I have seen some books and listened to some speeches on YouTube by some western writers and government officials.

It seems to me that they possess a very negative connotation of political Islam.

Why is that? What is wrong if Islam has a political aspect or agenda?

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    I didn't watch the video you link, but the description of the book does not seem negative about political islam? Either way, "the west" consists of hundreds of millions of people, so you will find individuals with all kinds of ideas. I would not extrapolate "some books and some speeches" to the entirety of the west. If you want to know what the west thinks, it might be better to look for representative opinion polls.
    – Marc
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 11:36
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    @Marc, I am not talking about common individuals who work in a supermarket and live on paychecks. I am talking about the governments and statesmen.
    – user366312
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 11:38
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    I think you need to include the definition of what you mean by political islam. Most western countries have political systems based on separation of the religion and the state, which is likely to be the main reason for objections... but, as I said, it is meaningless to discuss this without an agreed upon definition.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 12:54
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    @F1Krazy many holy books, e.g. Christian and Jewish ones, decree that people should not kill but I don't see that as a reason not to have a law against murder. Separation of church and state has little to do with laws passed and more to do with de facto and de jure religious leaders, like a pope, heading the government like was done in dioceses and ecclesiastical districts in Europe for centuries.
    – uberhaxed
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 18:07
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    Can't quite see how this is (primarily) "opinion-based" in the current form, so I'm voting to reopen. It's obviously a Q about the opinions of western governments in toto, so a bit difficult to answer concisely, but Phillip gave it a decent answer what the points of contention are. Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 19:29

5 Answers 5


First of all:

  • "The West" is not a hive-mind. We are talking about dozens of countries with thousands of politicians and hundreds of millions of inhabitants. So stating that "The West" has a certain opinion is always a gross oversimplification.
  • "Political Islam" is not a hive-mind either. There are several governments and non-government organization who describes themselves as committed to "political Islam", but their interpretations of what that actually means in practice vary a lot.

So you are asking about the opinion of a heterogeneous group about a vaguely defined concept.

Nevertheless, there are some core concepts of political Islam which are difficult to reconcile with Western interpretations of democracy and human rights:

  • Freedom of religion: Most Western governments commit to secular states which treat everyone equally regardless of faith or lack of faith. Many directions of Political Islam specifically want to separate society into castes depending on their religious conviction and/or consider it a priority to have people convert to Islam.
  • Status of men and women: Many interpretations of political Islam demand a separation between men and women, with different rules, privileges and obligations applying to people depending on their gender. Western democracy seeks to treat all genders equally.
  • LGBT+ issues: Most interpretations of political Islam discriminate against LGBT+ people, in some cases even demanding the death penalty for homosexuality. The Western interpretation of human rights explicitly allows all kinds of sexual orientations and identities.
  • Democratic principles: Western Democracy believes that political leaders should be legitimized by free and open elections. The systems of some (not all!) islamic countries and some (not all!) organizations advocating for political Islam, however, can be theocratic. Political leaders are either unelected and legitimized by religion, or the religious leaders have a lot of influence over who stands for election for secular leadership positions. This is not how democracy should work according to Western ideas of democracy.
  • State of Israel: I really don't want to write another huge essay on the Israel/Palestine issue. But it is a wedge-issue between the Western world and the Islamic world which should not remain unmentioned. Let's just say that Western governments are generally supportive of the existence of the state of Israel, while many proponents of political Islam are not.

For further reading specifically on the interpretation of human rights, I recommend to study the differences between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (representing the consensus in the Western world) and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (representing the consensus in the Islamic world).


There are a few different core reasons, and these reasons apply differently to various political groups in the west.

First, let us consider Political Islam as a potential force internal to European politics. For the right, this is a very convenient boogeyman to rally against ("Islamophobia"). A particular benefit is that since Political Islam has a tendency to anti-semitism, Islamophobia offers much of the same benefits as antisemitism to the right, while simultaneously allowing them to claim to be anti-antisemitist. For the progressive left, Political Islam is just disdainful based on social values alone (role of women, LBGTQ-issues, religion in the public sphere). Note that most of these reasons would apply to Hindutva as well, except that Hindutva isn't relevant in Europe.

On to the international level. Here it really doesn't help the popularity of Politcal Islam in the West that many individuals would have first taken note of it in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. Essentially, Political Islam is commonly perceived as anti-western, and thus opposed back. Subtleties in outlook between different groups are overlooked.

Another picture recognizes a fight for control of the Arab World. Traditionally the Western Governments have supported local dictators that kept their countries reasonably stable and the oil flowing. The biggest opposition usually was an Islamic party (eg Muslim Brotherhood). Those in the west opposed to working with dictators will usually be not too fond of Islamic social mores again.


