US Foreign Policy

Ellen Laipson op-ed in World Politics Review on Defining Moderate and Radical Islam

in Program

One of the secondary effects of the terrible shooting in Orlando, Florida, has been to relaunch the debate on whether public officials have misidentified the terrorist threat at home by failing to call it “radical Islam” or “Islamic extremism.” At another point along the spectrum of Islamic political activism is Tunisia’s Ennahda party. Often described as a “moderate Islamist” party, its leaders recently decided to separate Ennahda’s political and religious activities, going so far as to ban party leaders from preaching in mosques or holding positions in religious associations. That raises the question of whether a party whose followers would like to see a society based on their Islamic beliefs, even if they no longer seek to legislate toward that end, is still a “moderate Islamist” party. It also raises the question of who gets to decide what to call them and their agenda, as well as Muslims who fall elsewhere on the spectrum. Sometimes the analytically precise is not the politically advisable.

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