Over at NRO today, Andrew McCarthy and Robert Spencer debate the distinction between Islam and “Islamism”. Mr. Spencer argues that Islam is in its very essence “Islamist”: that its core doctrines, on any coherent and broadly acceptable interpretation, are normative and prescriptive not only spiritually and socially, but also legally and politically. Mr. McCarthy insists that although this is generally true, that there are many Muslims around the world who choose not to embrace political Islam means that the distinction remains an important one.
It’s a substantive exchange, and worth your time. While I agree in principle with Mr. McCarthy’s point — that there are certainly, particularly here in the West, many self-professed Muslims who are not politically “Islamist”, and therefore the term is a useful one — the fact remains that a supremacist interpretation of Islam flows coherently, naturally, and persuasively from Muslim scripture and tradition, has been the “mainstream” interpretation throughout history, and continues to be so now. Wherever Islam goes, there will be “Islamism”.
Note: I realize, of course, that to some of you this exchange will just seem like two black-hearted xenophobes arguing about how many jihadis can dance on the head of a pin. Feel free not to comment.