There is a widespread view in Europe that it is not good when any religion is mixed with politics. This is true for Christianity so should be true for Islam or say Buddhismus also. This point of view is called secularism.

In regions where some religion is not secular enough (Christianity likely for the Western governments), no any other belief (regardless if political or not) can be seen as acceptable. "You shall have no other God's before me" is written in almost any holy writing I am aware of. But due secularism "political Islam" is considered bad also where the influence of Christianity alone would not be strong enough to form the dominant negative view.

Society like Europe needs rules that allow multiple religions peacefully coexist together. Simplest way to achieve this is to keep all religion out of politics.

There are indeed some kind of religious parties like "Christian democrats" but they do not focus on ideas like enforcing religious practices, giving they confession access to schools, banning competitive religions, editing the school textbooks to match they writings, sending "religious police" to the streets or the like. They follow religious principles so generic (like right to live, respect to the family values) that may even find a common talk with the similarly generic Islamic party. Not with Taliban of course.

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    There are many parties in Europe that are explicitly based on Christian principles. These are usually right-leaning, but are often rather mainstream - e.g., the German Christian Democrats.
    – Morisco
    Commented Aug 26, 2022 at 9:59
  • Good answer. But thing are not so neatly defined. Secularism came from a long time confrontation with hard-line (integralist) Christians and the political power on the church. Furthermore it is a struggle that is still going on. Europe in not purely secular and I don't know much about the US, but according to the news it is even worse.
    – FluidCode
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 12:24

There is an old joke in French:

Les islamistes se sont convertis à la démocratie : un homme, un vote, une fois.

The Islamists are converted to democracy: one man, one vote, once.

I first read it in French press coverage of the 1992 Algerian elections. 1st round saw the muslim parties get most of the votes. The 2nd round... never happened as the Algerian military cancelled the vote (launching a bloody civil war).

The French government apparently were convinced to stick with the devil they knew, as they kept on selling dual use equipment to the government (which resulted in terrorist attacks throughout France).

The point is not necessarily that Western countries can't stand "reasonable Islam", it is often that they believe, rightly or wrongly, that elections to put in place certain types of governments tend to see those governments keep themselves in power, by undemocratic means. And become "unreasonable" in the process - certainly a good deal of what's done in the name of Islam is against the teachings of that religion and reprehensible.

Before political Islam, the West had the same concerns about elections putting in place Communist or Socialist governments.

On the one hand, this type of overreaction brought in US support for coups in Chile and possibly Argentina. And the reluctant acceptance of the return of the Egyptian military in power (quite possible the Brotherhood would have cratered in elections).

On the other hand, this fear is not always unwarranted. Iran runs elections, for sure, but to assume them capable of accepting any return to non-theocracy requires quite a bit of gullibility. Ditto the behavior of Chavez and Maduro since getting elected.

One man, one vote, once.

For a while, say 10 or 15 years ago, Turkey's Erdogan was considered capable of bridging that gap and bringing true democracy with a Muslim twist. He's not exactly been shining in that role, although it may be more due to old fashioned strongman rulership than straight out Islamist.

In short, as Arno states, many Western governments prefer a devil you know (dictators) over trusting a country's electorate to manage their affairs sensibly if they do elect a Muslim-oriented government (for the record, I think that is a miscalculation, at least in aggregate).

Last, in the North African/Arabian area, the notion of umma, transcending national borders in favor of religiously-imposed transnationalism isn't exactly popular with everyone. Especially in an unstable region with lots of sadly still relevant oil (and gas!!!).

No doubt, reasons cited by Phillip in his answer do exist and do weigh with Western politicians and electorates. However, not all of us would agree that it is useful and productive to impose Western values on unreceptive societies. I suspect that "not all of us" would encompass quite a few of the old hands in the diplomatic and foreign affairs corps of Western democracies (the realpolitik gang, if you will). They're mostly just concerned with not rocking the boat and not veering in unforeseen, more conflictual (for the West) directions.

After all, to get back to those Egyptian generals, they haven't exactly been promoting women's rights with a vengeance lately, have they? And Saudi Arabia's illiberal tendencies have rarely stood in the way of fairly cordial relations, Khashoggi aside.


When we think about countries asociated with political islam, then Iran or curent Taliban regime in Afganistan comes to mind, defenetly no big friends of the West.

A base for political islam is sharia which is not much compatible with human rights and other values important for the West.

Political islam itself is the base for radical islamist organizations like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. This organizations oppose the West and even want to destroy it. One of islamists organisations Boko Haram shows in its name to be anti western.

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