Technically speaking, “-ist” is a suffix of nouns, that often corresponds to verbs that denote a person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principals, doctrines, etc. Therefore the term “Islamist” should simply imply one who is holds to Islamic principles (i.e. a Muslim); this however is far from the commonly accepted nomenclature.
The Islamist is one who is supporting or advocating Islamic fundamentalism. Furthermore, fundamentalism is usually seen as ‘strict adherence to any set of basic ideas or principles’. That is the commonly accepted definition of Islamist.
The term Islamist holds a negative connotation, often used as an insult to degrade and debase Muslims. When one typically hears the term Islamist, they are instantly transported to imagery of wild eyed, long bearded Arab men espousing some medieval understanding of Sharia (Islamic Law). I get it; I understand that the media, in particular western media have to sell sensationalism, an inherent need to pander to the lowest common denominator. What I don’t get it, is the Arab, or more specifically the media in Muslims countries which choose to use this term. Every time I see Al Jazeera flippantly use the term Islamist, it sends me off into a nearly incompressible rant for the next several minutes.
Let’s put it in perspective shall we… Buddh “ist” – someone who follows the principles or doctrines of Buddhism. Buddhism is portrayed as the religion of peace, so obviously the simple addition of “ist” in and of itself cannot demonize the person who follows such beliefs. But what if… What if Buddhism was made up of real people, who had real emotions, who were capable of both good and bad? Well then that would mean a Buddhist, could be the same as an Islamist! I know, one has a hard time grasping the principle idea here, but really it is rather simple – Both the Islamist and the Buddhist hold to a strict adherence to their beliefs, this strict adherence can sometimes lead to conflict (see Buddhist Warfare, by Michael Jerryson), they may well lead people to govern by their guiding principle (for historical perspective see The Rise of Buddhism in Politics and War By Justin Rowan). This simply demonstrates that while two things can have similarities, it is the perception of the public, the inference that is placed upon it by the media that determines how it is commonly understood.
Irresponsible at best, is what our media has become when they use terms like Islamist. They are not only propagating the misperception and stereotype, they are indeed lending credence to the term and its degradation of the Muslim spirit. At worst, it our very own media who is actively undermining the position of Muslims by placing generalized, non specific labels upon them which actively seeks to dehumanize them. By turning the term Islamist into a negative, we have now begun to imply that somehow one who follows Islam is wrong, that Islam itself is faulty. This is unacceptable and anyone who does so walks the line between faith and unbelief, knowingly or not. STOP CALLING THEM ISLAMISTS! The media of the Muslim world must stop following others, and recognize the inherent danger in using such a term; they must stop pandering and address the specific issues, not generalities.
If following Islam, and believing that Islam should guide my spiritual life as well as my physical (‘earthly’) life makes me an Islamist then I proudly say I am Islamist.