My title here plays off of Martin Kramer's spring 2003 article in the Middle East Quarterly, "Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?" In it, he reviews the "heated debate" of the past two decades on how to label in English the phenomenon variously known as Muslim fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, political Islam, militant Islam, radical Islam, and Islamism. He concludes the survey by noting that "It is impossible to predict which terms will prevail in the West's own struggle to come to terms with change in contemporary Islam."
True enough, and I have my own colorful history of terms for this topic. In my first-ever article on it, "This World is Political!! The Islamic Revival of the Seventies," Orbis, 24 (1980-81): 9-41, I used neo-orthodox Islam. I then moved successively over to fundamentalist Islam and Islamism. Islamism remains my preferred term (because it is used by Islamists themselves; and because of its parallel with the other ideological "isms"), but it is heavy to say, so after 9/11, I adopted militant Islam and used it in the title of a book and in many articles and television appearances.
Then, in the year and a half since Kramer wrote his article, militant has become the main euphemism for terrorist, to the point that now even militant Islam offends my ear. So, with some reluctance, I take up a new term, that being radical Islam. I hope this term lasts longer than the others - and longer than the phenomenon itself. (December 26, 2004)