Islamism Doesn’t Equal Jihadism

A thread on Feministing about discrimination against Muslims in India branched off to the perennial question of what liberal and moderate Muslims can do to combat extremism. Somewhere along the thread Islamism got confused with Jihadism, because Prairielily said,

And exerting pressure on the large Muslim organizations (like in Canada, where I have lived for the majority of my life) isn’t visible. Those organizations condemn terrorism all the time, but hearing someone say “we condemn the actions of terrorists” gets very little attention. It’s not as interesting, and it sounds like political posturing.

Since it’s not going to come from the media, the kind of visibility needed has to be in everyday life. However, since moderate Muslims are not wearing signs to label themselves as such, it often doesn’t even register with people that they ARE Muslims, especially nowadays, when it kinda sucks to be a Muslim.

The conflation of Islamism with Jihadism in virtually every discussion about Islam is a continual frustration. Like the conflation of sex with rape, it goes both ways: Islamists are assumed violent, and non-Jihadis are assumed moderate.

Islamism is a political movement that emphasizes going back to Islamic values and casting away modern contraptions like women’s right to walk on the street unaccompanied by a male relative. The best known Islamist organizations are violent, like Al Qaida, or have significant violent contingents, like Hezbollah, but Islamism by and large is an ordinary radical political movement, like Dominionism.

In Iraq, the Islamist the most Westerners have heard of is Muqtada Al Sadr. But Sistani is an order of magnitude more influential; for years he was a moderating force on the insurgency, since so many Shi’as listened when he ordered them not to respond violently to the occupation of Iraq. His non-violence has led a lot of people to assume he must be moderate.

But in fact, he’s as Islamist as clerics go. He makes pronouncements about which sexual practices are acceptable and which aren’t. His ruling on anal sex – “it’s okay as long as the wife consents” – has a very strong implication that other kinds of sex are okay even if the wife doesn’t consent. His ultimate goal is the formation of an Iranian-style theocracy in Iraq.

In the US, writing about abortion clinic bombers doesn’t give anyone the false impression that non-terrorists aren’t fundamentalists; enough people are familiar with Falwell and Robertson to know that fundamentalists can be perfectly nutty without killing people. But writing about terrorists versus non-terrorists makes people think that if you don’t kill people in Allah’s name, you’re not an Islamist fanatic.

Now, consider Muslim umbrella organizations, the example that Prairielily’s comment was about. Canada’s largest Muslim organization, the Canadian Islamic Congress, explains that according to Islam,

God has prohibited (as Haram) all killing (except for capital punishment), stealing, robbing, consumption of any intoxicant, all types of gambling, sex outside marriage, all types of pornography and prostitution, homosexuality, wasteful spending and consumption, interest on money (usury), bribery, spreading gossip and backbiting.

Now, I don’t want to call the CIC Islamist just yet, because a) it focuses on other issues, and b) I couldn’t find any official political position on gay rights. But the prohibition on homosexuality isn’t especially progressive.

In Muslim politics, there are sizable contingents of liberals and moderates, who are anything but Islamist. There are also conservative and radical Islamists, who differ in methods and rhetoric but not in underlying ideology. These Islamists display a continuum from peaceful to Jihadist.

At one end, there’s Al Qaida, with its emphasis on violent Islamic revolutions as the only acceptable political method. Somewhat to its left, there are groups like Sadr’s army, which use violence routinely but also try gaining ordinary political power. Then there are organizations like Hamas, for which violence is secondary to politics. Left of that, there’s Hezbollah, which uses political tactics only. And finally, there’s Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, which doesn’t even have Hezbollah’s paramilitary traces; Sistani falls in this category, although most of his allies are to his right here.

Although Hamas and Hezbollah use terrorist tactics, for them it’s mostly foreign policy. They’re no different from Republicans who support bombing Arab civilians but would never dream of mounting a coup d’etat against a Democratic administration. In contrast, Al Qaida believes in violence as the only acceptable domestic political tactic.

3 Responses to Islamism Doesn’t Equal Jihadism

  1. SLC says:

    Re Hizbollah

    Currently, Hizbollah is engaged in an attempt to overthrow the Lebanese Government.

  2. There are of course differences even beyond what is mentioned. “Islamism” is too broad a term, IMO. Usually I differentiate between two main strands of Islamic extremism. One is Islamic nationalism, into which Hisb’Allah, as a Lebanese nationalist group intended on establishing a Shia theocracy in Lebanon, would fall. The second is Pan-Arab Islam, into which Al Queida and other groups would fall, given they advocate a military conquest of non-Muslim peoples and the cleansing of non-Muslims from the Arab peninsula.

    And of course, many of these organizations compete against each other (often violently), so they cannot be lumped into an “Islamo-fascist” ball of wax. They are not one movement, they are a series of extremist factions that arose during European colonialism.

  3. SLC2 says:

    To put Shi’a and Sunni extremist groups on some sort of ridiculous right/left line is merely one example of how this banal explanation fails utterly at even providing a sense of the complexities of the vast matrix of religious factions, nations, tribal groupings, political movements, etc. in play in this region…

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