Is There a Difference Between “Moderate” and “Radical” Islamism? (COMMENTARY MAGAZINE) Michael Rubin 05/14/12)
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Labels are always dangerous things. In the context of the U.S. policy
debate, pundits attach labels to opponents in order to avoid debating
issues or in order to construct straw man arguments. Seldom do people
use labels with the precision they deserve. This is certainly the
case when it comes to religion.
I use the term Islamism to depict the use of Islam as a political
ideology and studiously avoid the term “Islamo-Fascism,” which is not
accurate except, in very limited cases, to Hezbollah. (Several years
ago, Turkish writer Mustafa Akyol falsely accused me of using the
term; when I later saw him in Prague, he acknowledged his error, but
neither he nor David Judson, his editor at the Turkish [now Hürriyet]
Daily News, saw fit to correct their fabrication. To use labels
precisely, it would be fair to call Akyol sloppy and, for failing to
correct his error, lacking integrity).
The debate about Islamism (or Islamic fundamentalism, or jihadism)
and labels is complex, and few people who engage in it choose their
words with care. Martin Kramer did an admirable job explaining the
evolution of terms, here, and others have since followed suit.
If newspapers and wire services are going to discuss Islamism and
then modify it with terms such as “moderate” and “radical,” it would
behoove them to define in advance what is “moderate” and what is not.
Take this story, regarding Egyptian presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim
Abul Fotouh, which described Abul Fotouh as follows:
A moderate Islamist with support from both hardline fundamentalists
and liberals, Abul Fotouh refused to describe bin Laden as a
terrorist, saying the term was used by the United States to “hit
I know many moderate Muslims – who put their lives on the line every
day to preserve liberty and freedom of religious interpretation—and I
am also friends with many moderate Islamists. I know not a single
moderate, however, who defends bin Laden. Does Agence France Presse
(and Yahoo) really believe moderates embrace bin Laden’s legacy?
Wouldn’t it be more likely that a man who praises and defends bin
Laden is actually somewhat radical? Other outlets which define Abul
Fotouh as “moderate” include the BBC, Tablet Magazine, Christian
Science Monitor, and the Financial Times, among others. These outlets
would do themselves and their readers a service if they would be so
kind as to articulate the difference between “moderate” and “radical”
Islamism. For that matter, it is never too early for the White House
and the State Department to do likewise.
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