Maajid Nawaz is Co-Founder and Chairman of Quilliam – a globally active think tank focusing on matters of Integration, Citizenship & Identity, Religious Freedom, Extremism and Immigration writes in the Daily Beast that ISIS Is Just One of a Full-Blown Global Jihadist Insurgency:
I say this as a liberal, and as a Muslim. In fact, I speak as a former Liberal Democrat candidate in the U.K.’s last general election and as someone who became a political prisoner in Egypt due to my former belief in Islamism. I speak, therefore, from a place of concern and familiarity, not enmity and hostility to Islam and Muslims. In a televised discussion with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria on the issue, I have argued that of course ISIS is not Islam. Nor am I. Nor is anyone, really. Because Islam is what Muslims make it. But it is as disingenuous to argue that ISIS has “nothing to do with Islam” as it is to argue that “they are Islam.” ISIS has something to do with Islam. Not nothing, not everything, but something. If you’re going to talk to a jihadist—and believe me, I have spoken to many—you’re not going to find yourself discussing Hitler’s Mein Kampf. You’ll be discussing Islamic texts.
It is important to define here what I mean by Islamism: Islam is a religion, and like any other it is internally diverse. But Islamism is the desire to impose a very particular version of Islam on society. Hence, Islamism is Muslim theocracy. And where jihad is a traditional Islamic idea of struggle, jihadism is the use of force to spread Islamism. Defined in this way, it becomes easier to understand how this global jihadist insurgency seeks to recruit from Islamists, who in turn operate among Muslim communities.
The danger of not recognizing this relationship between the ideology of Islamism and the religion of Islam is twofold. Firstly, within the Muslim context, those liberal reformist Muslims, feminist Muslims, gay Muslims, dissenting Muslims, and minority sects—all these different minorities-within-the minority of the Muslim community—are immediately betrayed. By failing to name the ideology and isolate it from everyday Islam, we deprive these reforming voices of a lexicon, a language to deploy against those who are attempting to silence their progressive efforts within their own communities. We prevent a conversation around ending Islamism’s appeal while also reforming traditional Islam. If it has “nothing to do with Islam,” there is nothing to discuss within Islamic communities. In this way, we surrender the debate to the extremists, who meanwhile are discussing Islam with impunity.
The second danger is in the non-Muslim context. What happens if you don’t name the Islamist ideology and distinguish it from Islam? President Obama in his last UN speech referred to a “poisonous ideology,” yet failed to name it. Most people, who are understandably in need of some guidance on such topics, may well assume that the ideology they must challenge is Islam and all Muslims, ergo the rise of current populist xenophobic trends within Europe and America.
We should be able to distinguish Islamist extremism from Islam by clarifying that Islam is simply a religion and that Islamism is a theocratic desire to impose a version of that religion over society. And once we do that, we are then able to clearly identify the insurgent ideology that we must understand, isolate, undermine, refute, and provide alternatives to. It is precisely this distinction that I have spent the last few years advising Britain’s Prime Minister Cameron on, and I would like to think that is why Cameron corrected Obama on this very issue at the United Nations.