They’re not dropping it altogether, the way they did with “illegal immigrant.” They’re fine-tuning it to draw a distinction between jihadists, who wage war to spread rule by Islamic law, and people like Erdogan and Mohammed Morsi, who for strategic reasons favor spreading rule by Islamic law through political means. With occasional notable exceptions.
Here’s a devil’s-dictionary rule of thumb for telling them apart. A jihadist wants Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel torn up now. An Islamist wants Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel torn up later, when the chances of military victory have improved.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an American advocacy group sometimes labeled “Islamist” by critics, previously lobbied for the AP to drop the term. In a January op-ed CAIR’s communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, wrote the term “has become shorthand for ‘Muslims we don’t like'” and “is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context.”
As of Thursday’s update, the AP definition reads:
An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.
Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.
I’m keen to know which “Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals” don’t support rule by Islamic law. Do they mean the small sliver of Syrian rebels who don’t want Assad replaced by a religious state? Kudos to CAIR, though, for zeroing in on this very important issue. If there’s one surefire way to improve American-Islamic relations, it’s by complaining loudly that governance by shari’a shouldn’t necessarily be viewed pejoratively.
Semi-serious exit question: If the term “illegal immigrant” is now verboten because it’s too label-y, reducing a person to just one element of his behavior/beliefs, why is “Islamist” being retained?
Update: Good news and bad news. The good news: The Defense Department does include Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood under the heading of “religious extremism.” The bad news: Er…