Islam v. Islamism … again

by Andrew C. McCarthy

My column over the weekend undertook to defend my friends David Horowitz and Robert Spencer against the allegations of “Islamophobia” leveled at them by the Center for American Progress, an influential Leftist think-tank. In the column, I pointed out that I make a habit of using the term “Islamist” (or “Islamism”) to distinguish the aggressive and often violent sharia agenda of America’s enemies from “Islam” as it is practiced by millions of Muslims — in America and elsewhere — who are not Islamic supremacists and who do not seek to impose Islamic law on civil society. I added that Messrs. Horowitz and Spencer also draw this distinction. In making that claim, I was quite certain that I had seen the term “Islamism” in the essay they jointly wrote for NRO a few weeks back. In fact, the word appears in the title of that essay, “Rational Fear of Islamism” — although, for all I know, the title could have been written by the editors rather than the authors.

Robert emailed me over the weekend. While he seemed to agree with most of what I’d written, he offered this correction: He does not use the terms “Islamist” and “Islamism.” In his view, the “Islam/Islamism distinction is an artificial one imposed by the West, with no grounding in Islamic history, theology, or law.” Coincidentally, I now see that, at Jihad Watch, he posted a piece called “Islam and Islamists” on Friday (i.e., the day before my column was published), fleshing out his views on this subject. 

I respectfully disagree with Robert (which will come as no surprise to readers of my last book, The Grand Jihad). I think it would be worthwhile to explain why, and I will do that in an upcoming column. The point of this post is to provide a clarification: Robert Spencer does not use the terms “Islamist” and “Islamism” for the reasons explained and elaborated on in the Jihad Watch post I’ve cited, above. I regret saying otherwise.

The error does not alter my contention that CAP’s charge of “Islamophobia” is without merit. Again, there is nothing phobic about fearing the nexus between Islamic doctrine (as classically rendered in, for example, the sharia manual Reliance of the Traveller) and the threat Muslim terrorists and stealth jihadists pose to the West. Moreover, the fact that Robert sees the Islamic doctrine in question as Islam rather than as one credible interpretation of Islam (which I call Islamism) hardly makes his concerns irrational.