Islam and Political Correctness

 Below is some terminology from: It is a sort of political correctness guide but I’m curious about distortions and loss of meaning. What do you think? Below is an analysis of one term “Islamic terrorism.” Other terms are listed along the right side. Is this sort of sensitivity justified or does the phrase “Islamic terrorism” accurately capture what it is you want to say. I will post more of these on occasion.

Term: Islamic Terrorism
Intended Meaning: Acts of terrorism by individuals who claim to conduct them in the name of Islam
Why a Problem: Implies that terrorism can be Islamic in character, i.e., that the ethos of Islam is compatible with that of terrorism
Impact: Most Muslims feel insulted, wronged, and even angry on hearing expressions which seem to blame terrorism on, or attribute it to, Islam; the term helps terrorists as it reinforces the idea that the West views Islam as a source of evil and openly says so
  • Terrorism, Terrorists
  • Terrorism in the name of Islam, Terrorists claiming to be Muslims, Terrorists in/from country X
  • Takfiri terrorism (Takfir in Arabic is the act of pronouncing/passing judgment on who is a real Muslim and who is not, a concept that is antithetical to mainstream Islam. Advantage: it clearly denotes a distinction from mainstream Islam. Disadvantage: it introduces a non-English word into popular language, which could be used incorrectly and/or misunderstood.
Additional Distinctions
Term: Muslim (noun/adj.) Islamic (adj.)
Definition: Denotes an adherent of Islam or a characteristic of its adherents (descriptive, adj. comparable to “Jewish”) Denotes the religion or its institutions (prescriptive, comparable to “Judaic”)
Example: A Muslim country is one where the majority of citizens follow the religion of Islam An Islamic country is one whose political system is based on Islamic law
Why Important: Avoids negative events, acts or ideas being attributed to the religion of Islam itself (rather than its followers)
Term: Headscarf Veil
Definition: Worn by many Muslim women to cover their hair in public; usually accompanied by non- revealing clothes Worn by a small minority of Muslim women to cover face; usually accompanied by non-revealing clothes
Referred to as: Hijab Niqab
Why Important: Important “Veil” conjures up “barrier” and has a negative impact on bridge-building efforts
Note: neither garment necessarily says anything about one’s political viewpoints

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on June 4, 2012, in Political Conflict and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi Don,

    As you know, I find that “truth deliberation” to be an important tool for solving conflicts. so I look at the term “Islamic terrorism” in that light.

    I think that a term should describe the object he is referring to as accurate as can be. Therefore, in order to describe “Islamic terrorism” we have to understand the phenomena of people that terrorise in the name of Islam. As far as I understand it, Not all Muslims look at terror as a legitimate act. Moderate Muslims avoid terror or supporting terror. It is more the act of Fundamental-Islamists. Therefore I will look to a term as “Fundamental-Islamists-terrorism”, or “Terrorism in the name of Radical Islam”. Both of them will not alienate moderate Muslims and will describe more correctly the people who believe terror in the name of Islam is legitimate. More over, it will alienate the moderate Islamist from the radicals.


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