Islamic Fundamentalism: What’s In a Name

There is a lot of debate right now concerning whether or not it is appropriate to label the explosion of terrorism emanating from groups such as ISIS and Al Qaida as “Islamic Fundamentalism” (or another variation of the term such as Islamic Radicalism or Islamic Extremism). President Obama is adamant that using this sort of moniker would create greater tension between the Muslim world and the West, but this view lacks an understanding of what is really going on.

By labeling this violent and radical ideology “Islamic Fundamentalism” (or a similar term) one is not targeting a whole religion, but rather targeting a specific movement in that religion that even Muslim leaders, such as Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, are labeling as Islamic “extremism.” Last year President el-Sisi said that “the Islamic world is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost — and it is being lost by our own hands.” In his speech to religious leaders in Egypt he went on to add: “Islamic leaders must lead a re-thinking of how Islam is interpreted and eliminate such extremism.” Muslim leaders are okay labeling this Islamic Extremism, but President Obama is not.

President Obama’s strategy, in essence, is to deny that these extremists are Muslim, and that is why associating them with Islam is wrong. But this is a slippery slope. Should he deny the Settlers in the West Bank are Jewish just because he doesn’t like what they are doing? Is President Obama stating that he is the person that now determines who is Jewish and who is Muslim? This is a dangerous path. Instead, what he should be doing is understanding the ideology, labeling the ideology and then working to properly counter the ideology.

Because these people are Muslims. They are part of a school of thought that is actively preaching a radical form of their religion and it’s catching an audience because a lot of young people in those countries feel disenfranchised because their leaders have failed them for so long. They see wealth, they see Princes in the Gulf, they see the Kardashian’s and say why am I not running the world, why am I poor, why can’t I get ahead and why am I treated horribly by this system? And the solution they are looking for is found in the preaching of this radical ideology that has infected Islam.

These groups preach that Muslims should rule the world while Christians and Jews can live in their lands as long as they accept that they are second-class citizens and pay a tax. Anyone else must be either converted to Islam or killed. They further preach that it is the duty of Muslims to wage jihad to make this so. This message is clearly finding an audience, as we are witness to what is happening in Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Orlando, Paris, Brussels, Somalia and so many other countries and cities around the world.

Is Obama’s strategy denying that these groups and this ideology is related to Islam working? To the contrary, perhaps his strategy is what is inspiring more people to flock to this ideology because right now by not naming what is going on as “Islamic Fundamentalism” many Americans and people in the West are blaming all of Islam. How do I know? Because we have a Presidential candidate calling for the banning of all Muslims to this country and it is resonating. Americans look at the attacks in Paris, in Brussels, the World Trade Center; they look at groups like ISIS, Al Qaida, Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and say: those are Muslims doing this. When they see chants of “Death to America,” they see Muslim countries doing this.

Additionally, President Obama thinks that using the term “Islamic Fundamentalism” would create more hatred towards the West because the whole Muslim world would be blamed for these attacks. However, if President Obama simply walked in the streets of Pakistan, Egypt, Iran and many other Muslim countries I think he would be surprised at the amount of hatred they already have for America. Using this term would not cause any more hatred, as hatred for the West is already rampant.

Proponents of using the term Islamic Fundamentalism are not secretly calling for the death of Muslims or the destruction and occupation of Muslim countries by America. I certainly don’t want America to occupy Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria or Somalia, or kill anyone in any of those countries. But the people in Turkey, Somalia and Nigeria are suffering badly at the hands of Islamic Fundamentalists and this ideology is growing, because despite what President Obama may want to believe, this guy in Orlando was radicalized by an ideology. Defeating ISIS means nothing in the long term, because there is an ideology out there that needs to be defeated. Defeat Al Qaida, we get ISIS, defeat ISIS, we get what’s next. It has been this way since the 1920’s when the modern version of this radical ideology was born out of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. This isn’t some new phenomenon; it just hadn’t reached America’s shores until the 1990’s with the first World Trade Center attack. Like we often do, we ignore issues festering in the world until it directly affects us.

Obama would be better off stating that there is a cancer called Islamic Fundamentalism that has invaded Islam and it is a threat to the Muslim world and to us as well. Obama should keep using that word so people understand that these attacks are not being carried out by ordinary Muslims, but by this cancer. Narrowly define the ideology and narrowly define the threat, so people understand it, because right now, most people don’t get the distinction.

Define it, target it and destroy it. And by destroy it, we have to understand that the use of the military is only one small part; we need to fight the ideology by putting pressure on states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to stop exporting this ideology, by reaching out directly to the citizens in Muslim countries and tell them we are their friends and they are being lied to. When they chant death to America in the mosques of Pakistan and Iran we are losing the fight against this cancer just as badly as any terrorist attack in Orlando. When Vice Media takes their cameras to Pakistan to follow Pakistani medical professionals giving polio shots and the people say they don’t want them because it is a secret CIA plot, we are losing the war.

I concede that President Obama is doing a much better job of starting to combat Islamic Fundamentalism in the latter part of his presidency, because he failed miserably in his early years in office when he truly did not understand the threat these radical movements posed. He is also correct that the solution to this problem is complex, but his approach could quite possibly be hurting more than it is helping. There is a radical ideology out there that is preached to govern a way of life. You can call it Islamic Fundamentalism, Islamic Revivalism, Radical Islam, Islamic Extremism … whatever you want to call it, but call it something.

About the Author
Ari Ingel is an international attorney and foreign policy analyst. Follow him on twitter at
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