|Islamist. Islamists should be distinguished from fundamentalists within Islam. The latter are essentially spiritual seekers looking to return to the ostensibly pure and simple forms of personal piety exhibited by the Prophet Muhammad and the founding generation of Bedouin. Islamists are also fundamentalists, but move beyond the personal sphere to uphold a distinct political agenda that dwarfs their ostensible search for virtue. Instead of pietism they seek political revolution, namely, the creation of an overarching Islamic empire that will govern all Muslims under a single ruler (caliph), but framed as a theocratic fascism that ignores the ways in which the vast majority of Muslims choose to live. At a minimum, and in the interim, Islamists seek erection of theocratic regimes and imposition of the severest interpretations of the sharia in predominantly Muslim areas. |
Islamism emerged as a significant force in world affairs in the 1970s, notably with the Iranian Revolution (1979). This reflected frustrated hopes of reform dating to the 1940s and 1950s, shared throughout the decolonized countries, that independence would bring general prosperity and cultural respect by the wider world. It did not, as most Islamic—and especially Arab—nations found that internal ethnic and other political fractures, massive corruption, and overall educational, technological, and developmental backwardness retarded expected progress and threw up despotic, and often also secular and nationalist, regimes. Islamist regimes took power by force of arms or popular revolution in several countries, starting with Iran in 1979. In the 1980s they seized control of northern Sudan, where they proceeded to prosecute a vicious war of genocide against, and to reimpose slavery on, non-Muslim Sudanese. From 1996 to 1998 the Taliban won the bitter civil war in Afghanistan and set about instituting the most restrictive and repressive theocracy in many centuries of Muslim history. Yet, despite a common surface appearance and rhetoric, these were strikingly different regimes: the Ayatollahs of Qom and Teheran were intent on preserving their ageing, radical shi’ite revolution and despised the Wahhabi-influenced, sunni Taliban who came to power in neighboring Kandahar and Kabul. In fact, the Ayatollahs almost went to war with the Taliban.
Elsewhere, Islamists were partly repressed and in part brought into shared power via a stealth accommodation with the monarchy in Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization within the Palestinian Authority in Palestine. For the most part, however, Islamist opposition movements were savagely but also fairly effectively repressed by the extant governments of predominantly Muslim countries. In Egypt, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Islamic Jihad were met with torture, prison, and summary execution, if they did not flee into exile. The worst violence occurred in Algeria, where perhaps 100,000 lives were lost in a brutal civil war marked by atrocity and counteratrocity. See also Usama bin Laden;Hamas; Philippines; al Qaeda; Shanghai Cooperation Organization; Uighurs.