CAIR Claims Victory Over Associated Press’ Definition of “Islamist”

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) praised the Associated Press (AP) for revising its stylebook to forbid the use of the word "Islamist" if it is used to describe Islamic militants or extremists.

In a CAIR press release, it expressed its unhappiness with how the AP Stylebook defined “Islamist.” As we covered at the time, CAIR launched a campaign to pressure the media into only dropping the term entirely except for when a group explicitly describes itself as such.

CAIR tried to encourage the media to drop the term entirely. "Unfortunately, the term "Islamist" has become shorthand for 'Muslims we don't like,' " said CAIR.  "It is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context and is often coupled with the term extremis, giving it an even more negative slant."

Though CAIR describes itself as a Muslim civil rights group, it was designated by the federal government in 2007 as an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of the Holy Land Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood front whose leaders were found guilty of financing Hamas. The government included CAIR on a list of U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entities that made up its secret Palestine Committee.

Clarion Project National Security Analyst Ryan Mauro noted that CAIR operatives have taken part in secret meetings where they discussed how to change the image of Islamists:

The attempt to eliminate the word “Islamist” from the media’s vocabulary is a reflection of what was said during a secret U.S. Muslim Brotherhood meeting in Philadelphia in 1993 that the FBI wiretapped. Two officials that founded CAIR the following year were present.

“Forming the public opinion or coming up with a policy to influence …the way the Americans deal with the Islamists, for instance. I believe that should be the goals of this stage,” said Hamas operative Abdel Haleem al-Ashqar.

Just a few days after the AP decided to drop the term "illegal immigrant" from its influential stylebook, they revised the definition of another politically-charged term, “Islamist.” The AP now defines an Islamist as an "advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam." The organization specifically instructs journalists, "Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists."

The Associated Press Stylebook is an extensive compilation of standardized terminology, abbreviations, capitalizations and other information journalists use to convey information.  It is the most widely-used resource for journalists, and therefore the way in which it chooses to define words or concepts has an enormous ripple effect on the public’s understanding of many subtle and not so subtle issues.  The Stylebook also plays a major role in determining when, whether and how new words or concepts enter the general terminology and usage of words.

CAIR issued a press releasewelcoming the change by AP, and calling the Stylebook revision a "step in the right direction."

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org