Islam, a religion, cannot be turned into a handmaiden of politics; when this occurs, Islam is turned into Islamism. Its defining characteristic is its intolerance of others, including Muslims, and glorification of violence against all who disagree. The conflict inside the Muslim world might be characterized as one between tyranny and freedom, even if that tyranny is packaged in God’s name. The strategically right thing to do is provide moral and material assistance to Muslims struggling against Islamists.
Since 9/11 the West has been confounded with the question whether Islam and Islamism are one and same, or if there is a critical distinction to be drawn between the two. How this question is answered has profound implications for understanding and explaining the immense convulsion seizing the Muslim world, and on how best to frame a proper response without undermining or eroding the secular and liberal democratic culture of the West.
Islamism is — from the perspective of someone born and raised within the mainstream majority Sunni Islam — an ideology fascistic and totalitarian in impulse and action, masquerading as religion. The proponents, advocates, activists and apologists of Islamism, irrespective of whatever guise these Islamists assume in public, are engaged in the sort of radical politics the West became acquainted with in the early decades of the twentieth century with the rise of Communism, Fascism and Nazism.