Soner Cagaptay has an article up today at the Washington Institute defining Islamism in opposition to Islam, at least from his own perspective. He gets it mostly right:
While Islam is the faith of 1.4 billion people, Islamism is not a form of the Muslim faith or an expression of Muslim piety. Rather, it is a political ideology that strives to derive legitimacy from Islam. Islam and Islamism are not synonymous…So if Islam is a faith, then what is Islamism? It can be best described as an “anti-” ideology, in the sense that it defines itself only in opposition to things.
I like that bit about defining itself in terms of what it is not. Islamists do this all the time; it’s their driving rationale: Islam4UK’s Anjem Choudary rails against alcohol, liberal democracy and homosexuality, all things he asserts that his movement stands in direct opposition to – but he fails to offer any concrete ‘solutions’ to what he views as ‘problems’.
Islamists are idealists. They want to see the re-establishment of a pan-Islamic global caliphate enforcing the legal norms of shar’iah. But they don’t acknowledge the debt that mediaeval political theorists such as al-Mawardi owe to the classical Greek philosophers, or the nod to political realism that these thinkers made in propounding their theory of Islamic constitutionalism. Ideals are fine as ideals, but they inevitably don’t pan out the way their supporters thought they would.