The Associated Press has decided that the word “Islamist” may not be used to describe anything objectionable. The Jewish Press’s Lori Lowenthal Marcus calls out the relevant passage from the news service’s newly revised stylebook:
[An Islamist is] an advocate of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.
Hmmm. It’s an interesting question who will be called an Islamist by A.P. writers, given this definition.
Who is an Islamist?
Presumably, Mohammed Morsi could be called an Islamist by the A.P. – unless the second sentence above cancels out the first, making it impossible to call anyone an “Islamist.” And maybe that’s the case; if so, defining “Islamist” is an exercise in futility for the A.P.
But will Morsi be called an Islamist? By the letter of the A.P. definition, being labeled an Islamist would put Morsi in company with Hamas, the Iranian clerical council, and the Taliban. He belongs there, of course, but will that association be considered politically correct, given that the U.S. government is committed to Morsi’s success, and continues to deliver arms to him?
Hamas and the Taliban are terrorist organizations, but are or have been government authorities as well (the latter aspiring to be one again), reordering government and society precisely in accordance with laws they deem to be prescribed by Islam. Iran’s leaders sponsor terrorism, as well as doing the reordering thing in the name of Islam.
In fact, Hizballah fits the bill as well, being a terrorist organization which currently governs Lebanon. Among this terrorist-governing group, Hizballah may have made the least effort to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. But then, Hizballah governs a tiny, fractious, all-but-ungovernable nation with mostly porous borders, and in that role has been more concerned since January 2011 with holding power than with remaking society. Does that mean there is some meaningful sense in which Hezbollah is not “Islamist” – even though it proclaims sharia and holds its political goals in common with Hamas and Iran (and has considerable overlap with Morsi in Egypt)?
Perhaps the seemingly narrow A.P. definition of “Islamist” is meant to ensure that only those who advocate Islamism from the more consensual environment of Western liberal societies will meet it. This proposition will run into its own set of troubles, however, partly because radicals like Britain’s Anjem Choudary, who have been, so to speak, the face of Islamism in the West, might be considered ineligible for the title due to their explosively radical demeanor. If Choudary isn’t an Islamist, who is?
That remains a good question, considering that other, more mainstream Western organizations may have ties through their leadership, like CAIR’s, to the Muslim Brotherhood and even terrorist groups, but they do not overtly propose to reorder government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Does that mean they are not Islamist? And if not, what does that mean?
At present, CAIR’s efforts are not focused directly on reordering government and society, but rather on undermining one of the essential pillars of Western civilization: unfettered pursuit of the truth – about radical Islam as about anything else. Government agencies, with their top-down institutional pieties, are an easy target for outright censorship in this regard.
The A.P. Stylebook revision is something different, and perhaps more insidious. Presumably, an A.P. writer would not refer to CAIR’s involvement in redefining “Islamist” as a method of Islamism, although it is one. And, in fairness, there is a good case to be made that rewriting definitions for political reasons is something the Western left requires no prompting to do. Need it be “Islamist” to define categories prejudicially? It certainly doesn’t have to be “Islamist” to label anyone whose arguments you don’t like a “racist.” The Western left thought that one up all on its own.
The lack of firm ground to stand on in this analysis is quintessential in the propositions of radicals. Corruption and politicization of the language are common radical tactics. Whom, exactly, can an A.P. writer call an Islamist, given all these factors? The antiseptic definition of Islamism approved by CAIR might apply only to Islamic theoreticians who never actually engage in political advocacy – if there are any.