A speech earlier this month by President Obama's assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism is prompting a debate over semantics and its place in the war on terrorism.
For starters, John Brennan said in his August 6 speech that we're not really at war with terror, but with "al Qaeda and its allies." Moreover, the administration rejects the language of "jihad," instead recognizing the threat of "violent extremists."
This picks up on a theme set during the last year or so of the Bush Administration, when the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department's Counterterrorism Communications Center each issued memos saying softer language was good for America's fight.
"Use the terms 'violent extremist' or 'terrorist.' Both are widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy," the State Department memo said.
Sounds familiar. But in Homeland Security Today, Anthony Kimery cites several experts who say the lack of specificity and clarity does more harm than good.
Kimery notes that the 9/11 Commission Report defines jihad as a holy war and invokes the word jihad 79 times. He cites several experts who oppose the new rhetoric. Walid Phares, director of the Future of Terrorism Project at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, dismissed the language changes as wishful thinking, "As if one party in a conflict can decide on the ideology and the strategies of the foe."
The U.S. is a secular nation and has "no business" offering definitions in theological terms, Phares said. He added:
"By being precise that it is in conflict with the jihadists not with Muslims, the US will show that it is countering the actions of a radical terror network. There are Muslims fighting the jihadists in several countries: Iran, Algeria, Iraq, Sudan, and Lebanon, let alone in other places such as Nigeria. If the US will call off the confrontation with the jihadists, the Muslim moderates will loose the confrontation with extremism. The Obama administration is using a lexicon that goes against the national interest of the United States."
Other counterterrorism experts, including retired CIA career-man Charles Faddis, are less concerned with the rhetoric and more concerned with a policy shift that might follow. Faddis explained that "we can debate the characterization of the threat and exactly what tools we should be using, but at the end of the day we are still at war."
Check out Kimery's article here.