Cet apres-midi j'ai vu le film francais Des Hommes et Des Dieux, l'histoire incroyable des pretres en Algerie qui etaient tues...oops, sorry, I'm reliving my days of college French. Anyhow, this afternoon I saw the movie Of Gods and Men, the story of French monks in Algeria who were killed during the uprising of the 90s. It is a powerful film, and I encourage everyone to watch it.
The sadness I felt watching the film was probably different than the emotions experienced by most of the others in the theatre. What caught my attention as much as the devotion of the monks was the concentrated effort made by the film producers to make a distinction between "Islam" (good) and the "Islamism" (bad) of the extremists who murdered them. The pattern is so common it is predictable. Verses quoted from the Quran are peaceful, references to non-Muslims are positive, and terrorists are presented as people who know nothing of Islam, the Quran, and their Prophet Muhammad.
It is simply not true. Even grammatically the distinction between "Islam" and "Islamism" does not exist. Islam is an Arabic word meaning "to surrender". (Muslims who argue that it comes from the verb meaning "peace" are not quite telling you the truth; in Arabic the "peace" arrives after the surrender has been made; peace is a result of surrender). The Arabic verb is Aslama, to surrender, and the gerund or verbal noun is Islam, the act of surrender. Although neither the verb nor gerund originally had a religious meaning, by extension they have come to mean surrender to Allah. Since Muhammad never told anyone to obey or follow Allah without adding on himself as well, Islam now means to surrender to the will of Allah and his Apostle. The word "Islamism" does not exist in any original Arabic text.
The Salafis and the Jihadis, not the moderates, are the ones who have the Quran, the Hadith, the life of Muhammad, and Islamic history on their side. The distinction to be made is not between "Islam" and "Islamism", but between Islam and Muslims. It is peaceful Muslims who do not really understand Islam, the Quran, and Muhammad, not the extremists. The greater the distance between these moderate Muslims and the Prophet they think they follow, the better off we all are.