What term to use in place of ‘Muslim extremist’?
The London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has said that a clearer and better defined term is needed for Muslim extremists in order to unambiguously separate them from the vast majority of orthodox Muslims. What Mr Johnson should do, firstly, is criticise the Conservatives for using the very unhelpful terms ‘violent extremists’ and ‘non-violent extremists’ as if to simplistically imply that the only difference between the two groups is the use of violence. This of course is not the case because the difference between the two groups is at a far more fundamental level of understanding. This is why the number of so-called non-violent extremists far outnumber the violent types. And the reason why the violent types are so small in number is because it requires a huge distortion of the Islamic texts as well as other socio-religious reasons to turn to violence. ‘Islamism’ is another extremely unhelpful term that is often used across the media to label extremist groups like Boko Haram, al-Qa’ida and Islamic State. The vast majority of peaceful Muslims are politically active to a certain extent, but their activity in this regard and those implemented by the aforementioned groups differ substantially. In fact, there is very little resemblance between the two except in certain overlapping areas. Hence, whatever term is required needs to take these subtle nuances as well as the more obvious ones into account. There is, in actual fact, one term that has always been used by Muslim theologians throughout the centuries to describe these violent groups, which has been used by western academics too, which might be considered and adopted in its anglicised form: Kharijites. The Kharijites were a violent sectarian group – the first in Islam – who were comprised of fringe elements known for distorting the texts of Islam to justify their use of mindless violence. They were also known for readily ex-communicating their fellow faithfuls at a whim so as to justify murder and plunder. Their traits precisely fit the characteristics of their successors today like a hand fits a glove. Mr Johnson’s call has come from his concern for a rise in Islamophobia across the capital. But this rise has been witnessed for a number of years and not just restricted to London. Across the shores in France, for instance, twenty-six mosques have been subject to attack by firebombs, gunfire, pig heads, and grenades as Muslims are targeted with violence in the wake of the Paris attacks. France’s National Observatory Against Islamophobia (NOAI) reported recently that a total of 60 Islamophobic incidents had been recorded, with countless minor encounters believed to have gone unreported. Muslim-owned businesses including restaurants have also been targeted with bomb attacks. Other incidents include racist graffiti, threats, and intimidation. Figures according to the French interior ministry show that anti-Muslim attacks have risen six-fold in the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2014, hitting 222 reported violent attacks. “It is the first time we have recorded grenades being thrown or guns fired,” Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory against Islamophobia said. “Ever since the establishment of the Observatory in 2011, the number of Islamophobic acts has increased as such actions or threats, especially on social networks,” Zekri added, calling the anti-Muslim attacks “simply racism and rejection of men and women who aspire to just be respected.” Hence, it’ll take more than the condemnation expressed by France’s Prime Minister Manuel Calls. It’ll require a complete reversal of all things that feed this Islamophobia.