, not just for on particular type of people,” says Mr. Khadimi. “He doesn’t want an Islamic republic like Iran’s, or a system like Saudi Arabia’s. He wants to see something modernized and that recognizes that Iraqis are closely tied to their religion and traditions. He’s going with what the Iraqi people want.”
In both cases, the reference is to a politician who may or may not be a devout Muslim but is using Islam as a political tool to reform/enact laws in the land.
Islamist, hence, can mean someone who studies Islam, someone who is an “orthodox” believer [whatever that means], someone who is using Islam as a political tool for mobilization, someone who wants to bring back the Golden Age of Islam, someone who endorses resistance against govts. and civilians, someone who is engaged in subversive or terrorist acts against the US/West, someone somewhere anyone anywhere who is a MUSLIM – a practitioner of Islam.
You see my frustration? Is Bush ever refered to as having a “Christian bent”? And I abhor the implications in “bent”. Is Will Bennet a Christianist? Or how about Billy Graham? Or James Dobson? Can you tell me with a straight face that the faith of a billion people – with all of its complexities, rigidities, varieties of expression and belief – can all be described unapologetically and bluntly by one word? And that word a condemning one at that? Because the taint is not on the believer. The taint is on the faith. No matter what you say or do, your avowal taints you with that disease which may be dormant, mild or in full onset but it is always there. And that is exactly the point made by the Pipes and the Malkins.
To be precise, NYT also qualifies Islamist with “militant” or “radical” in certain cases but the curse remains. Should the NYT and CSM use the same word to describe Jafaari as they do for al-Zarqawi? Is there no difference between the two? Is there a problem here? Am I being overly sensitive? Have we lost the word “Islam” forever?