What exactly is Islamism? Is it being eliminated?

BY: Kemal Öztürk*

It was the end of the 1800s. The Ottomans were losing land everywhere. While the U.K. looted Cyprus and the Russians the Caucasus, the French invaded Algeria and Tunisia. The Balkans were steaming and the lands of the Ottomans were burning and falling into pieces.

It was not only the Ottoman rulers, but also the intellectuals, the enlightened and the religious leaders who were struggling against the greatest attack on their country.

Nations resisting occupation

Ottoman nations were resisting in every territory that was occupied. They were hitting the streets with flags in their hands and fighting against the occupiers. They were being martyred. The Ottoman people in North Africa and the Caucasus region were defending their lands.

While the people were showing resistance in the streets, the intellectuals and the enlightened were working on strategies to strengthen this resistance. They were producing ideas and planning reforms from state administration to management systems, from diplomacy to religious beliefs and from sect fanaticism to Islamic law. They were thinking of two things: Defending their country and independence.

Who was the first to use the term ‘Islamist’?

The occupations and the resistance against it have caused great discussion. Right at this point, Europe and Russia started to propagate against the people who resisted their invasion. They labeled the resistance as “Pan-Islamism” and the resisters “Pan-Islamists” and portrayed them as “terrorists.”

The term did not take place in the Arabic, Persian or Turkish languages. The term was foreign and it aimed to pull the resisters out from the society and alienate them. After that time they convicted everyone who resisted, wanted reforms and changes and opposed Western occupation as “Pan-Islamist.” Sultan Abdülhamid was included.

The term was created by Franz von Werner, a German soldier, and Arminius Vambery, a Jewish German scientist, and was later popularized by French journalist Gabriel Charmes. The U.K. and Russia added this to it as they incited the propaganda. (Professor Karpat, Kemal H., “İslam’ın Siyasallaşması” (The Politization of Islam), p 27).

The intellectual who best described ‘Islamism’

However, the term was never accepted by Muslim intellectuals and the characterization was rejected. The best and most impressive description of the term made during the time was by Mr. Behçet Vehbi, a figure originally from India but living in the U.K. Vehbi, believing that Europe tried to create a “Muslim threat” to spread fear, described Islamism as follows:

“The most intellectual classes of Muslim nations… is a covert agreement made solely with an ethical and intellectual purpose, a common ideal, in other words, for progress and with a longing, in other words, in a quest for freedom. Its aim is to save these 300 million humans from this oppression of the conditions keeping them ignorant, belittling them and preventing them from freely developing their moral and ideological skills. Whether a pope or caliph, it is the awakening of the Islamic conscience fighting against the aggressive” (Ibid. p 26).

I believe this is the best description of Islamism, innovation movements and the “cause.”

They did the same on July 15

After seeing the villagers, workers, tradesmen, academics, businessmen and intellectuals – in other words – the patriots, Western media portrayed these people, who were trying to defend their country, as “Islamists” and radicals; thus, they walked in the footsteps of their ancestors who did the same a century ago.

Those who resisted in Tunisia, Caucasia and Algeria described themselves as “Muslim” only. The people who resisted on the night of July 15 and died in this cause, described themselves with one word: “Muslim.”

They all had one thing on their minds: Defending their country and independence.

Are Islamists being ostracized, are they being eliminated?

Now there is a group trying to discredit a movement, convict it and eliminate it by labeling them “Islamist.” The concept belongs to the West, the description belongs to the West, the accusation belongs to the West, but the ostracized and the eliminated are the patriotic people of this country.

What’s more surprising is that, those who show this effort are not those who are known with their admiration for the West, but instead are a group of young people in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) who supposedly defend the AK Party. This group has gone so far that it has not hesitated to put Islamists on the same scale as members of the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), and has carried this out on television channels known to be close to the AK Party.

The recent appointments made in Ankara’s bureaucracy indicate that the administration is affected by the phase too. Thus this increases the number of questions on mind.

Terms like Islamist, political Islamism, Jihadi, Daesh, and radical Islamist have all derived from the term Pan-Islamism, and they are all used to divide the Muslim society. Whereas we do not need any other term describing us than the term “Muslim.” Any efforts aiming to do the opposite are not well-intentioned.

*Kemal Öztürk is a Turkish columnist. He writes for Yeni Şafak Turkish newspaper

     (Published in Yeni Şafak daily newspaper on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016)