Consider (my emphasis):

But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.”

(From "What ISIS Really Wants", The Atlantic, March 2015.)

What does a cotton candy view mean?


"Cotton candy" (in some dialects "candy floss" or "fairy floss") is a puffy confection made of very fine strands of spun sugar:

Cotton Candy

It consists of air, a small amount of sugar, and tiny amounts of flavorings and colorings.

Prof. Haykel thus characterizes this view of the Muslim religion as sugar and air: overly sweet and intellectually vacuous. He believes it is mere candy for its proponents, what they would like to believe and would like others to believe, without theological or historical substance.

  • 1
    Here's what seems to me a cogent & robust rebuttal of Prof. Haykel's (to my mind, somewhat inflammatory and unhelpful) characterisation of ISIS as "authentic" Islam. If the Inquisition rose from the ashes, would Haykel call them "true Christians"? Mar 1 '15 at 3:34
  • @FumbleFingers The Inquisition and its (even more malignant) Protestant counterparts are certainly facts of historical Christianity, and though restrained by modern custom their motives continue to operate among many modern Christians. As Edmund Leach says, "Myth and ritual is a language of signs [...] but it is a language of argument, not a chorus of harmony. If ritual is sometimes a mechanism of integration, one could as well argue that it is often a mechanism of disintegration." Mar 1 '15 at 12:45

StoneyB explains what cotton-candy is quite well, and this interpretation makes a lot of sense, but the metaphor "cotton-candy view" can be interpreted in another way as well.

Cotton-candy is mostly consumed only by young children. Therefore it is sometimes associated with childishness or naïveté. Given these facts, the author's phrase could be considered an example of metonymy (replacing an object or concept with another closely-related object or concept). The phrase could be interpreted to mean something along the lines of "a child's view", "an uneducated view", "an unsophisticated view", etc.

As is often the case with metaphor, the precise meaning intended by the author is subject to interpretation. (Although perhaps with additional context a more precise meaning could be deduced)

  • +1 I've found a few other examples where cotton candy seemed to mean unrealistic. (1) Many people have a cotton-candy view of the opposition party. They ought to wake up to the reality. (2) They are often short-sighted petitions that are strictly self-serving and lead people to a cotton candy view of God. (3) “Massive Change” may be self-described as an “optimistic project,” she stresses, “but it doesn't have a cotton-candy view of the world. It has a realistic tone."
    – J.R.
    Mar 15 '15 at 19:30

I think The author's expression *"cotton-candy view"* should be translated contextually. Many of the illustrations above are correct yet the most suitable one should fit with the context. The Author added "that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.” This means calling ISIS Un-Islamic contradicts with history of the religion and its instructions; therefore,it is "Unrealistic "or any other word equivalent in meaning.A word that emphasizes the contradiction rising from calling ISIS Un-Islamic against the history and rules of Islam that ISIS implements minutely. Thanks. Yasser.M.A (translation specialist)

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    It's not clear to me how "cotton-candy view" has any different a meaning in its context of Islam and ISIS than it would in any other context. Jul 27 '15 at 1:06

I think that according to the context, the author mean by "candy cotton view" that "Flexible view," the flexible view of Islamic religion which contradict with the radical view which ISIS adopt about Islam.

  • That is which of the two views the author means, but it does not explain why he characterizes it as "cotton candy". Mar 14 '15 at 18:59
  • If you know well the different between two views, you can conclude why he characterizes it as 'cotton candy.' and I think he means by it 'flexible view.' you have no choice to conclude. Mar 14 '15 at 20:17
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    @ محمد عبده أبوالعلا Cotton candy does not connote flexibility; if the author meant 'flexible' he would use something like rubber or a Slinky. It connotes sweetness and insubstantiality. Mar 14 '15 at 22:09
  • @stoneyB In the same way you thought, if the author means sweetness and insubstantiality, he would use "sweet," "insubstantial," "weak," or "slight" and so on.
    – user18139
    Mar 15 '15 at 12:13

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