Dangerous Word Games
by Steven Emerson
April 25, 2008
This is a memo to Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement), Hizballah (the Party of God), the Islamic State of Iraq, Egyptian Islamic Jihad and others:
Please consider changing your names to something a tad less religious sounding. Where you infuse your theological thought into radical politics and violence, things might get a little awkward for us. You see, if we point out that you identify yourselves with a religion, we might offend someone. That's the new policy of the U.S. government. It advises agencies to avoid using some of the same words that make up your very names.
All we're asking is that you meet us half way.
The Associated Press confirms what Robert Spencer reported Tuesday on Jihad Watch, that federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. embassies say words including "jihadists," and "mujahedeen" are off limits. In addition, references to Islam and Muslims are frowned upon, too:
The reason: Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to 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, "mujahedeen," which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.
U.S. officials may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims," says a Homeland Security report. It's entitled "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims."
Apparently the report does not say which American Muslims offered the recommendations. But it is virtually identical to a long campaign by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other Islamist groups (Check out the examples we cited in our series on CAIR, then go back and read the AP report). So the U.S. government is taking its cues from a group that emanated from a secret Muslim Brotherhood operation in America, one with a stated goal of being "a kind of grand Jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within and "sabotaging" its miserable house by their hands and the hands of the believers so that it is eliminated and God's religion is made victorious over all other religions."
According to the AP, the government report says "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."
Andrew McCarthy, the former federal prosecutor who convicted Egyptian blind Sheik Omar Abdul Rahman of conspiracies to blow up New York landmarks and murder Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, finds the policy misdirected:
If you want to encourage the reformers, then encourage them to drop the concept of jihad altogether. As a matter of history, jihad is a military obligation. As long as it is accorded a central place in Islam, the militants are always going to be deemed more authentic, more true to the faith of Mohammed, than the reformers.
Let's remember folks, the issue is not whether non-Muslim Western intellectuals and Pollyannas can nuance jihad into something it's not. It's whether the world's 1.4 billion Muslims — many of whom live in pockets of illiteracy where jihadist imams are incredibly influential — can be convinced that the reformers are credible. If we want the reformers to have credibility, it would be much more intellectually honest for them to argue that jihad should be abandoned because it worsens the Muslim condition in the modern world than that jihad is something other than jihad.
The policy shift raises a host of questions. Where has this worked? Will this have a chilling effect on a government employee's understanding of terrorist threats?
This change flies in the face of findings by Army Reserve Major Stephen Coughlin, a defense contractor at the Pentagon known for his studies of Islamic law. In his thesis for the Joint Military Intelligence College, "To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad," Coughlin argues that we cannot defeat an enemy if we don't understand its motivations.
[T]he nature of today's jihadist enemies can only be understood within the context of their declared strategic doctrine to dominate the world. Just as we ignored Mein Kampf "to our great detriment" prior to World War II, so we are on the verge of suffering a similar fate today. The reason the Intelligence Community is unable to define the nature of the jihadi enemy, the Chairman implies, is because we have not "read what the enemy has said." In other words, we have failed to undertake an assessment of the threat based on the jihadi enemy's declared strategic doctrine.
A memo titled "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication," and approved for use this week by the State Department states:
…avoid ill-defined and offensive terminology: "We are communicating with, not confronting, our audiences. Don't insult or confuse them with pejorative terms such as 'Islamo-fascism,' which are considered offensive by many Muslims."
Which, not coincidentally, is the same line currently being pushed by another Muslim Brotherhood front group, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). ISNA General Secretary Muneer Fareed made news this week, calling on presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain to refrain from using the term "Islamic" to describe Al Qaeda and other self-professed Islamic terror groups.
As reported in the Washington Times:
"We've tried to contact his office, contact his spokesperson to have them rethink word usage that is more acceptable to the Muslim community," Mr. Fareed said. "If it's not our intent to paint everyone with the same brush, then certainly we should think seriously about just characterizing them as criminals, because that is what they are."
Reportedly, an aide to McCain has stated that Senator will continue to use the word "Islamic" in his description of terror groups that invoke Islam to justify their heinous actions. The State Department, and other agencies involved directly and indirectly with the national security of the United States, should follow McCain's lead.