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Rhetoric and the term "Islamists"

Reader comment on item: Department of Corrections (of Others' Factual Mistakes about Me)

Submitted by Tim Cleaveland (United States), Aug 30, 2006 at 13:16

This is a comment regarding Mr. Daniel Pipes' embrace of the statement "all Islamists are inherently violent" as "exactly right." Mr. Pipes also stated that, "Islamists are our enemy." One of the problems with Daniel Pipes' rhetoric towards Muslims is his use of the word "Islamists" to refer (apparently) to Muslims who resort to violence to achieve their ends. A better term would be "Muslim extremists" or some other term that directly communicates the idea that the people being criticized are not ordinary Muslims.

Or one might prefer that the word 'Muslim' be dropped completely, suggesting that the use of violence against civilians is not consistent with the teaching of Islam. Such a change in rhetoric would bring Pipes' criticism closer to the language that Western scholars (and non-scholars) use when criticizing non-Muslims.

For example, historians refer to the 'European' conquest of the Americas, 'European' colonialism, and 'European' atrocities. Even though Europeans generally justified the conquest of the Americas by reference to Christianity, historians rarely if ever refer to the complete elimination of some Native American peoples as a 'Christian genocide' or 'Christianist massacres.' Similarly we do not refer to the Atlantic slave trade as the 'Christian' or 'Christianist' slave trade. Nor do we refer to 'Christianist' slavery and racism in the Americas, even though reference to Christianity was the core of Christian slaveholders' justification for the enslavement of Africans.

Similarly we lay the blame for the twentieth-century 'Holocaust' against Jews and non-Jews at the feet of the Nazis, not the 'Christianist' Germans. Even the angry critics of the terrorist bombings and violence perpetrated by the Irgun and other Zionist groups do not refer to that violence as 'Jewist' terrorism, or the product of 'Jewism.' There are good reasons for why scholars do not refer to slavery in the Americas as 'Christianist'; to do so would be to assert that there was something essentially 'Christian' about the historic enslavement of Africans. While some scholars might want to argue that, it would be unfair to impugn the essence of Christianity by slapping a label on it without making a substantial argument to that effect. Similarly, there are even better reasons not to refer to terrorism perpetrated by Muslims as 'Islamist.' In addition to the above-mentioned issue of scholarly fairness, there are also the issues that the United States has a long history of intervening in the politics in the Middle East, and the American people (who must accept or reject various interventionist policies) are woefully uneducated about the region and Muslims in general.

The political power of Mr. Pipe's usage of the term 'Islamist' is revealed in a question and comment that a caller posed to an NPR analyst who was answering questions about the war in Iraq during the actual invasion in 2003. The caller asked why anyone would question our invasion of Iraq after the attacks of 9/11. The analyst responded by saying that there was no evidence that Saddam Hussein or Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. Then the caller asked whether Saddam and the attackers were both Muslim. The analyst said 'yes', and the caller responded by saying "like I said, they're the same people." A similar example comes from a US congressman, who stated that if a nuclear bomb exploded in the US, then we should nuke Mecca. And why not? As some of my students say, "aren't they all Islams or Moslems or whatever you call them?"

Sincerely, Tim Cleaveland

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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