Difference between revisions of "Islamism"

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(History of usage)
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===Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy===
===Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy===
[[File:Islamism-Anglophone press-1970-2020.png|thumb|right|300px|'Islamism', 'political Islam' and Islamic fundamentalism in the Anglophone press 1970-2020]]]]
*Dekmejian, R. Hrair. “The Anatomy of Islamic Revival: Legitimacy Crisis, Ethnic Conflict and the Search for Islamic Alternatives.” ''The Middle East Journal'' 34, no. 1 (1980): 1–12.
*Dekmejian, R. Hrair. “The Anatomy of Islamic Revival: Legitimacy Crisis, Ethnic Conflict and the Search for Islamic Alternatives.” ''The Middle East Journal'' 34, no. 1 (1980): 1–12.

Revision as of 16:14, 14 February 2020

Islamism (and the associated Islamist) are terms that are used very widely in contemporary discourse.

History of usage

The term Islamism historically referred to adherents of Islam. It was a term used widely in English from as early as 1800, peaking in books published in English around 1860 and declining to residual use by the turn of the century. Its occurrence only picked up, as the Google Ngram image shows, but this time in a mostly new sense, at the end of the 1980s.

What caused the reinvention and reinterpretation of the term Islamism (and around the same time, the coining of a new term to go with it - Islamist)?

Google Ngram of mentions of Islamism, Islamist, Jihadist, Jihadi and Islamic terrorism in English books from 1800 to 2010

Bernard Lewis

On of the earliest articles of note was by Bernard Lewis a 'renowned British-American historian of Islam and the Middle East. A former British intelligence officer, Foreign Office staffer, and Princeton University professor.'[1]

In January 1976 he published a piece in the Zionist/Neoconservative magazine Commentary, which at that stage was still published by the American Jewish Committee. Titled 'The return of Islam' it raised the spectre of 'new forms of pan-Islamic activity.'[2] It sets out to insist that the problem with Islam is that it is a religion. Thus he chides the West for not understanding that Muslims are not like us. 'We are prepared' he states 'to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much.'[2]

The phrase 'pan-Islamism' was used nine times in the piece in an account that proposed that the problem with Muslims in politics is that they take their religion too seriously. Bernard Lewis 'was not a regular rogue. He was instrumental in causing enormous suffering and much bloodshed in this world. He was a notorious Islamophobe who spent a long life studying Islam in order to demonise Muslims and mobilise the mighty military of what he called "the West" against them.'[3]

Martin Kramer

Cover of Martin Kramer's book Political Islam, published in 1980 in the 'Washington Papers' series under the auspices of the CSIS and the editorship of Walter Laqueur

Four years later Martin Kramer - both student and friend of Lewis - introduced the term 'Political Islam':

Terminology for the phenomena characterized as Political Islam varies among scholars. The first scholar to introduce the term Political Islam was Martin Kramer in 1980. Some scholars use the term Islamism for the same set of phenomena, or use the two terms interchangeably. Dekmejian 1980 was among the first to place the politicization of Islam in the context of the failures of secular governments, although he uses the terms Islamism and fundamentalism (rather than Political Islam) interchangeably. Dekmejian 1995, still using fundamentalism and Islamism, is an influential treatment of Political Islam as increasingly mainstream and moderate. Some scholars, using descriptive terms such as conservative, progressive, militant, radical, or jihadist, distinguish among ideological strains of Political Islam.[4]

Kramer's book was published by Sage but in a series called the 'Washington Papers'. This was edited by Walter Laqueur the historian, journalist, propagandist and 'terror expert' who was at the time attached to the Georgetown University think tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The book only used the term 'Islamism' on four occasions, in each case with the prefix 'Pan' as in 'Pan-Islamism'. the idea that Muslims involved in politics might all be part of the same phenomenon seems to have been an intoxicating one.

Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy

'Islamism', 'political Islam' and Islamic fundamentalism in the Anglophone press 1970-2020




  1. Militarist Monitor, Bernard Lewis, last updated: September 17, 2018.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lewis, Bernard, “The Return of Islam.” Commentary 61, no. 1 (1976): 39–49.
  3. Hamid Dabashi Alas, poor Bernard Lewis, a fellow of infinite jest, Al Jazeera, 28 May 2018.
  4. John O. Voll, Tamara Sonn Political Islam Oxford Bibliographies, LAST REVIEWED: 29 SEPTEMBER 2014, LAST MODIFIED: 14 DECEMBER 2009 DOI: 10.1093/OBO/9780195390155-0063.