Thanks to Charlie Klendjian for clarifying his Islam vs Islamism agenda. I witnessed the first delivery of the talk he mentions [and blogged about it here with follow-up here] but couldn’t be at the second talk. The first for me was “all over the place” too unfocussed, and too many topics – freedoms, extremisms, crimes, legal arrangements, sharia, holy texts on the table all at once for any coherent argument. Feedback from the second already suggested it was more focussed on this specific Islam vs Islamism terminology topic, and this written article helps enormously.
Below I’m responding to specific text in the article direct to you Charlie in the 2nd person.
I recognize the term Islamism has this aim [to be distinct from the term Islam],
I just don’t think we need a separate word to achieve that aim.
Well yes we do, or if not, we’ll constantly need to add a qualifier – private or theocratic – Islam (say). To recognise two distinct concepts for which you don’t see the need for distinct words is plain wrong, logically, linguistically, rationally. It’s wishful thinking. It’s PC nonsense. I think your valid concerns are those you voice next – about problems with their use / mis-use and the fascistic thought police you mention earlier that might be motivated to derail dialogue by crying foul if you / we step the wrong side of some definitional line.
I’m particularly relaxed about definitions, so we agree a reality of definitions “something like” (more later) and neither of us wishes to impose “homogeneity” across the range of concepts – and people, human individuals – captured by the two terms.
Your concern is really with problems arising:
I think it can even lead to some serious problems, which I outline below.
Too right. But addressing the problems is better than the denial of significant difference.
Islamists call themselves Muslims
Obviously, because (they claim) they are. But simple logic says therefore not all Muslims are (or call themselves) Islamists. In fact many go out of their way to self-identify otherwise. Hell, you even use two distinct terms yourself to make your point.
Many Muslims and ex-Muslims reject the term “Islamism”
I’d like to see your evidence for that in context. They will certainly reject being labelled with that term (as I mentioned above) and may share our concerns with use of the term, but I doubt many would reject the conceptual distinction which you and I agree at root.
What other religions do we do this for? When other religions become “political” do we issue them a new name by adding the letters ism to the end?
Generally not no, agreed, but sometimes in context we do need to make the distinction. Aron Ra uses the term “dominionism” to qualify those religious groups that assert their religion over secular, temporal, legal and governance arrangements. The fact that we don’t often use such a clarification for religions other than Islam is because we have a particular problem with Islam.
After a couple of your case studies …
… the words Islam, Islamist, Islamism and Muslim do not appear once.
But there are 5 x “extremism”, 1 x “extremist” and 5 x “radicalisation”.
Absolutely. These are extreme violent cases. The word extreme is enough to distinguish from the non-extreme.
[T]here’s no point creating definitions unless you use them, and you use them consistently.
Agreed, but as we’ve both also agreed in “everyday language”, such distinctions have to be “something like” good enough for the job. As I said in the original response, I don’t actually care which terms we use, and their watertight definitions, so long as we choose labels that distinguish the significance of concepts we’re talking about. What we do care about is not people misusing terms in any fascistic “correct” definitional sense, but abuse of terms for obfuscating political reasons, hiding issues for PC reasons.
In closing … the term Islamism is unhelpful and even dangerous.
Problematic, yes for reasons we’ve agreed above but, let’s be honest, not as dangerous as the extremism it denotes.
Atheists and secularists have arguments with many aspects all religions and the religious. But we have different arguments with different extreme and non-extreme cases, even different arguments between the extreme “dominionst” and extreme “muderously, violently terrorist” kind. For the latter the key argument being unconditional condemnation and the full force of law and the forces of establishment authority.
Maajid Nawaz … someone the LSS stood shoulder to shoulder with when he was in the eye of a particularly unpleasant blasphemy storm – has said that Islamism suffers from the “Voldemort effect”: it is the ideology which shall not be named. Well on that basis, Islam suffers from an extreme Voldemort effect.
Well yes, Islam has that problem too, a particular problem as I’ve also said, but precisely because of the political correctness that fails to name the ideology.
So back to your opening question in your title:
Is there really any difference between Islam and “Islamism”?
Clearly we both actually agree there is. I think the real point is that Islamism is maybe not always (not often) be the most helpful word to make the distinction. Can’t argue with that and there are plenty of alternatives depending on the context.
[The] set of ideas is called Islam.
The followers of Islam – the good ones and the bad ones – are called Muslims.
If those two statements of mine are in any way controversial, then [we have a problem].
Sure – absolutely not contentious, though as you highlight neither is monolithic nor “homogeneous”. They’re good and bad (like you and I) on many different human aspects. The issue unrecognised in your simple statements – the ideology we must name – is the dominionism, the theocracy; The non-secular establishment aims, the sharia alternative to establishment legal process, the extremist actions to achieve those aims beyond honest political processes.
[Choose your words to make these distinctions] for the right reason. What I mean by that is do it because you honestly think there’s a significant difference. Don’t do it to shield yourself from (baseless) accusations of racism and bigotry. Don’t do it out of fear. Don’t do it because everyone around you is doing it. Don’t do it because you’re scared of falling out with the In Crowd. Don’t do it because you’re worried about losing Twitter followers.
It’s a pity the second half of that is an accusatory straw-man, because the sentiment is so clearly right. What really matters, as you say is constructive dialogue based on trust and honesty, with inherently less motivation to abuse any perceived linguistic mis-steps to obfuscate and derail progress for negative political reasons. But that’s Political Correctness, politics without trust. There’s a lot of it about.
What’s so funny ’bout peace, love and understanding?
Post Note : I feel vindicated post Paris November 2015. The majority of commentators agreeing on the need to avoid conflating Muslims in general with Islamists in particular, extreme or otherwise. For example Maryam Namazie here:
— Maryam Namazie (@MaryamNamazie) November 25, 2015
— Maryam Namazie (@MaryamNamazie) November 25, 2015