Posted by Wordsmith on 12 May, 2008 at 6:57 am. 11 comments already!

This is going to drive many of you nuts (Robert Spencer certainly isn’t happy about it….I suppose he doesn’t want to change his site’s name to JihadHirabahwatch), but….

‘Jihadist’ among words struck from official lexicon

WASHINGTON | Don’t call them jihadists any more.

And don’t call al-Qaida a movement.

The Bush administration has launched a new front in the war on terrorism, this time targeting language.

Federal agencies, including the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, are telling their employees not to describe Islamic extremists as “jihadists” or “mujahideen,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Lingo like “Islamo-fascism” is out, too.

The reason: Such words may boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by offending moderates.

For example, while Americans may understand “jihad” to mean “holy war,” it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good, says the guidance prepared for diplomats and other officials tasked with explaining the war on terror to the public. Similarly, “mujahideen,” which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.

For the most part, I think this is definitely a good thing, and progress toward winning hearts and minds, and the war of propaganda.

Amy Proctor was the one who first got me to shift my manner of thinking on the issue of “naming the enemy”:

we do a disservice the war on terrorism when we refer to acts of terrorism as Jihad. It is not and in order to isolate the terrorists, we need to refer to what it is: Hirabah.

Jihad means to make an effort to overcome difficulty or to struggle. It includes an internal or personal, social and institutional struggle for justice and against oppression and sin. Jihad can not be used to force people to convert or kill non-Muslims. This is contrary to Islamic law.

Hirabah on the other hand is rebellion and terrorism, considered heresy within Islam. Acts of hirabah are capital crimes in Islam. It contains the principle of Jihad but carries out acts of “persuasion” to meet its objective.

Further on, she writes,

When we properly call terrorism hirabah rather than jihad, we alienate terrorists like al-Qaeda from the Muslim population and marginalize their efforts. In doing so, we show consideration for the Muslim religion, no matter what our personal opinions may be on the religion itself, and persuade good Muslims to support the effort against apostates like Osama bin Laden and the rest.

Calling terrorists “jihadists” may be more en vogue than referring to it as hirabah, but we risk legitimizing the likes of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah in the Islamic world if we refer to their terror as jihad. It’s murder, terrorism and hirabah. This is why the war on terror can be won; Muslims want to stop the assault on their religion as much as the rest of us do.

Amy’s husband, who is an Army chaplain, has worked hard toward shifting our lexicon, to win the overall war:

I am active duty US Army. I am a senior noncommissioned officer in the Chaplain Corps and have been working for the last 4 years since returning from OIF on establishing a body of knowledge that will equip commanders in OIF with operationally actionable cultural intelligence.
I was at the MNF-I HQs one week ago. Hopefully my remarks will be afforded a modicum of credibility commensurate with my experience.

1. The greatest buttress against radicalized Islam is support for orthodox expressions of it. Forget an all-out war with Islam; that is as absurd as it is impracticable. I recommend in your pilgrimage towards correct syntax, that you dump the demeaning expression “moderate Muslims”. As a lapsed Catholic posted above, he is Catholic in self-description but admittedly a ‘moderate’ Catholic as described by decisive violation of basic tenets of the orthodox faith. Such ‘moderates’ add nothing to the Church’s mission; in fact, they are scandalizers and stumbling blocks to others seeking the way of salvation. Likewise, “moderate Islam” is inherently troublesome and should be rejected as a creation of the MSM.

2. The next greatest weapon against radicalized Islam is building deep and sincere relations with Muslims. This occurs between neighbors over the backyard fence as much as it does between states. It is difficult to hate the completely humanized “other”; in Iraq, we have achieved monumental inroads simply by sticking by our word and committments with our Muslim friends. Believe me, they know we have to find ways to get along. They were the ones who had bombs dropped on them by concerned Americans. They want to get along at least as much as we say we do. As a Soldier, I can tell you the desire for friendship on both sides is palpable.

3. In American politics, polemical rhetoric is often based on obtuse abstractions and not real relations. If it is a requisite of the right to disown Islam, force the arguments into the concrete as quickly as possible. Ask, does that mean I should hate Abbas or Achmed or Fatima who work downstairs in sales? How exactly should I live out this denunciation of Islam in my own hometown? Realistically, we are bound by the Golden Rule to seek out what is best for the Other, even if he/she is a Muslim. That is best concretized by emplary behavior of our own.

