BBC CoJ debates the use of the term ‘Islamist’

For some interesting insights into views on the use of the term ‘Islamist’ by BBC journalists, see this post by Cathy Loughran from the BBC College of Journalism’s blog. 

“The Russian editor was joined by BBC Urdu’s Aamer Ahmed Khan and Josephine Hazeley of the BBC African Service to chew over an issue that presenter David Amanor said had already sparked heated debate in the BBC African newsroom. The concerns of journalists there seemed to centre on the use of ‘Islamist’ as journalistic shorthand for Islamist militant/extremist/rebel/terrorist, or in circumstances when the militancy or violence referred to has nothing to do with Islam.

Aamer’s view was that precise language is the only way to avoid misleading readers and audiences. “The confusion is where you use [Islamist] interchangeably with the words ‘militant or extremist’. It’s just plain wrong – as wrong as calling a tortoise a coconut,” he argued colourfully.

Besides, not all militant groups are Islamist. The Taleban in Pakistan? Yes. It would be inaccurate to describe the Taleban as just a militant organisation, Aamer believes. But al-Qaeda? In his opinion it is not necessarily an Islamist militant group because its driving political focus is anti-Americanism.”

The BBC’s ‘official’ interpretation of the word is also included: tell us in the comments below what you think about it. 

15 comments on “BBC CoJ debates the use of the term ‘Islamist’

  1. There is some truth to that. Not all terrorist groups are Islamist e.g., the Tamil Tigers and the FARC, there are even fringe terrorist groups that happen to be Jewish. However, is there an Islamist group that doesn’t resort to terrorism?

  2. The first time I heard the word Islamist being used was when I heard Mehdi Hasan, a liberal muslim british journalist, using it to set apart muslims who practice Islam as religion and those who are in essence Islamic supremists.

    I think the term came from moderate Muslims who do not wish to impose religion on others nor do they belive in Islamic supremecy. This group is frequently targeted by Islamists and obviously do not wish to lumped together with the rabbel rousers

      • Well, I must say I’m surprised by that.

        On the other hand the BBC profile of Fatah doesn’t even mention the word “Islam” let alone “Islamist”, but describes it as “secular”. One of their “related links” is to this rather anodyne description: but even that says, “Fatah (sometimes “Fateh”) is both a political party and guerilla organization, and, along with Hamas, is a dominant political force in Palestinian politics.

        A more realistic analysis of Fatah is perhaps found here:

        But, while Fatah, the core of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), may have its roots in the revolutionary, secular-oriented ideologies of the 1960s and 1970s,[2] Islamist discourse is also integral to the movement.[3] Indeed, even as Western diplomats seek to bolster Fatah’s Abbas as an alternative to Hamas, they underestimate the degree to which Palestinian nationalism now intertwines itself with Islam.[4] Since the 2000 Palestinian uprising, Fatah has fused national and religious symbols in order to use Islam as an instrument of mobilization.[5]

  3. The IHH in Turkey describes itself as Islamist. So does the Sudan dictatorship. The title of Ed Hussein’s book about his travails with supremacist Muslims is titled “The Islamist”. The word wasn’t invented by the BBC it was invented by Islamists.

    Islamism is a political ideology that holds that Islam is superior to all other religious creeds, including atheism, that Islam is superior to all political systems, including democracy, that Islam is superior to all legal and economic systems, and that it is a fundamental duty of all Muslims to ensure that Islam replaces those inferior and incorrect ideas. Islamists may say that they denounce terrorism and violence, but they do not complain about the results.

  4. “BBC College of Journalism” = BBC College of Newspeak and Doublethink.

    In George Orwell’s novel 1984, “The Party intends to replace Oldspeak completely with Newspeak before 2050 (except among the Proles, who are not trained in Newspeak and whom the Party regards as barely human and unimportant).”

    “Doublethink, a word coined by George Orwell in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, describes the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in distinct social contexts.[1] It is related to, but differs from, hypocrisy and neutrality. Its opposite is cognitive dissonance, where the two beliefs cause conflict in one’s mind. Doublethink is an integral concept of George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The word doublethink is part of Newspeak.”

    • It wouldn’t surprise me in the least Daphne. The BBC seems determined to further the same agenda as described in that article in any way it can.

      Personally I’d like to see the words “Islamaphobe/Islamaphobia” removed from the lexicon, perhaps substituted with “realist”.

  5. They’re using a misleading definition of the term. Islamist is not defined by behaviour but through belief.
    If discussing the Muslim Brotherhood and an al-Qaeda group, I would explain that the difference between them is not ideological but one of tactics.
    The former is patient and willing to work towards power. The latter want to not just seize power but drive external enemies of Islam out and exterminate internal enemies (liberals, non-belivers and the wrong sort of Muslim).
    Both have the same goal of a theocratic state in opposition to the non-Muslim world.

    • It’s a two-pronged approach borrowed from other totalitarian movements. Political advocates further the cause through aggressive debate and rhetoric while foot soldiers silence dissent and disagreement with terror and violence, and also project power which encourages new recruits. The latter helps to achieve the political aims of the former, but the former has deniability and can claim to have clean hands.

      Hezbollah is a classic microcosm of this.

  6. Will they debate the term Islamic terrorist? Two words President Obama often has trouble connecting in a sentence? There is too much evidence that at least some of the defensive attitudes with Islamists is simply the same sort of disinformation that refuses to recognize that Islam can be a source of problems in itself and open to criticism. Like the rest of the great human G-d based faiths. Last year Islamic states attempted to pass a Resolution in the UN HRC making it a crime to criticize Islam. I call them Islamists and I don’t think their intentions are especially good when it comes to those of us of other faiths,

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