Daniel Pipes; What Label Should We Use to Refer to Radical Islamists?

Roundup: Talking About History

Daniel Pipes, at his blog (12-26-04):

Coming to Terms: Militant Islam or Radical Islam? My title here plays off of Martin Kramer's spring 2003 article in the Middle East Quarterly,"Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?" In it, he reviews the"heated debate" of the past two decades on how to label in English the phenomenon variously known as Muslim fundamentalism, Islamic fundamentalism, political Islam, militant Islam, radical Islam, and Islamism. He concludes the survey by noting that"It is impossible to predict which terms will prevail in the West's own struggle to come to terms with change in contemporary Islam."

True enough, and I have my own colorful history of terms for this topic. In my first-ever article on it,"This World is Political!! The Islamic Revival of the Seventies," Orbis, 24 (1980-81): 9-41, I used neo-orthodox Islam. I then moved successively over to fundamentalist Islam and Islamism. Islamism remains my preferred term (because it is used by Islamists themselves; and because of its parallel with the other ideological"isms"), but it is heavy to say, so after 9/11, I adopted militant Islam and used it in the title of a book and in many articles and television appearances.

Then, in the year and a half since Kramer wrote his article, militant has become the main euphemism for terrorist, to the point that now even militant Islam offends my ear. So, with some reluctance, I take up a new term, that being radical Islam. I hope this term lasts longer than the others - and longer than the phenomenon itself. (December 26, 2004)

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Edwin Moise - 1/6/2005

I prefer "Muslim Fundamentalism" or "Islamic Fundamentalism" because I believe these terms are less likely to inspire misunderstanding.

If we use "Islamist," there is the danger that people who don't know much about the subject (of whom there are quite a few) may guess that the term simply means people who believe in Islam. I suspect that this is why the people in question call themselves "Islamists." They think of themselves--and would like others to think of them--as the only real Muslims.

"Radical Islam" and "militant Islam" (which lead to "radical Muslim" and "militant Muslim" as labels for the individual member of the movement) are better, but still don't deal well with the problem that many relatively secular Muslims are quite radical or militant in their political actions. I feel a bit more comfortable saying "Some of the 'insurgents' in Iraq today are secular Muslims and some are Muslim fundamentalists" than saying "Some of the 'insurgents' in Iraq today are secular Muslims and some are radical Muslims."