Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crazy about Islamists

"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation even among people who should and do know better."

George Orwell, Politics and the English Language

ANALYSIS| Fear of Islamists drove Egyptian military's recent power grab
Experts on region weigh in on military council's move to extend rule, influence constitution
By Kazi Stastna, CBC News Posted: Nov 22, 2011 8:57 AM ET Last Updated: Nov 22, 2011 3:31 PM ET

None of the experts says what "Islamists" are, or why anybody should fear them. Is a Muslim an Islamist? Are all Muslims "Islamists?" Are all "Islamists" Muslims?

The CBC quotes all these experts (who happen to be American academics) but then states baldly, out of the blue, with no attribution:

"The establishment of a set of founding principles that all parties would agree on, and that could not be altered by those drafting the constitution, had been discussed for months in Egypt. The idea was endorsed by secularists such as Mohamed ElBaradei, who had wanted a constitution established prior to elections, for fear the Islamists would have too much of a hand in drafting it after the vote."

So who are "the Islamists?" I looked up the Oxford English Dictionary on the subject. The usage of "Islamist" seems clearly in the 19th century to mean a person whose faith is Islam, but in the 1993 and 2007 "draft entries" there seems to my ear to have crept in unpleasant political overtones. Maybe that's just me, but I'd like to hear a discussion on this from people who don't make their living as American academics. George Orwell is definitely not an American academic but he said: "Many political words are similarly abused. The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'" Perhaps the word "Islamist" is being similarly abused, consciously or not.

Who exactly is the "The Muslim Brotherhood?" Is that like A Band of Brothers, or the Blues Brothers? So as I understand Karen Armstrong, "The Battle for God,"the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt set out to fill a void left by a corrupt colonial and subsequently a military neo-colonial administration that looked after their own interests rather than those of the population, not unlike Mubarak et al. And then:

"By the end of Novermber 1954, over one thousand Brothers had been arrested and brought to trial. Innumberable others, however, many of whom had been guilty of nothing more inflammatory than distributing leaflets, never appeared in court, were subjected to mental and phyical torture, and languished in Nasser's prisons and concentration camps for the next fifteen years. Hudabybi was sentenced to life imprisonment, but six other leaders of the Society were executed. Nasser seemed to have broken the Brotherhood, and to have stopped the only progressive Islamic movement in Egypt in its tracks. Secularism appeared to be victorious, especially after Nasser became the hero of the Arab world two years later after the Suez Crisis, in which he not only successfully defied the West but inflicted a crushing humiliation on the British. But his triumph over the Brotherhood proved in the end to the a Pyrrhic victory. The Brothers who spent the rest of Nasser's life in the camps had experienced the onslaught of secularism at its most aggressive. We shall see that it was in the camps that some of the Brothers abandoned Banna's reformist vision and created a new and potentially violent Sunni fundamentalism."

"I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return"

W.H. Auden
September 1, 1939