Recently, the Bush administration opened up a sad new front in the war on terrorism: a battle against words. Yes, the federal government has begun a concerted effort to make certain terms effectively off-limits in official communications. It’s all included in a new memo prepared by the Extremist Messaging Branch of the National Counter Terrorism Center, called “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication.”
“It’s not what you say but what they hear,” says the memo, in bold, italic lettering.
Among the verboten (or think-twice-before-you-say-them) words: “Jihadist” and “Mujahedeen” (which should be replaced by “violent extremist” or “terrorist”) and “Islamo-fascism.”
In the eyes of the feds, the use of such terminology boosts support for radicals by giving them an air of religious credibility, and turning off moderate Muslims who might otherwise sympathize with our anti-terror cause.
As a Muslim reformer - who once counted himself among the world’s Islamists and jihadists before turning away from terrorism and toward liberalism - I consider this a tragically flawed understanding of the war on terrorism in which we are now engaged.
The real way to strengthen moderate Muslims in their fight against the radicals is to spotlight radical teachings and flush out those who believe in them.
Among the most important qualities of any professional are honesty, objectivity and forthrightness - the ability to determine and present facts as they are, irrespective of the preconceived notions of any particular audience.
This is especially true in war: define your enemy correctly, and you will rally legitimate allies to your side. Blur what a battle is about and, stuck in the muddle, you are bound to lose.
Yes, the word “jihad” has several, including some peaceful, meanings - but that doesn’t change the fact that most authoritative Islamic texts and systems of jurisprudence maintain that its primary meaning is “warfare to subjugate the world to Islam.” Closely allied with this predominant concept of jihad is the threefold choice given to infidels: conversion, submission and tribute or death. And it is simply a fact that jihad, as taught by Sunni Islam’s four schools of jurisprudence, is either a war to defend Muslims or to impose Islam on non-Muslims.
It may be uncomfortable to admit these facts - and doing so may run certain risks. But it is true, and the costs of ignoring reality are far higher than the benefits of glossing over it.
Islamists are not waiting for “infidel” Americans to define jihad for them; they defined it themselves, a very long time ago. If Muslim leaders wish to insist that the word refers primarily to a peaceful struggle against the self, they have that option. Let them clearly and publicly denounce the current doctrine and establish a new one. That’s the answer - not redefining reality.
Where does the word game end? Should we also stop calling militant organizations - such as Egypt’s “Islamic Jihad” - by their own chosen names?
The movie “The Usual Suspects” may have put it best: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
One of the most devious tactics used by the Islamists is scaring their enemy out of speaking the plain truth about this virulent strain of Islam, for fear it might alienate or offend millions of moderate Muslims. But this ensures that no one will directly confront their violent ideologies and the books that contain them - since, under Islamic Sharia law, no one is even allowed to challenge their contents.
Calling angina a “common cold” does not change its nature. It only prevents us from taking the necessary steps in treating it, which will only lead to further sickness, and possibly death.
Playing word games with jihadists is not only meaningless, but plays right into the hands of the radical Muslim terrorists - who, to be defeated, must first be called by their true name.
Hamid, a onetime member of Jemaah Islamiya, an Islamist terrorist group, is a medical doctor and Muslim reformer living in the West.