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Jan-04-2013 18:15printcomments

Media Urged to Drop Term 'Islamist' in New Year

Term 'currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context'

Ibrahim Hooper
Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization.

(WASHINGTON DC) - As many people make promises to themselves to improve their lives or their societies in the coming year, here is a suggested New Year's resolution for media outlets in America and worldwide: Drop the term "Islamist."

The Associated Press (AP) added the term to its influential Stylebook in 2012. That entry reads: "Islamist -- Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

The AP says it sought input from Arabic-speaking experts and hoped to provide a neutral perspective by emphasizing the "wide range" of religious views encompassed in the term.

Many Muslims who wish to serve the public good are influenced by the principles of their faith. Islam teaches Muslims to work for the welfare of humanity and to be honest and just. If this inspiration came from the Bible, such a person might well be called a Good Samaritan. But when the source is the Quran, the person is an "Islamist."

Unfortunately, the term "Islamist" has become shorthand for "Muslims we don't like." It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term "extremist," giving it an even more negative slant.

There are few, if any, positive references to "Islamist" in news articles. There are also no -- nor should there be -- references to "Christianists," "Judaists" or "Hinduists" for those who would similarly seek governments "in accord with the laws" of their respective faiths.

No journalist would think of referring to the "Judaist government of Israel," the "Christianist leader Rick Santorum" or "Hinduist Indian politician Narendra Modi," while use of "Islamist" has become ubiquitous. It might be an interesting exercise to hold a contest, the winner of which would be the first to find a positive mainstream media reference to "Islamist."

Quite likely, such a contest would end up being similar to a unicorn hunt.

The frequent linkage of the term "Islamist" to violence and denial of religious and human rights is also strongly promoted by Islamophobic groups and individuals who seek to launch rhetorical attacks on Islam and Muslims, without the public censure that would normally accompany such bigoted attacks on any other faith.

Islam-bashers routinely use the term to disingenuously claim they only hate "political" Islam, not the faith itself. Yet they fail to explain how a practicing Muslim can be active in the political arena without attracting the label "Islamist."

If the term is retained, media professionals should modify its use to reflect language similar to that used in the AP Stylebook reference to "fundamentalist," which states that the label should not be used unless a group applies the term to itself.

By not dropping or modifying use of the term, the media are making a political and religious value judgment each time it is used.

That is hardly fair or balanced.

[Ibrahim Hooper is national communications director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: ihooper@cair.com]

CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.




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