Mistaking Islamism for Islam

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Ottawa Citizen
Mistaking Islamism for Islam
Too many who oppose fanaticism end up supporting the Islamist view that Muslims cannot be moderate, write Fred Litwin and Salim Mansur.

By Fred Litwin and Salim Mansur, Ottawa January 28, 2013

We are daily inundated with news of horrors from the Arab-Muslim world to the extent that for many in the West Islam as a venerable faith-tradition can no longer be distinguished from the organized terror and violence of radical Muslims, or Islamists.

There is something gone terribly wrong in the world of Islam, and setting aside political correctness there is the urgent need to publicly identify and discuss the evil of Islamism masquerading as a religion.

But what is this ideology, Islamism, for which we must not make any allowance, as we would not for Nazism?

From leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Arab countries, the Iran of Khomeini, fundamentalist parties in Pakistan, and affiliated groups — Hamas, Hezbollah, the al-Qaida network, al-Shabaab and the Taliban — we hear their politics is the genuine expression of Islam as practised by “Salafis” or the first generation of Muslims in seventh-century Arabia. In this view Muslims who disagree with Islamists are heretics or, even worse, apostates deserving to be killed.

Much has been written since 9/11 about Islamists, yet there remains widespread confusion of how their politics in appropriating Islam for gaining power is triumphantly sweeping across the Arab-Muslim world, while making strategic inroads in the West.

Bassam Tibi’s recent book, Islamism and Islam, is a vital contribution in sorting out the difference between ideology and religion, and arms us to assist effectively anti-Islamist Muslims as much as ourselves to defeat Islamism for the evil that it is.

Tibi is a distinguished professor emeritus of political science at the University of Göttingen in Germany, and has taught in several American universities including Harvard and Stanford. Tibi is an Arab Muslim from Damascus settled in Germany, and he has written extensively on Islam and Arab politics despite threats from Islamists.

Tibi provides a richly detailed, but easily accessible, analysis of Islamism as a modern invention. He writes about Islamism as an “invented tradition” that calls for “an imagined system of divine governance that has never existed in Islamic history.”

The first exponents of Islamism — Egypt’s Hasan al-Banna and Syed Qutb, Iran’s Ruhollah Khomeini and Pakistan’s Maulana Mawdudi — were born in the early years of the 20th century and were greatly influenced by the rise of European fascism in the period between the two world wars. They absorbed fascist ideology into their thinking, and organized political movements for defeating efforts of fellow Muslims to advance their societies into the modern world by embracing liberalism and democracy.

Islamism is totalitarian politics. It is also, as Tibi discusses, soaked in anti-Semitism, rejecting any compromise with Israel as Islamists call for destruction of the Jewish state.

Islamism must be fought against by Muslims and non-Muslims together.

Unfortunately, there are non-Muslim organizations in the West believing they are opposing Islamists but who have misguidedly turned to making all Muslims and Islam their enemies.

One such group is the English Defence League (EDL), founded in 2009, devoted to fighting the “Islamization” of Britain. But by failing to distinguish between Islamists and non- or anti-Islamist Muslims, EDL’s activism has inflamed community relations, while being counter-productive in actually helping ordinary Muslims resist Islamists in their midst.

Another person in this anti-Islamist struggle is Gavin Boby, a British lawyer, and his Law and Freedom Foundation. Boby’s organization is linked to the EDL and it goes about encouraging communities stop mosque construction by using existing zoning laws in municipalities across Britain. He will be in Canada for a speaking tour in early February.

On the surface, the efforts of these anti-Islamist organizations appear courageous, even noble. But they end up ironically supporting the Islamist view there is no Islam other than what Islamists insist it is.

When anti-Islamist Muslims are denied the space and legitimacy to oppose Islamism then the inescapable paradox is that non-Muslim opponents of Islamists have conceded the Islamist propaganda that Islamists are Islam’s only legitimate representatives. It then becomes easier for mainstream politicians and their allies in the West to appease and accommodate Islamists as once their predecessors sought to placate Communists.

Hence, our concern is with those in Canada foolishly or mistakenly inviting Gavin Boby, or EDL members, to build support for anti-Islamist activism.

We confront a hugely important struggle against Islamists. We cannot afford to get this wrong.

Fred Litwin is president of the Free Thinking Film Society and Salim Mansur is the author of Delectable Lie: A Liberal Repudiation of Multiculturalism.