I asked on Monday if it makes sense for journalists to use the word “Islamic” as an adjective to describe nouns such as “militants” or “terrorists.”
My point was not to deny that doctrinal disputes within Islam play some role in this tense and bloody world. I simply was making the observation that American media, at least, seemed to have stopped using the word “Islamist” — still common in European media. As I have understood it, “Islamist” is supposed to be used in reference to one stream of thought and action within Islam, radically combining the faith with violence and militant political demands. In other words, a highly militant and politicized version of a conservative Islam.
It appears that events have marched right on, in terms of the debates about how the press should handle these kinds of issues. Did you see the Associated Press dispatch out of London on Tuesday? The one about the advice offered to the press and the nation by the leadership team of the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown, in the wake of new terrorism plots?
(The) head of the Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari, lauded Brown and Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for the “calm and reassuring tone of their responses to the recent attacks.”
Nick Clegg, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, welcomed the change from “the somewhat breathless way Tony Blair used to always rush to try to make, frankly, political points on the back of these events.”
… The low-key Smith also stands in contrast to her pugnacious predecessor, John Reid, whose tough talk on terrorism was sometimes criticized for inflaming ethnic and religious tensions. In a speech to lawmakers Monday, Smith called terrorists “criminals whose victims come from all walks of life, communities and religious backgrounds.” Brown has spoken of “al-Qaida” attackers but not of “Islamic” or “Muslim” terrorists.
It seems, to me, that this swings way too far in the other direction — denying that the current threats in Great Britain have anything to do with divisions and disputes inside Islam, especially conflicts rooted in efforts for Islam to adapt to the rule of law in the West. Is the Brown team suggesting that the terrorists are no longer Muslims? Should government leaders make this kind of statement about people who clearly are claiming that their actions reflect their beliefs and their interpretations of their own scriptures?
In other words, is it wise for government officials to suggest that journalists ignore the spoken and written words of the terrorists? Is the goal journalistic self-censorship?
I hope not. Surely the press would rise up against that. You think?