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To Name An Enemy

For more than six and a half years the United States has been at war with an enemy, his ideas, and his tactics. The war has unfortunately been named after his primary tactic, and now we learn that many government agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are giving guidance on the terminology used to describe the enemy.

According to the Associated Press, the guidance found in a Homeland Security report entitled "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims." includes recommendations such as:

"Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedeen' in conversation to describe the terrorists. ... Calling our enemies 'jihadis' and their movement a global 'jihad' unintentionally legitimizes their actions."

"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."

On the other hand, 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."

The guidance is provided for speaking with Muslims and the media and not for official policy papers, with the theory being that the use of terms such as jihad, jihadists, and mujahideen unintentionally portrays "terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims".

Earlier today, ThreatsWatch's Michael Tanji asked about our (ThreatsWatch's members) thoughts on the policy. My emailed response, which was later suggested be shared here at ThreatsWatch, is included below.

The determination is probably grounded in sound reasoning and definitely with good intent to support the War on Terror with real war of ideas and communications clarity.

The tough part is this - the terrorists are Muslims practicing a variant of Islam that is best described as jihadism or jihadiya. It bases itself of the Qur'an and Sunna, as do the vast majority of Muslims, and like the fundamentalists, traditionalists, and political/social Islamists, it has many aspects of its tenets and aspirations properly rooted in the core of the faith. Unlike the others though, they've not only ascribed God's oneness to be that He is the one and only God, but [they've] determined that His oneness includes his sovereignty (or rather His directing that He be sovereign) over all. As if He needs them or anyone to 'limit' mans sovereign capacities in order to achieve His own. They've turned tawhid into something much broader, creating a framework of belief that requires them to 'serve' God by instituting His will and law - as opposed to simply living by it themselves. That's step one. Step two and step three require them to take not just a literal read of the Qur'an but to also believe that each 'instruction' included in it (or in the Sunna) was meant for all Muslims rather than for those it was directed to at the time of its delivery (as they believe it is eternal and uncreated).

Additionally, they have taken jihad as a pillar of their faith, rather than the normative view that it is a tool to be used by the entire ummah only (under the authority of the Prophet's successor or caliph). So with jihad is a requirement, the Qur'an as eternal, uncreated and applicable to all mankind, and God as the only legitimate sovereignty and law maker, then one must wage jihad to bring this [God's commands] about if acting in accordance with God's will - being a submitter (Muslim) to him.

Hence - jihad - jihadiya - and jihadiyun are reflective of their take on the faith, the development of their thought and practice, and more importantly on their appeal to the non-jihadists Muslim populations of the world. Calling it jihadiya and them jihadiyun doesn't strengthen their base or idly give them credence - it should in fact be used a means to show Muslims how they've altered the faith and violated the traces of reason that existed long ago.

This issue is seen as particularly complex for many, as exceedingly sensitive to some, and as hog wash to others. The reality is that our government, with the best of intentions, has thus far proven itself not capable of discerning the difference between Muslims willing to aid them and those who offer aid as a means to blur the defining characteristics of our enemies and the remainder of the Muslim world.

When an enemy isn't recognizable until he takes an action against us, the pressure remains entirely on us as that enemy plans and operates with the comfort of anonymity.

2 Comments

Let us have a look (and only a brief attempt here)then at the background to the present discontents. The Arab world has been ruled, in its majority, and until recent territorial demarcations, along the lines of family,tribal and religious loyalties. That these frameworks still exists and are very much in play, is natural. The gradual evolution of western influence in the region has not always brought, nor on occasions was meant to bring,a progress that could be classed as coherent with the traditional order and values of the various peoples. In fact to some it must seem like an organized disarticultation of the various hierarchies of respect and loyalty, and an insult to dearly held values, and in many ways it is, whether intentional or not, and most certainly on many ocasions without due understanding. As tribal and family coherence have become disolved, and not having been replaced by full adherence to national identity or policy in many respects , be it due to perceptions of corruption (under western influence), different tribal hierarchy in power (in deference to ones own), or different religious aliniations and values, there has been a tendency to regroup also under a higher set of parameters. Muslim or non Muslim. Suuni or Shiite. Arab , Persian or Western. ETC. Within these frameworks , which are ever shifting, arise the matters of survival/progress, conservation of values, and retribution. If in the west we have the sensations of condemnation or disgsut at some of the suffering that has been allowed onto these people, how very much more must the feelings of those with stronger ties be. That you cannot identify the 'enemy' is normal, for it may only take one event, or one image in the media to push a person with pacific tendencies into a different set of alegiances(and most alegiances there overlap , in some form or another, with most others). The term terrorist, to my mind , is a very unfortunate attempt to catagorize a whole 'family' under the title of a single 'species', so as to be able to render a situation understandable to an audience that is completely ignorant (I say ignorant without condemnation of any kind)to the reality of the area....or to put it more succintly, 'If you called a rose by any other name, would it still smell as sweet ?' .

Good intentions go all around, Marvin. A lot of Westerners assume that they know enough about Islam to use terms like "Jihad" properly, but 99% of them do not. It's like assuming that the Chinese term "kung fu" only applies to the martial art (it doesn't). Rather than reading the Muslim hate speech being spread by sites like JihadWatch and former Pentagon "experts" like Stephen Coughlin, I'd like to recommend that you and your colleagues here at TW read James Turner Johnson's "The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions". You can read it for free at Google Books: http://preview.tinyurl.com/4sc4xw