The forlorn of the Church in winning the hearts and minds of its adherents in the West has led many of its thinkers to take religion as a whole in the abortive way. As the Church drew more and more to the back foot in trying to become a link between man and the Divine, and the Church-goers found themselves empty of any force of relation, they took upon redefining religion in anthropological terms.
One such definition is by C. Geertz, who says that religion is a ‘system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic’; thus taking the study of religion parallel to any other human ailment of a socio-cultural order.
One can argue that if God does exist and does send His divine commandment to man in the form of a Book, then if man would play away with those words and lose them, then God will no more live in those words. The Church had done just that; in the centuries after the Christ, the alterations and adjustments were so immense that soon the Book was filled with contradictions and immorality. The scientific approach of the Renaissance brought all these contradictions into light, and common sense could find no worshipable God in the Bible. With a God Who allows his messengers to mercilessly kill babies in revenge and commit adultery, a God Who is afraid of man’s act of acquiring knowledge and Who appears in human form to wrestle with David and is defeated; if religion means piety, the Bible was serving the opposite. Thus, the Church, which was traditionally a symbol of true love and Divine salvation, quickly fractured into unanswerable question marks, if the word was to be taken as true!
The modern tradition of the Church according to Chuck Baldwin is ‘the opiate of entertainment and feel-good-ism’, calling the ministers ‘hirelings in the pulpit [that]lust after ease and social acceptance’. He says, “Our churches are not ‘the pillar and ground of the truth’ (I Timothy 3:15, KJV); they are centers of social interaction, recreation, and feel-good indoctrination. Preachers are not reprovers, rebukers, and exhorters (II Timothy 4:2); they are ear-ticklers, entertainers, and expositors of irrelevance…. The result: ineffective, impotent, weak, unprepared and sheepish Christians.”
All this defeat of Christianity as a religion reflects on Islam in a negative way, as it is difficult for the Western observer to look at Islam with putting away the spectacle of a lost faith from over their eyes. As they find no Divine in the Bible, they will be comfortable to measure Islam with the no-God scales too. Thus, when Daniel Pipes talks about Islam and Islamism, he has nowhere to go but to western ideological tools to explain his point of view. He says:
‘Islamism inspires a drive to reject, defeat, and subjugate Western civilization. Despite this urge, Islamists absorb Western influences, including the concept of ideology. Indeed, Islamism represents the transformation of Islamic faith into a political ideology. Islamism accurately indicates an Islamic-flavored version of radical utopianism, an -ism like other -isms, comparable to fascism and communism’.
‘Islamism’ is a modern day label used by those who are socio-culturally outsiders to Islam and who essentially have no experience of the subjective type as experienced by the adherents of Islam, an experience gotten only by living Islam. It will not be incorrect to compare the situation with a person who is shaking a closed box trying to guess what is inside; what he can see are figments of his own imagination that are being stimulated by the sounds produced by the shaking and not what is really inside. Therefore, the term ‘Islamism’ may be more useful to identify the definers rather than the defined.
The advocates of Islamism in the West mean to identify Fundamentalism, Political Islam and Radical Islam under a single terminology and relate it with the violence, terrorism and Totalitarian world dominance. In so far as terrorism and the use of violence are concerned, all average Muslims will condemn it and argue that there is no place for either in true Islam; thus, the same camp will label the average Muslim majority as the Moderates, who want to comply with Western humanistic standards. The issue here is that this type of segregation and labeling is of the Western choice, and we who live Islam in our everyday life have to reject these labels on account of their bias and incompatibility.
The reason is that the average Muslim majority is fundamental, political, radical, moderate, freedom-loving, progressive and believing in Jehad as a pillar of his/her belief, all at the same time. Pipes’ mistake, deliberate or mistakenly, to segregate the notion of Jehad i.e. ‘warfare’ from the rest of Islam, and perhaps relate it to the first rebellion movement in Islam termed as the Khawarij, is a negation of a very rich tradition of warfare in Islam that was not based on rebellion against the Caliphate. Warfare was in fact waged by the Caliphate itself to save humanity from tyranny and human right abuse, the vices of which Islam had illuminated upon them and imposed upon them by commandment to reach upon humanity the light of peace and justice that had been brought upon them by way of prophecy.