4. The majority of the world’s Christians and Muslims concur that both traditions worship the One true God. The Pope prayed in a Mosque recently. 138 Islamic scholars recently reached out to the Roman See. Muslims in Baghdad are pleading for their fellow Arabs who are Christians to return from refuge. Deep and scholarly discussions between the communities of faith are underway all over the world. This is the way that has worked over the centuries. Men of sincere prayer find it difficult to use violence and coercion to persuade a fellow religionist.

5. I would venture that when you peel back the layers from those who advocate denunciation of Islam, you may find either those with no actual religious affiliation or active practice of their own, or, a radicalized Christian sect without a mature position on relations to religionists of non-Christian faiths.

As a Roman Catholic and a member of a professional clergy team, I cannot embrace the tenets of Islam that disagree with Christianity; I CAN, however, embrace my Muslim friends as sincere seekers of God. I can purge the hatred from my own thinking and model the religion that I believe in. At the end of the day, we have no option but to learn to live together in this increasingly flatter, smaller global community.

Master Sergeant John Proctor

More from the AP link:

U.S. officials may be “unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims,” said a Homeland Security report titled “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims.“  (Sorry, had to remove the link- apparently it’s supposed to still be classified)

“Regarding ‘jihad,’ even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have and damages relations with Muslims around the world,” the report says.

Language is critical in the war on terror, said another document, an internal memo titled “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication.”

The memo was approved for diplomatic use this week by the State Department, which plans to distribute a version to all U.S. embassies, officials said.

At least at the top level, it appears to have made an impact. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who once frequently referred to “jihad” in her public remarks, does not appear to have used the word, except when talking about the name of a specific terrorist group, since September.

The memo also draws heavily on the Homeland Security report that examined the way American Muslims reacted to different phrases used by U.S. officials to describe terrorists and recommended ways to improve the message.

Because of religious connotations, that report, released in January and obtained by the AP this week, counseled “caution in using terms such as, ‘jihadist,’ ‘Islamic terrorist,’ ‘Islamist,’ and ‘holy warrior’ as grandiose descriptions.”

“We should not concede the terrorists’ claim that they are legitimate adherents of Islam,” the report said, adding that Osama bin Laden and his adherents fear “irrelevance” more than anything else.

“We must carefully avoid giving bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders the legitimacy they crave, but do not possess, by characterizing them as religious figures, or in terms that may make them seem to be noble in the eyes of some,” it said.

Zawahiri and bin Laden would like nothing better than to galvanize the Islamic world to rise up and join them in their war against the non-Islamic civilizations. Why help them in that, by conceding over to the Islamic terror network, the language of legitimacy?

Advice from the National Counterterrorism Center:

•Don’t use the term “jihadist,” which has broader religious meanings beyond war, or “mujahideen,” which refers to holy warriors.

•Do say “violent extremist” or “terrorist.”

•Don’t use the term “al-Qaida movement,” because it gives al-Qaida political legitimacy.

•Don’t use “Islamo-fascism” and other terms that could cause religious offense.

•Do use the term “totalitarian.”

•Don’t label groups simply as “Muslim.”

•Do use descriptive terms to define how a group fits into society. For example: South Asian youth and Arab opinion leaders.

•Don’t use “caliphate” when explaining al-Qaida’s goals, as this has positive implications.

I do have some mixed feelings here (I abhor political correctness!), as I have and still do, resort to terms like “Islamo-fascists”, depending on the context and audience. I understand its usage (not condemning a religion, but specifying a group within that religion), in the context in which many of us make it, along with similar identification of the enemy. I’ve been reluctant not to include “Islamic” in describing who it is we are fighting. But as the report says, it may be accurate, but not strategic to continue doing so.

At one time, I think it was useful; but now, I think we all know well enough who it is we are fighting, and can move beyond the usage of terms like “Islamo-fascism“, “Islamo-Nazism”, etc.

I’d be curious to know, however, what Muslim Americans Chertoff met with. That would give me encouragement, or pause…

Hat tip: Bottomline Upfront

Also blogging:
Linguistic Anthropology

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