Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Letter to the Economist: "Islamist" overkill

Letter I wrote to The Economist:
Dear Economist,

I have been reading your magazine for a couple of years now and the ever increasing use (and abuse) of the word "Islamist" increasingly irritates me. Take for example this passage: "... Though many female undergraduates in Algiers wear the Islamist headscarf,..." (Match 7th 2009, 'Steady but stale') What is an "Islamist headscarf"? It is difficult (impossible maybe) these days to find a single article about Muslims or Islam in your magazine free of the word "Islamist". And, of course, you only ever seem to use the word "Islamist" with obvious negative connotations.

Adil Hussain
London, England

1 comment:

adil said...

Response from the Middle East and Africa editor:

Dear Mr Hussein

Thank you for your pointful letter.

I agree that the use of the word Islamist versus Islamic can be problematic. I also agree that the term "Islamist headscarf" is a bit vague and perhaps misleading. Indeed, I sympathise with your irritation.

I would not agree that we invariably give the word "Islamist" a negative connotation. I hope not, at any rate.

We tend to refer to the current Turkish government as "mildly Islamist". We have generally, in editorials, been complimentary about it. We frequently acknowledge the impressive welfare work of organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which I would indeed describe as "Islamist".

My rule of thumb is that we apply the adjective Islamist to a person who would like sharia law to be the main arbiter of society. That is to say, a person who tends to a world view that would put a clerical or theocratic system of government ahead of a secular one; a person who would wish the Koran to set the rules of social organisation.

An Islamic person is simply a Muslim, who may---or may not---tend to a secular world view.

So we do generally differentiate in meaning between Islamist and Islamic, though it is not always easy to draw the line.

Muslim women who wear the hijab may do so as a statement of support for Islamism; others may wish to convey no such message, though the growth in the number of women wearing it does certainly coincide with a growth in support for Islamism. I would say that those who wear the niqab would generally tend to the Islamist way.

Many thanks for keeping us on our definitional toes.

With best wishes

Xan Smiley
Impressive the length and depth of the reply. Will respond later insha-Allah.