Pipes’ saying that Islamism is an ‘ideology’ compared to Islam which is a faith, a religion, perhaps empty of any ideology, and that it has been transformed into a political ideology by a brand of violent and ambitious cult within the Muslims who want global dominance, is perhaps the proof of Pipes’ ignorance of Islam as known to the average Muslim, who identifies Islam to a polity from the alpha. Therefore, while the average Muslim will fervently denounce violence and terror as found in fascism or communism, and also reject the selective Islamism of the terror outfits, which the average majority would deem as an abduction of their good name, s/he will never understand why using force to fight against and eradicate evil is a bad thing.
Islam is for its adherents a complete ideology. Perhaps modern thinking, which is scientific in nature, depending more on differentiation than on integration, tends to constrict the concept of the term ‘ideology’ into the smaller spheres of politics, law, economy or religion. In their view, each ideological sphere may affect the other but is essentially an independent sphere too. Unlike Communism and Fascism, both of which may essentially be political ideologies that are normative upon the social and economic setting of the society too, but both are void of any religion; Islam cannot be surgically isolated into strands of –isms, like a purely political, radical Utopia, as perceived by the like of Pipes.
Our problem is not to defend any extremist cult that might have pocketed at some places between Muslim communities, who commit terrorism and still call themselves Muslims. Our problem is that the very notion of revivalism, the very desire for originality and purity as perceived in the first Muslims, and the very belief that Islam is capable of answering all problems, old and new, is being slaughtered under the slogan of ‘Islamism’. By recognizing the majority of Muslims around the world as Moderates, who show acceptance towards Western values, tend to imitate the West, and who are attempting to redefine the Quran and the traditions in compliance with the Western ‘higher’ values, the West is trying to artificially induce a sheepish approach in the average Muslim towards his/her own belief system. Our problem is that what the West considers for itself the greatest of virtues, it portrays as the greatest sin for the Muslim community; while America and its allies must maintain global superpower status by all means possible, it is told to the Muslims that not being Moderate and sheepish in our goals means being an extremist and a terrorist.
Margaret Thatcher in her op-ed ‘Islamism Is the New Bolshevism’, which she wrote in the wake of America’s backlash to the 9/11 event, writes, “Islamic extremism today, like bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees”. The op-ed starts with a positive assertion of global dominance; she says:
“After the horror of September 11 the world has seen America gather its strength, summon its allies and proceed to wage war halfway across the globe against its enemy – and ours. America will never be the same again. It has proved to itself and to others that it is in truth (not just in name) the only global superpower…”
As close as 2002, when she wrote this essay, America and its allies were sure how they were to deal with the Islamist. She suggested a three phase strategy; “The first phase of that strategy had to be a military assault on the enemy in Afghanistan… The second phase of the war against terrorism should be to strike at other centres of Islamic terror that have taken root in Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere… The third phase is to deal with those hostile states that support terrorism and seek to acquire or trade in weapons of mass destruction”. Thus, the equation is complete over the whole Islamic world, as she goes on giving the examples of why states like Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, N. Korea and Iraq have to be dealt with; if they are not direct supporters of terrorism, they must be indirect ones!
Using ‘all means’ to fulfill the dream of global hegemony would also look somewhat as follows: in the war with Iraq alone, a moderate estimate of 150,000 violent deaths including 66,081 civilian deaths is recorded, the number of wounded is unaccounted. Other means used are: torture tactics used by Iraqi security forces; Interior Ministry Death Squads committing numerous massacres and tortures of Sunni Arabs; Abu Ghraib torture and prisoner abuse; Haditha killings of 24 civilians; white phosphorus use in Iraq causing pandemic cancers in newborns; deployment of Blackwater for covert action in Iraq; beatings, electrocution, mock executions, and sexual assault of prisoners by British troops. Does all this not sound like the work of an extremist, fanatic, radical ideology that is ready to use any means to achieve its end goal of complete global power?
