On the distinction between Islam and Islamism
- Posted by
- On July 1, 2010
- 1 Comments
On the One Law for All website’s comments section, Kinana writes in response to another:
Thanks for your reply and general agreement (first sentence). As to your next sentence I also agree that Muslims ‘should’ remove the bits of their religion which offend or are not compatible with the ‘modern context.’ This seems to bring us back to my point and the point being made by Dave and Brigitte. Is Islam okay and Islamism not?
Islam is not what we want it to be or even what so-called moderate Muslims want it to be. It is what you and I have agreed it actually is. Given this starting point it behooves us and the OLFA campaign to not soft-pedal the truly difficult task of confronting Islam in reality and avoid ambiguous terms like ‘Islamism.’ The teachings and texts of Islam simply do not allow for the umma to change Islam, to ‘cherry pick’ the teachings. The foundational texts do not allow it, nor do the ‘rightly guided Caliphs’, nor do the 4 major schools of the 11th – 13th centuries.
Campaigns like this one which refuses to place the problem squarely with Islam and instead blame something called ‘Islamism’ do a disservice to the wider public who are looking to understand events like 9/11 and 7/7.
I feel that a more accurate approach would be to say that each Muslim has their own understanding of Islam which may or may not be compatible within the modern context, but that Islam per se, as we agreed, is not compatible. I too look forward to the day that Islam is actually reformed and updated, and this new Islam is actually believed in by ALL Muslims forever after.
Until then: One Law for All and no Sharia!
Here’s my response:
The issue is not whether Islam is okay and Islamism is not. Islam like all religions must be open to criticism and ridicule. I myself am an atheist and personally think that we need to go further than the secularisation of society and call for de-religionisation of society – separating it from the public space and a citizen’s identity and ensuring that it is truly a private affair. That’s not the case even in many secular societies today and especially not in Britain. Religious groups still get charity status and tax exemptions and are allowed exemptions from for example the sexual orientation regulations in order to discriminate based on their beliefs! Whilst people have the right to religion and belief, that doesn’t mean that we cannot challenge or criticise their beliefs. It becomes particularly important to do so when a political movement like Islamism holds religion as its banner. These are all things I have campaigned on for many years. I think particularly freedom of expression is most important and needed when criticising that which is taboo and sacred – and that means first and foremost religion. You can see my argument on this here.
Having said all this, though, the distinction between Islamism and Islam is not a cop-out as you seem to imply. If you fail to see the distinction, you fail to understand where the problem lies and cannot resist it properly. If you believe the problem is first and foremost Islam (and not religion in general, which is the far Right’s attitude to this), then you begin to come up with nonsensical, inhuman and racist recommendations like calling for the banning of the Koran, saying Islam is not a religion, scapegoating Muslims and calling for an end to ‘Muslim immigration’ whatever that means. Some of the speakers at our 20 June rally said it well. Muslims have been here for many years (as has Islam for that matter) – it is only recently that there is pressure on women to go to Sharia courts – it wasn’t required of them thirty years ago. The difference today from thirty years ago is Islamism. Islam as a religion hasn’t changed – its influence has. The same applies to your examples of 9/11 or 7/7. That is why I compare it to the Christian inquisition or crusades. The Bible has not changed today – or it wasn’t banned in order to push it back; Christianity only seems cuddlier today because it has been pushed back by the enlightenment. In my opinion, a ‘reformed religion’ is one that has been pushed out of the public space and backed into a corner.
Whilst Islamism is holding a sword over people’s heads, you don’t seem to understand that it is not so easy for Muslims to pick and choose, leave Islam, think freely, and so on. And when they do – as many still do – it entails great risks. Just as risky as it was for apostates and free thinkers during the Christian inquisition. Of course Islam is not compatible with modern society but neither is any religion – the reason why you think Christianity is compatible is thanks to the enlightenment and not because Christianity is any better than Islam. You can pick and choose today because you don’t live under the inquisition. Of course to each his own belief. That’s one of the problems with religion isn’t it – your religion is always better than the others. Fine – not a problem if the religion in question has no political power. Then it is just an opinion. It’s the difference between the bigot who thinks gays are perverts and a state that will hang gays for their sexuality. That is the difference between Islam and Islamism. If we want to win – and defend humanity at the same time – we must target Islamism. Full Stop. I have explained this further here.