Islam, Islamism and Terrorism

By De Atkine, Norvell B. | Army, January 2006 | Go to article overview

Islam, Islamism and Terrorism


De Atkine, Norvell B., Army


The tragedy of September 11, 2001, and the subsequent conceptualizing of the war on terrorism have presented a very difficult problem to those responsible for framing the strategy. The basic problem has been one of defining the enemy. After four years, this problem still eludes a clear definition although the national leadership has been carefully moving toward a more definitive description.

The basic obstacle has been one of clearly describing the enemy without seeming to single out the world's second largest religion, Islam, as the cause or facilitator of this terrorism. To differentiate the radical forms of Islam from the mainstream Islamic community, the word "Islamism" was coined to describe an ideological movement using Islam as the vehicle to power. Others term it political Islam, while some journalists and media types still refer to it as Muslim fundamentalism.

In actuality there is a wide gap between the fundamentalists and Islamists. While the fundamentalists may accept many of the views of the Islamists, for example, the law of the land being the Sharia (Islamic law) primarily based on the Koran, (the sacred word of God delivered in Arabic to Mohammed), and Hadiths (sayings and actions of the prophet Mohammed), they do not necessarily share the view that only violence will bring about the reestablishment of the Caliphate (the worldwide Islamic community).

The Caliphate existed in theory until 1923 when Kemal Ataturk abolished the Ottoman Empire and established the modern state of Turkey. In actuality it had not existed as a viable entity for more than a thousand years. Petty Muslim states fragmented the Caliphate around 1000 AD. Reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate is one of the consistent views of the Islamists-the concept of the entire Islamic world stretching from Mauritania and Spain to Mindanao, under a ruler who would represent the spiritual as well as the secular; an Islamic nation in which the tribal differences, nationalities and other divisive factors have all been eradicated. In the more ambitious scenario of the radical global Islamists, sometimes referred to as jihadists, the world will never be stabilized until Islam controls it, with the absorption of the House of War (non-Islamic lands) by the House of Peace (Islamic world). As part of this design, the concept of jihad has been elevated to a household word with very little understanding of its nature. Jihad has a much more nuanced meaning than "holy war," but in essence it conveys the manner in which the overall objective of subjecting all the peoples of the earth to Islam would be accomplished. In "Islam and the Modern Law of Nations," The American Journal of International Law, April 1956, reprinted by the Middle East Institute, Washington, D.C., Majid Khadduri explained jihad as an intensive religious propaganda program that takes the form of a continuous process of warfare, psychological and political, no less than strictly military. Unfortunately, the same article describes "jihad as a weapon that has become obsolete." It was a typical post-World War II belief.

In his October 6, 2005, address to the National Endowment for Democracy, President Bush made it clear that terrorism is not the enemy, but rather Islamic terrorism, a concept that had been clearly described in the 9/11 report.

The enemy is not just "terrorism." It is the threat posed specifically by Islamist terrorism, by bin Laden and others who draw on a long tradition of extreme intolerance within a minority strain of Islam that does not distinguish politics from religion, and distorts both.

The President was even more specific:

Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant jihadism; still others, Islamo-Fascism. Whatever it's called, its ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment by terrorism and subversion and insurgency of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom.

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