The Muslims with No Name: Islamists Cover Up Their Existence in the Media

As reported by U.S. News & World Report on April 4, 2013, the Associated Press (AP) has revised its definition of "Islamist" in the latest edition of the AP stylebook after the AP announced that it would likewise no longer approve of "illegal immigrant."  This move, advocated precisely by a troubling Muslim group justifiably called Islamist in the past, shows once again how difficult it is for modern free societies even to identify their Islamist foes in the face of politically correct pressures.

Added to the AP stylebook in 2012, Islamist initially had the following entry: "Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam.  Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."  The updated entry reads:

An advocate or supporter 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.

Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations:  al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc.  Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), praised "this revision" as a "step in the right direction" that "will result in fewer negative generalizations in coverage of issues related to Islam and Muslims."  Hooper considered the "key issue with the term 'Islamist'" to be "not its continued use," but rather "its use almost exclusively as an ill-defined pejorative." 

Hooper had previously recommended on January 3, 2013, that the media "[d]rop the term 'Islamist,'" which had "become shorthand for 'Muslims we don't like.'"  This term's "almost exclusively pejorative context" has an "even more negative slant" when "often coupled with the term 'extremist.'"  By analogy, Hooper rejected any hypothetical media references to the "'Judaist government of Israel,' the 'Christianist leader Rick Santorum' or 'Hinduist Indian politician Narendra Modi'" when describing "those who would similarly seek governments 'in accord with the laws' of their respective faiths."  

"Many Muslims," Hooper stated, who wish to serve the public good are influenced by the principles of their faith.  Islam teaches Muslims to work for the welfare of humanity and to be honest and just.  If this inspiration came from the Bible, such a person might well be called a Good Samaritan.  But when the source is the Quran, the person is an "Islamist."

The "frequent linkage of the term 'Islamist'" to various human rights violations was "strongly promoted by Islamophobic groups."  This appeared to Hooper as attempts "to launch rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims, without the public censure that would normally accompany such bigoted attacks on any other faith."  "Islam-bashers," Hooper elaborated, "routinely use the term to disingenuously claim they only hate 'political' Islam, not the faith itself," yet "fail to explain how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political arena without attracting the label 'Islamist.'" 

If retained at all by "media professionals," Hooper recommended that "Islamist" appear only when a "group applies the term to itself," analogous to the AP's treatment of "fundamentalist."  Absent such elimination or modification, "Islamist" entailed a "political and religious value judgment" that "is hardly fair or balanced."

Hooper might well reject the "Islamist" label, for this term has in the past denounced CAIR in, for example, the Investigative Report on Terrorism (IPT)'s exhaustive 118-page report on CAIR.  IPT documents how CAIR, an unindicted co-conspirator in the successful 2008 prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development for financing Hamas terrorists, has its origins in American entities of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Hamas.  Accordingly, CAIR has an extensive history of apologizing for militant jihad and repressive sharia practices as well as CAIR functionary convictions for supporting Islamic terrorism.  Hooper himself has in the past stated that he would like to see the United States government become "Islamic" and implement sharia. 

Ironically, for all of CAIR's opposition to the term "Islamist," the IPT documents that CAIR and their ideological allies have regularly used this term in a positive sense.  CAIR founders, for example, discussed how CAIR could aid "Islamists" seeking Israel's destruction during a 1993 meeting wiretapped by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  As our professional and personal colleague Deborah Weiss recently wrote in response to Hooper's article, "[i]t's not really the word to which Hooper is objecting," but rather its "negative connotation."  Hooper's exception for using "Islamist" when Islamists themselves use the term, Weiss notes, indicates as much.

Further examination of Hooper's arguments and the AP's response reveals additional politically correct illogic.  The objectionable nature of what has come to be known as Islamism is an aggressive and authoritarian agenda advocating specifically sectarian policies.  Such an agenda derives from the canonical core of Islam, a faith often analogized to totalitarian movements like Communism that has historically encompassed not just personal piety and development, but politics as well.  Accordingly, Islamists claim a right to use force in the name of Islamic faith, both domestically in the form of a repressive sharia law and internationally in the form of jihad, or religious warfare.  Such Islamists are no more merely "Muslims we don't like" than Communists are "supporters of big government we don't like" or Nazis are "German nationalists we don't like."

Hooper's analogies to other faiths are thus flawed, for as Weiss has previously noted, "there are no analogous political movements cloaked in the language of other faiths."  The Jewish state of Israel, for example, represents a Jewish people's nationalism and not any specifically Jewish law, while Christian conservatives like Senator Santorum do not frame their arguments against abortion or homosexuality in purely theological terms.  This, however, has not stopped American opponents of the "religious right" from condemning it as an American "Taliban," a phrasing to which Hooper has apparently not yet objected.

By contrast, it should not be hard for Hooper to discover "how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political arena" and "serve the public good" without being an Islamist.  The United States Navy veteran Zuhdi Jasser has become politically active after the September 11, 2001 al-Qaeda attacks precisely to show the "difference between Islam and Islamism" and to combat the latter as a "theo-political separatist ideology" seeking "to dominate the world."  For his efforts, Jasser has received condemnation from Hooper as a "mere sock puppet for Islam haters and an enabler of Islamophobia."  Hooper as well could profit from the United Kingdom's Quilliam Foundation, an organization noted by the IPT and founded by Muslims among others explicitly to counter "Islamism." 

However influenced by CAIR, the AP's succeeding "Islamist" entries reveal several definitional deficiencies as well.  Both entry versions refer to Islamism encompassing "mainstream politicians" without distinguishing between moral and majoritarian definitions of "mainstream."  After all, not all majorities are moral, as the rise of the erstwhile "mainstream politician" Adolf Hitler in interwar Germany showed.  The AP's reference to "laws of Islam/prescribed by Islam" in both entries is equally amoral, with no indication as to just what (repressive) character these laws might have.

The latest AP "Islamist" entry, though, compounds the ideological confusion with its rejection of this term as a "synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists."  The AP never convincingly explains why such terms are not synonymous with Islamists.  How can Islamists not be Islamic "militants" or "extremists," or vice-versa?  In the end, however varied the AP's "wide range of Muslims" who "view the Quran as a political model" is, all such Islamists share a common ideological core, similar to the ideological core shared by the "wide range" of, say, Communists past and present.

As commentators like Weiss have previously noted, the AP episode shows how the "Islamist thought police" of groups "like CAIR" are eliminating an "arsenal of words" that are "critical ... to identify our enemies."  "By placating CAIR's demands," Weiss concludes, "we tie one hand behind our backs in defending freedom."  Yet despite the AP, all is not lost.  The liberal Frankfurt, Germany newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau (FR) reported on the internationally commemorated "topless jihad day" against "Islamism" on April 4, 2013.  Feminists had appeared topless before various mosques and majority-Muslim country embassies to protest the death threats received by a Tunisian woman gone into hiding after she posted Facebook photos of herself topless and inscribed with Islam-critical statements.  Perhaps we can expect some American news outlets -- if not the AP -- to take the initiative in ensuring that events such as this one see some press attention in the United States.