For the foreseeable future, journalists will be covering Muslim zealots who terrorize innocent civilians in God’s name, fellow Muslims included, hoping that violence will force the creation of a truly Islamic society. Their revolutionary bloodshed spans the globe -- and spurns centuries of moderate teaching by Islamic authorities.
Journalists remain uncertain on how best to name these groups, which is among matters explored in “The Mind of the Islamic State: ISIS and the Ideology of the Caliphate” by Robert Manne, an Australian media personality and emeritus professor at La Trobe University. Though publisher Prometheus Books is known for partisan and sometimes supercilious attacks on religious faiths, The Religion Guy finds this title even-tempered, as well as brisk and valuable (though Prometheus deserves brickbats for providing no index).
This readable background will help guide journalism about a complex scourge that mainstream Islam is unable to eliminate. The book covers only Sunni extremists, not the rival radicals in the faith’s minority Shi’a branch centered on Iran. Here’s Manne’s advice on common terms and labels seen in the news.
* Islamo-Fascism. This label is “quite misleading” due to fascism’s historical fusion with nationalism (Muslim radicals spurn existing nation-states and simply divide humanity into believers vs. “infidels”), and with racism (the movement’s hatreds lie elsewhere).
* Islamic Fundamentalism. Also a misnomer, this borrows a term for strict textual literalism among Protestant Christians (see the Associated Press Stylebook). Problem: Such Protestants are non-violent, and so are many of the Muslims who favor that approach to holy writ. Rather, we need to label a terroristic political faction.
* Islamists. This term designates believers who seek to reshape politics in accordance with religious law (sharia). Here again, such Muslim activists do not necessarily embrace terror.