Some of us forget that Islamism, in particular the political strain, has been with us for a very long time. Lord Cromer for instance, second, perhaps, only to Lord Curzon, as the archetypal Imperial colonial administrator-in-chief, had some prescient and insightful things to say about the then emerging phenomenon over a century ago. His words will resonate with supporters of liberal democracy everywhere:
Panislamism almost necessarily connotes a recrudescence of racial and religious animosity. Many of its adherents are, I do not doubt, inspired by genuine religious fervour. Others, again, whether from indifference verging on agnosticism, or from political and opportunist motives, or – as I trust may sometimes be the case – from having really assimilated modern ideas on the subject of religious toleration, would be willing, were such a course possible, to separate the political from the religious, and even possibly from the racial, issues. If such are their wishes and intentions, I entertain very little doubt that they will find them impossible of execution. Unless they can convince the Moslem masses of their militant Islamism, they will fail to arrest their attention or to attract their sympathy. Appeals, either overt or covert, to racial and religious passions are thus a necessity of their existence in order to ensure the furtherance of their political programme.
Panislamism almost necessarily connotes an attempt to regenerate Islam on Islamic lines – in other words, to revivify and stereotype in the twentieth century the principles laid down more than a thousand years ago for the guidance of a primitive society. Those principles involve a recognition of slavery, laws regulating the relations of the sexes which clash with modern ideas, and, which is perhaps more important than all, that crystallisation of the civil, criminal, and canonical law into one immutable whole, which has so largely contributed to arrest the progress of those countries whose populations have embraced the Moslem faith.
It is for these reasons, independent of any political considerations, that all who are interested in the work of Egyptian reform are constrained to condemn Panislamism. More than this, the utmost care has to be exercised lest any natural and very legitimate sympathy for genuine Nationalism may not be unconsciously attracted towards a movement which is, in reality, highly retrograde and deserving of but scant sympathy. It is at times not easy to recognise the Panislamic figure under the Nationalist cloak.