Does "Islamism" Exist?
I've known my friend Bill Vallicella for over ten 'online' years. In fact, I think I got to know him sometime early in 2001, and our reading lists have overlapped in various areas, so I usually know where he is on his intellectual path even if I'm not acclimated to the metaphysical heights that he often scales and can't truly follow him step for step on those parts of his journey.
But I can keep up at lower elevations, and in a recent post, "Islam, Radical Islam, and the the Left's Denial of the Threat" (April 29, 2013), Bill has descended into the cave of shadows, our world of illusions, and offered some thoughts on the views of the ex-Muslim Bosch Fawstin, who argues that there is no 'Islamism', only Islam. Here's Bill's summary of Fawstin's position:
In "Calling Islam 'Islam'," Bosch Fawstin argues against distinguishing between Islam and radical Islam (militant Islam, fundamentalist Islam, etc.). But if one doesn't make this distinction, and radical Islam is the enemy, then Islam is the enemy. This seems to have the unpalatable consequence that 1.5 billion Muslims are the enemy. Surely that is false. As I understand Fawstin, he avoids this inference by distinguishing between Muslims who take Islam seriously and those who don't. Actually, he makes a tripartite distinction among Muslims who take Islam seriously, and are a grave existential threat to us; Muslims who do not take Islam seriously and are a threat to us only insofar as they refuse to condemn the radicals; and Muslims who, unlike the second group, practice Islam, but an 'enlightened' Islam. This third group, however, is empty. "There's no separate ideology apart from Islam that's being practiced by these Muslims in name only, there's no such thing as 'Western Islam'" [says Fawstin].Bill seems somewhat doubtful about "Fawstin's parsing of the terminology," and I suspect that Bill doesn't consider the third group to be empty. I also sense that Bill isn't ready to relinquish the expression "radical Islam," for he goes on to note that "the radicals do pose a real threat." I'm guessing Bill is reflecting on his use of the proper terminology, as am I, a 'Gypsy Scholar' who has long used the term "Islamism." I watch events develop throughout the world, note that Muslims appear implicated in an inordinate number of conflicts around the globe, and ask myself, "Are there then so many Islamists . . . or is this Islam?"
I retain the terminological distinction, though, between "Islam" and "Islamism," for I've at times taught courses that touch on Islam and find the term "Islamism" a useful one for introducing students to the problem, namely, what is the difference between Islam and Islamism. We distinguish the terms, so what is the difference in their substance?
This is a good way to get students to think . . . and perhaps a good enough reason for me to retain the two terms.