The Double Standards of Language: A Look at the Word “Islamist”

Today I came across a blog post on the site Foreign Policy which discusses the Associated Press definition and acceptable useage of the word “Islamist.” The post, entitled “If I can call a Muslim an ‘Islamist,’ can I call a Christian a ‘Christianist’?” describes how the word “Islamist” is acceptable under certain circumstances, but to make a point about why this is considered offensive compares it to the use of the word “Christianist.” Why is it acceptable to refer to Muslims in this way but not Christians? Is the restricted use helpful in regards to the Muslim faith?

I tend to agree with a lot of the points made in the post, especially regarding whether the use of the word is acceptable at all. When compared to words like, “Christianist,” “Judaist,” and “Hinduist,”  I can really see why Muslims could be upset. Why is it that it is socially acceptable for us to point out the Muslim nations as opposed to other nations which are religiously affiliated? The term Islamist is used in a negative connotation and mostly in regards to oppressive regimes like the Taliban and others. But have we stopped to think about the fact that their power is less about their religion and more about having control? So why are we putting this on Muslim’s shoulders?

One thing that I got out of reading this piece is that words really matter. For many the word “Islamist” is interchangeable with “terrorist,” but in actuality the difference is severe. We must be aware that language matters and be respectful of the fact that the Muslim tradition is not limited to the scope of the violent extremists; terrorism involves many people, not just Muslims. The movement towards removing the word “Islamist” that AP is taking is admirable, but in order to make a sustainable change we all need to be careful with what we say ourselves in our own lives.

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