CAIR Asks Journalists to Stop Using the Pejorative Term Islamist in New War on Words

National Communications Director of Council on American-Islamic Relations Ibrahim Hooper during a news conference at CAIR’s Washington, D.C. in 2010. (Getty Images)

The Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking the nation’s media to make this their new year’s resolution: Stop using the word “Islamist.”

Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s communications director, explained in a Jan. 3 op-ed why his group is upset the Associated Press added the term to its latest stylebook, a document that guides reporters worldwide. Hooper wrote:

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.

Hooper believes that because there are so few “positive references to ‘Islamist’ in news articles,” it should not be used. Though it’s hard to imagine how journalists might put a positive spin on beheadings and honor killings.

Hooper tried to strike a comparison between Islamic extremism with other religions. He wrote:

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.

Radical Islam’s American watchdogs – presumably those “Islamophobic groups and individuals” to whom Hooper referred — have reacted to CAIR’s proposal. The Investigative Project on Terrorism’s Executive Director Steven Emerson pointed out the irony of the drop-the-word campaign, since not only have CAIR’s leaders used the term “Islamist” themselves, they also employ the term “Islamophobes” as a label for their critics.

Emerson wrote:

Hooper’s demand that “Islamist” be removed from the lexicon is ironic, since his bosses seemed more than comfortable placing themselves firmly in the world of “Islamists” back in 1993. CAIR founders Omar Ahmad and Nihad Awad joined two dozen Hamas supporters in Philadelphia for a fall weekend in an urgent meeting called to discuss ways to “derail” the U.S.-brokered Oslo Accords.

The FBI bugged the meeting room. Transcripts entered into evidence during a 2008 Hamas-financing trial show the participants referred to “Islamists” dozens of times. Ahmad helped lead the meeting, helping determine who might attend and calling it to order.

The FBI described the group as Hamas members and supporters. “Hamas’ agenda was not only to eliminate Israel,” prosecutors wrote, “but also to sabotage the Oslo Accords and to replace the secular PA regime with an Islamist government that would control all of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.”

Emerson explained that Ahmad, CAIR chairman emeritus until 2009, used the term when presenting the group’s media strategy:

“The first goal was relating to activism among Muslims and Palestinians but we must broadcast our point of view in U. S. media. There is a very good reason for that which is bringing the voice of the Islamists to the surface, keeping them informed and explaining their positions in order to case the severity of allegations of radicalism and other things,” Ahmad said. [Emphasis added] “This will also make our position known to Muslims and sympathizers whom we cannot reach via our media tools.”

One speaker took pains to emphasize how important it was to cloak their true agenda, that is, destroying Israel:

“We must be clear that we oppose this thing 100% and that we, the Islamists … different from what is being suggested for Palestinian activism,” Akram said. No one disagreed.

Their claim on Palestine was not limited to the West Bank and Gaza, Ahmad said, agreeing it was not a wise strategy to say so publicly.

“We’ve always demanded the 1948 territories,” Ahmad said.

“Yes,” an unidentified speaker responded, “but we don’t say that publicly. You cannot say it publicly. In front of the Americans…”

“No,” Ahmad agreed, “we didn’t say that to the Americans.”

Nearly 20 years later, Ahmad’s organization doesn’t want Americans to say the same words he and his colleagues embraced.

Emerson provides multiple examples of CAIR supporters and members utilizing the term “Islamist” both in a matter of fact manner and boastfully. He wrote: “CAIR’s background…should be taken into consideration by anyone entertaining Hooper’s request to serve as language cop.”

Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, another CAIR adversary, reminded readers that the media do not frequently identify CAIR as “an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas terror funding case, or note the jihad terror convictions of several of their former officers, or their consistent opposition to every anti-terror measure ever devised.” He wrote:

The irony is that, as I have explained many times (as in this National Review article), the term “Islamist” is often used by those who believe that Islam is a Religion of Peace that has been hijacked by a tiny minority of extremists, to create a distance between Islam, which is supposedly entirely benign and peaceful, and Islamism, which teaches political authoritarianism, subjugation of non-Muslims, and everything else about Islam that is unpleasant and at variance with Western principles of human rights. [...]

Anyway, now even the word “Islamist,” although it is usually used to exonerate Islam and distance its teachings from the violence and hate propagated in its name, is unacceptable for Hamas-linked CAIR. Clearly Hamas-linked CAIR’s amiable beekeper, Honest Ibe Hooper, sees how successful he and his fellow Islamic supremacists have been in co-opting the media, government, and law enforcement in recent years, and is pressing on toward final victory: the total silencing of any resistance to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism. […]

What Honest Ibe is not telling you here is that “Islamists” are generally proponents of political Islam, an authoritarian system that would deny basic rights to non-Muslims and women. Their political agenda is grounded in Islam in a way that no fair-minded person would say that Santorum’s is grounded in Christianity.

Twitter posters are suggesting new terms to describe radical Islamists. For example, David Garth wrote: “What do they want us to use?  Adherents of a peaceful religion that have a nasty habit of murdering people?”

While RightWingNerd quipped: “But really, who hasn’t accidentally beheaded someone?”

If you had to write an article about religiously-motivated Islamists, which alternate term would you use? Add your ideas in comments below.

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