If you sat down and tried to list the most important religion-news stories in the world right now, deadly conflicts linked to Islam and terrorism would have to be right at the top of the list. At the same time, you would have to say that it is very hard to define and describe in print any links between the religion of Islam and the actions taken by some believers in its name. This is a topic that has been discussed often on this weblog, far too often to attempt to sum up in a few statements (or even URLs).
All of this is to say that I was shocked to read a story in The New York Times the other day ("Taliban Spreading, Pakistani President Is Warned") by reporters Jane Perlez and Ismail Khan that included the following language, right in the lede:
The Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, was warned this month that Islamic militants and Taliban fighters were rapidly spreading beyond the country's lawless tribal areas and that without "swift and decisive action," the growing militancy could engulf the rest of the country.
Now I may be totally out to lunch on this one. What struck me was the blunt description of these fighters as "Islamic militants."
This seems to me to be too direct a link between the faith of Islam and the actions of the militants. I thought, to get to the point, that journalists were using -- in place of the terrible "Islamic fundamentalist" language of old -- the term "Islamists" to describe this militant linking of the faith and political activism (to the point of violence).
Am I simply off base, or did I miss a memo?
So I ran a simple Google News search for the word "Islamist" and I found thousands of references, but it seems to me that most of them are in British or foreign newspapers and wire services. Interesting.
Meanwhile, over at The Washington Post, I read the following reference in a story about Hamas and Israel. Once again, note the link to political actions and violence:
The political split between the West Bank and Gaza has also strengthened calls in Israel to abandon the idea of a Palestinian state, which was at the core of the Oslo peace accords signed in 1993. Gaza is now ruled by an ascendant Islamic movement that calls for Israel's destruction, and the West Bank by a disorganized secular party seeking immediate peace negotiations. That divide has cast doubts on whether the formula of a Palestinian state existing side by side with Israel is still viable.
Once again, my question is whether it is fair to use the simple word "Islamic" in these circumstances. I honestly thought that journalists were trying to find another wording here, with "Islamist" being one of the terms adopted in mainstream media.
Clearly, there are doctrinal debates inside Islam over when violence can and cannot be used. See this recent post for a vivid example of coverage of that kind of story. But is it accurate and fair to simply call the groups committing these kinds of acts "Islamic"? Isn't that too broad a term?