The Associated Press's New Definition of "Islamist"

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 5 2013 2:53 PM

The Associated Press's New Definition of "Islamist"

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Former Taliban fighters display their weapons after joining Afghan government forces during a ceremony in Herat on March 19, 2013

Photo by Aref Karimi/AFP/Getty Images

Here's one more revision of note to the AP Stylebook: "Islamist" is no longer allowed as shorthand for Islamic militants, extremists, or radicals.

The Associated Press announced the change late Thursday, just two days after it garnered headlines for dropping the term "illegal immigrant." Essentially, the new definition of "Islamist" attempts to keep the term more neutral by drawing a line between a political philosophy and set of movements, and Islamic extremists and militants.

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The old definition read as (via the US News):

"Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

While the new version reads a bit longer, and not unlike the immigration change, requests reporters take the time to offer more details on a case-by-case basis:

"An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.
"Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi."

As with the "illegal" definition change, this latest tweak is being framed as a victory for activists—in this case, the Council on American-Islamic Relations—who called at the start of this year for the news organization to change their style guide, which is used widely but not universally by English-language publications. In a statement, CAIR said of the change, "We believe this revision is a step in the right direction and will result in fewer negative generalizations in coverage of issues related to Islam and Muslims."

Some in the conservative blogosphere are less than happy about the "Islamist" change, as you might expect, given that anti-Sharia activists routinely use the term to describe CAIR itself as an extremist organization. Then again, the AP wasn't exactly in the best standing with some on the right after the "illegal immigrant" Stylebook change, or for the news organization's Pulitzer Prize-winning series on the NYPD's covert monitoring of New York Muslims.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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