Saturday, December 11, 2004

Hodges on 'Islamofascism'

Dear Bill,

On Islamofascism, I see the point to the label, and a number of scholars have written on the similarities between today's radical Islam and fascist movements and have noted some of the intellectual crosscurrents. Nevertheless, I have come to think that it's a bit misleading.

First, it suggests a possibly stronger historical link than exists between radical Islam and fascism (even if one doesn't mean to imply that).

Second, it suggests a sharp disjunction between radical Islam and historical Islam that I don't see (even if there is some sort of disjunction). I'm coming to prefer the term "Islamism." It suggests that we're dealing with an ideology but also situates the ideology securely within historical Islam.

Also, the term "Islamism" is fruitfully ambiguous as to the distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism," andtherefore between "Islamic" and "Islamist." We should recognize that there's a continuum here between Islam and Islamism despite the distinction implied by"-ism." We have seen the relative ease with which an ordinary Muslim can develop into an Islamist. The change doesn't seem to require profound changes in views but, rather, powerful emphasis upon particular aspects of Islam that were not not previously significant for the individual turned Islamist.

Converts to Islam who quickly become Islamist belong to a special category, of course, and do not quite fit the case described above, but I suspect that they begin as converts to Islam who are then persuaded of Islamism through indoctrination, often due to the influence of Muslim teachers who place emphasis upon the more extreme and violent of passages within foundational Islamic texts and upon streams of Islamic tradition that also emphasize these passages.

I think that we simply have to recognize that Islam is a religion that does not distinguish between sacred and secular, between mosque and state. It's a religion that attempts to set up a state and establish Shariah, i.e., laws grounded in the Qur'an and Hadith, and it's often been willing to use violent Jihad to achieve this goal.

Therefore, I prefer "Islamism" and "Islamist," and as a rule of thumb, I'd say that one should call "Islamist"any Muslim who advocates the use of violence to establish Shariah.

Yours,

Jeff

Assistant Professor Horace Jeffery Hodges
Department of English Language and Literature
Korea University136-701 Anam-dong, Seongbuk-gu Seoul, South Korea