The Times has revealed today that counter-terror police officers are considering dropping the term ‘Islamism’ to describe terror attacks motivated by Islam. If it feels like we’ve been here before, we have. Ever since Islamist terror hit the West in September 2001, the circular debates over the correct way to describe terrorists has been a near-constant distraction.
In 2014, precious time and energy that could have been used to save the lives of innocent aid workers, journalists, religious minorities and civilians living under the jackboot of ISIS – or indeed stopping hundreds of our own citizens joining the frenzy – was instead spent debating whether or not we should call the group ‘Daesh’, or the ‘un-Islamic State.’
Unsurprisingly, this parochial debate did not exactly strike fear into the hearts of terrorists. One told the journalist Graeme Wood:
‘We’re happy to have you discussing whether to call us ‘Daesh’, ‘ISIL,’ or ‘ISIS’… As long as you’re talking about that,” he said – and not about theology, politics or military operations – “we know you’re not taking us seriously.’
It is more apparent to terrorists than us that these conversations, though well-meaning, have little benefit to the actual business of countering terrorism.
Which brings us to ideology, and the attempt by police to ban the term ‘Islamist’. Islamism is the particular name for a political ideology which seeks to establish an Islamic state. Its adherents range from those working within democracy to those willing to murder civilians to achieve this aim.
According to critics of the word, ‘Islamism’ should be dropped because it conflates religious belief with terror. But the term ‘Islamism,’ rather than ‘Islamic’ is intended to draw a distinction between the political ideology and the religious beliefs of more than two million Brits. It is important though to understand how religion informs the political ideology.