Like M. Mozaffari of the University of Aarhus, Denmark, puts in his paper, “Like other political doctrines, Islamism, in its contemporary form is an ‘ideology’, a ‘movement-organization’ and a ‘form of government’… a totalitarian ideology”. He goes on to define the term as: “Islamism is a religious ideology with a holistic interpretation of Islam whose final aim is the conquest of the world by all means.”
No doubt, Islam is a religious ideology with a holistic interpretation, and conquering the world to spread true peace, justice and equality is not a very bad idea either. Therefore, it is very unfair to malign the good things of Islam by attaching a suffix of an ‘ism’ with it. After all, what the Christian world has been doing to humanity for the last three centuries, like colonialism, and after that neo-colonialism, and then exacting massacres and coups in order to ensure their puppet rulers in power, and then exploiting the resources of those countries and forcibly keeping their people backward and underdeveloped; if we can call all that just Capitalism and not ‘Christianism’, then why should we label the works of a renegade sector of Islam as ‘Islamism’?
And why should there not be a possibility of having an Islamic state, where the golden values as practiced by the Rashidun be re-acted, why is the enactment of Sharia, in the true sense, in a state, a threat to the Western civilization? Is democracy not about the will of the people and their right to live their lives as they deem best? Or is democracy in the right to live as the West lives! Are we not free, even inside our own countries, to practice our faith as it is! The proponents of Islamism are clear that any state that has the Islamic Sharia as its constitution and the belief that its values are so good for humanity as should be propagated, then it is surely going to be a terrorist state.
In his essay, ‘Islam and Islamism- Faith and Ideology’, Pipes concludes, “An Islamist state is, almost by definition, a rogue state, not playing by any rules except those of expediency and power, a ruthless institution that causes misery at home and abroad. Islamists in power means that conflicts proliferate, society is militarized, arsenals grow, and terrorism becomes an instrument of state”.
The normal understanding of a terrorist, like perhaps understood here in Pakistan, where we have suffered the evil of terrorism the most, is a person or a group, which is a non-state actor, which works under cover, and commits killings of innocent Muslim civilians. The question is, if Islamism is about terrorism, then how can a state be Islamist as Pipes defines, when a state cannot be a non-state actor, and will not have the need to work under cover, nor would kill its own people. We in Pakistan understand the terrorist phenomenon better as ‘Takfeerism’, where the Takfeeris are liable to be killed by the force and institution of the state.
As for the global scenario, the Islamist may practically be another name for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It is no secret for those who read the papers how the US and its allies have funded and caused the creation of Al-Qaeda, starting from Al-Kifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. How can a phenomenon, created and funded by the US, be rooted in Islam for its ideology? Whistleblower Sibel Edmonds said in an interview in 2009, “… to say that since the fall of the Soviet Union we ceased all of our intimate relationship with Bin Laden and the Taliban – those things can be proven as lies, very easily, based on the information they classified in my case, because we did carry very intimate relationship with these people, and it involves Central Asia, all the way up to September 11”. Reportedly, the US has been providing funds and weapons to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in both the Libyan War and the ongoing Syrian Uprising. If anywhere, such rebel movements can have roots in the American ideal, not the Islamic one, whatever slogan they pose to uphold.
Conclusion: Islamism as a derivative of Islam cannot be a vice; and Terrorism that was unknown to the world as what it has turned out to be after 9/11 cannot be Islamism. Indeed the tendency of the West to identify a very short lived, induced phase in Islamic society, as it primal and prevalent vice is equivalent of a nervous West carving an enemy hidden in the closed box, by way of wild imagination, an enemy who in their mind is a constant threat and has to be eliminated by ‘all means’. Creating a fictitious enemy by neglecting the broader view of history and contemporary events is in fact more of a religious approach than a scientific one. Under the guise of tones of scholarship, the West has actually fallen of its own abandoned religiosity, which according to Geertz was a ‘system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order… with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic’.