Does Language Matter? The ‘Islamism’ Question

There has been much comment recently about a debate within certain official circles in the UK about the appropriate terminology to be adopted when describing, reporting or commenting on acts of extremist violence committed in the name of Islam. Senior officers within the Metropolitan Police Force in particular seem exercised over this issue. It has reportedly been argued that the use of terms such as ‘Islamism’ or ‘Islamist’ is prejudicial to Muslims and damaging to social cohesion on the grounds that what Islamists believe and do is un-Islamic. Critics of the use of these terms wish instead to use some such term as ‘faith-based violence’ or ‘irhabi’ (the generic modern Arabic word for ‘terrorist’), which does not name the religion and, they claim, would be more palatable for Muslims. The Deputy Commander of CT in the MPC, Nik Adams, has been quoted as welcoming the debate and promising to listen to the ‘community’.