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“islamist” is a bullshit word

5 January 2012

[Edit: Important update, see comments below.]

Islamist. You’ll hear this word a lot lately, when idiots talk about new political parties and governments settling in in countries like Libya, Egypt, so on and so forth. As far as I can gather, it means “a person or political party who governs or legislates based on religious customs and precepts of Islam.” It’s total fucking bullshit.

Not because there are not people who fit this definition, because there almost certainly are. That religious people will govern according to their religion is tautological. It’s bullshit because it’s seen as some oogedy-boogedy brown people bullshit, as if it’s something inherent about how those dumb uncivilized brown folk run their countries. There’s no comparative term for Westerners, at least that I can find. We do have the term Zionist, but it hardly carries the same connotation. We don’t consider George W Bush to have been a “Christianist”, even though he distinctly invoked the divine when discussing his motivation for foreign (and domestic!) policy decisions. Not that W was even special! Search through the speeches of any President, Prime Minister, or various legislators in the West over the last, oh, 3 decades, and you’ll see they’re rife with allusion to divine will and Christian principles.  I mean, fuck, you can’t even run for office in the US unless you’re explicitly and devoutly Christian.

But don’t you dare imply that Western Christians govern based on decrees what come from a fella in a black robe and white collar, ’cause that’s just silly.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. 6 January 2012 15:19

    Although I agree generally with the sentiment of the post, and agree that the word is used problematically, it’s actually a term invented by Political Islam and used by adherents to “Political Islam”, not by orientalists (although orientalists don’t know what it means and use it for everything Muslim). Islamism is a set of the ideologies (sometimes heterogeneous) that holds Islam is a political system as well as a religious system: hence the reason it has been used, properly, by both self-proclaimed “Islamists” and by left-wing critics from the region (i.e. Samir Amin).

    Obviously American imperialists just latched unto this word and apply to every muslim in the bloody world, definitely for the racist reasons you suggest. And maybe the Christian Right would be more honest if it defined itself as Christianist.

    • 6 January 2012 15:46

      Thanks JMP!

      Yeah, this is a bit too large of an issue for me to bite off and chew in a daily throwaway post. I should have stressed that I realize “Islamist” can be an accurate and descriptive term, as long as the same concept can be applied to adherents of other religions. My issue could be more accurately described as a problem with people who orientalise predominately Islamic societies and consider their adherence to Islam as a political ideology as something special among religious political systems.

      Thanks for the slight correction.

  2. 9 January 2012 08:20

    Lenin, for his part, thought it necessary to combat what he called “Pan-Islamism”:

    “Reactionary Anti-Imperialism

  3. 11 January 2012 03:29

    It’s not just that islamist is a bullshit word, it’s a carry-over from the days of arm-chair anthropology and colonialism (well, okay, we’re still in the days of colonialism). I prefer “Mohammadan”, myself.

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