chapter  5
18 Pages

Fundamentalists or Islamists?

WithMartin Kramer

The term fundamentalism originated in America in the 1920s. Islamism emerged in the late 1980s in French academe and then crossed into English, where it eventually displaced Islamic fundamentalism in specialized contexts. Only fifty years later did Islamic fundamentalism come into widespread usage, thanks in large measure to media coverage of Iran's revolution. Journalists, ever on the lookout for a shorthand way to reference things new and unfamiliar, gravitated toward the term fundamentalism. Many fundamentalist leaders have had the best education, enjoy responsible positions in society, and are adept at harnessing the latest technology to propagate their views and create viable modern institutions such as schools, hospitals, and social service agencies. Esposito added that fundamentalism "is often equated with political activism, extremism, fanaticism, terrorism, and anti-Americanism', a prejudgment by label. The term fundamentalism did have a few academic defenders. Sadik J. al-Azm, the Syrian philosopher, provided perhaps the strongest intellectual defense of the use of fundamentalism in an Islamic context.