Here’s a quick lesson:
- Islam: A faith
- Muslim: A person subscribing to the Islamic faith
- Islamist: supporting or advocating Islamic fundamentalism (taken from dictionary.com)
It used to be paint-brush terms such as “extremist” and “jihadist” that were synonymous to someone relating to the Islamic faith. These terms were often accompanied by images of violence and anger, which became the dominant images associated with Muslims. Once the word “extremist” was mentioned, with the speed of light, an instant image of a Muslim was thought of. Soon enough, the marginalization of these groups was normalized as the rhetoric of “safety” and “security” was highlighted.
In September of 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper proposed that the biggest threat to Canada was “Islamicism”. Yes—Islamicism. No need to look up a definition. It’s not there. In the spirit of positive-thinking, while it may be flattering to have a new word created to describe an entire community, I think we’ll pass on this one.
The “word” Islamicism proposes that these individuals harbour fundamental, violent and oppressive values which are applied through force. So what did popular media do? Take that term and slightly adjust it to “Islamist”. Recently, this term has been used to describe people, a government, or an ideology. They weren’t identified by their first name, party name or any other descriptions. Their entire presence was simplified to a term with negative connotations.
Unfortunately, the usage of these terms has attempted to undermine the Arab Spring that has been taking place for the past few months. I watched people fighting for equality and justice and then watched popular media covering the stories with an underlying assumption of “Islamists” taking over. Not only does this take away the courageous acts of the Arab and Muslim people, but it created a racialized look towards the revolutions.
They’re no longer viewed as communities attempting to reform their unjust governments; instead they’re represented as Muslims trying to enforce extremist Islamic rulings on the rest of the population. Headlines read “Islamist taking over” or “Islamist rulings threaten women” or my favourite, usually referred to how spicy the salsa is, “moderate-Islamist run for election”. All of the above headlines suggest that Islamist is another word for terrorism, the difference is that this term specifically identifies that this form of radical ideology is Islamic. While Muslims thought they were fighting to end the term “extremist”, the battle only became harder as another term has been added to the list.
If they ran out of terms to use, I can offer some: “strong”, “revolutionizers”, “organizers”, “heroes”, “people that inspired others to organize the mass “Occupy” movement taking place all over the world and who support the general cause for creating positive change for the marginalized people”. You know, just take your pick.