On Tuesday Britain announced its plans to classify "Islamist extremism" as a distinct ideology.
Even though this seems pretty obvious to a reasonable person, it is important to understand the impact a simple word classification like this can have on the greater mindset of western societies like the UK. Of course the impact will be determined by how deep the distinction between ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamist extremism’ will sink into the minds of Brits, many of whom are too accustomed to associating the religion with incidents like the 7/7 bombings and the brutal murder of a British soldier this past summer.
While Middle East experts, intellectuals and liberal Muslims recognize that violent extremists only represent a small group of the world’s Muslims, for the first time a western nation is making this distinction official.
Reuters reported that the new definition would make it clear that "Islamist extremism" was a distorted interpretation of Islam that betrayed the religion's principles – a lot of which focus on peace and compassion.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement is part of the government's response to the May murder of soldier Lee Rigby on a busy London street.
Cameron said that "Islamist extremism" would, for the first time, be classified as a distinct ideology to guard against it being confused with traditional religious practice.
There are 2.7 million Muslims living in Britain right now and any action the government takes against violent Islamic ideologies could alienate these communities and/or fuel society’s fear of ordinary Muslims.
Cameron needs to do more than just talk the talk. If the government truly wants to avoid alienating British Muslims it needs to commit to it a bit more than classifying "Islamist extremism" as a distinct ideology. While it may be one step in the right direction, creating harmony between millions of Muslims and larger society will require this distinction to be institutionalized – which includes law enforcement and the media.