WORDS MATTER IN THE WAR ON TERROR
By Raymond Ibrahim
Would the Free World have understood the Nazi threat, if, instead of calling them what they called themselves, "Nazis," it had opted to simply call them "extremists" — a word wholly overlooking the racist, expansionary, and supremacist elements that are part and parcel of the word "Nazi"?
Unfortunately, the U.S. government, apparently oblivious to this interconnection between language and knowledge, appears to be doing just that. Even President Obama alluded to this soon after taking office when he said, "Words matter in this situation because one of the ways we're going to win this struggle [war on terror] is through the battle of [Muslims'] hearts and minds."
According to an official memo, when talking about Islamists and their goals, analysts are to refrain from using Arabic words of Islamic significance ("mujahidin," "salafi," "ummah"); nor should they employ helpful English or anglicized words ("jihadi," "Islamo-fascism," "caliphate"). Instead, vague generics ("terrorists," "extremists," "totalitarians") should suffice.
A renewed defense of this disturbing trend was recently published by one Colonel Jeffrey Vordermark and deserves examination. After suggesting that Americans "love to throw around foreign words," Vordermark writes:
While lofty sounding, this view is riddled with problems. First, by seeking to excise the word "jihad" from public discourse, due to the erroneous notion that that term is apparently unknowable, this position is self-defeatist.
"Jihad" has a very precise, juristic definition; more to the point, Sunni Islam — which accounts for nearly 90% of the Islamic world — is, in fact, "simple and monolithic," thanks to the totalitarian nature of Islamic law (Sharia), which categorizes all possible human actions as being either forbidden, discouraged, legitimate, recommended, or obligatory. Indeed, of the major religions of the world, none is perhaps so black and white, so clear cut as Islam, which meticulously delineates to Muslims the correct "way" of living ("way," incidentally, being the literal definition of the word "Sharia").
Thus, to try to portray Islam and its institutions as somehow "otherworldly" and unfathomable — so let's just not bother trying to understand in the first place — is not only folly, but precisely what the Islamists themselves most desire: to guard Islam's more troubling doctrines, such as jihad, from infidel scrutiny.
Let's, for the time being, overlook the hackneyed stress on the socalled greater-lesser jihad dichotomy — which, semantics and sophistry aside, does not invalidate the lesser jihad (i.e., armed warfare). The real problem here is that Vordermark's assertion that the military "jihad" has been "traditionally" limited to "defensive warfare" is totally false.
Even so, Vordermark is to be excused; he warns us about accepting definitions of "jihad" from "pundits, academics, and laymen," and, surely, he falls into this category. Thus, let us dispense, once and for all, with infidel-based definitions — including my own — and see what Islam's own most revered authorities have to say about what "jihad" really means:
First, it needs to be borne in mind that Sunni Islam is wholly dependent on the various rulings (ahkam) of the socalled four schools of jurisprudence (al-madhahib al-arba'). I am currently reading an Arabic manual called Al-Tarbiya al-Jihadiya fi Daw' al-Kitab wa al-Sunna (The Jihadi Upbringing in Light of the Koran and Sunna), a manual written by one Sheikh Abd al-Aziz bin Nasir al-Jalil. After closely examining the word "jihad," he concludes that "jihad is when Muslims wage war on infidels, after having called on them to embrace Islam or at least pay tribute [jizya] and live in submission, and then they refuse."
The book also contains terse summaries of the word "jihad" from each of the four schools of jurisprudence, which have the final say as to how Islam — or in this case, jihad — is articulated: According to the Hanafis, jihad is "extreme and strenuous warfare in the path of Allah, with one's life, wealth, and tongue — a call to the true religion [Islam] and war to whoever refuses to accept it"; according to the Malikis, jihad is "when a Muslim fights an infidel in order that Allah's word [Sharia] reigns supreme"; according to the Shafi'is, jihad is "fiercely fighting infidels"; and, according to the austere Hanbalis, it is "fighting infidels." (Note: "infidels," or kuffar, simply means non-Muslims.)
In short, the "traditional" meaning of jihad is offensive warfare to spread Islamic hegemony — period. This is doctrinally, textually, historically, and consensually demonstrable. At any rate, who probably better understands what jihad means, the non-Muslim Jeffrey Vordermark or the Muslim Abd al-Aziz bin Nasir al-Jalil? More to the point, whose definition will Muslims actually take seriously?
While the U.S. government is busy censoring itself, only the above "legal" definition of jihad provided in al-Jalil's book carries any weight with Muslims — "radical-moderate" dichotomies not withstanding. And since that is the case, so too should it be the only definition that non-Muslims rely on in their formal analyses — that is, if they are ever permitted to incorporate words like "jihad" again.
But what is the point of all this equivocation? The government memo explains:
Aside from the fact that, once again, we are offered a false definition of jihad — the equivalent of the Christian notion of "just war," which it is not — the apparently widespread assumption that the words we use can ever have an impact on what is and isn't legitimate for Muslims and within an Islamic context is beyond ludicrous.
Muslims are not waiting around for Americans or their government — that is, the misguided, the deluded, in a word, the infidel — to define Islam for them; much less will subtle word games and euphemisms emanating from the West manage to confer or take away Islamic legitimacy on the Islamists of the world. For Muslims, only Islamic law, the antithesis of international law, decides what is or is not legitimate, or, in legal terminology, what is mubah or mahrum.
Furthermore, the U.S. government would do well to worry less about which words appease Muslims — the memo also warns against "offending," "insulting," or being "confrontational" to Muslims — and worry more about providing its own citizenry with accurate and meaningful terminology.
Words matter. Whom those words are directed at matters even more. The world's Muslims aren't holding their breath to hear what sort of Islamic legitimacy the U.S. government is about to confer on any given Islamist group, since it is not for non-Muslims — the despised infidels — to decide what is and is not Islamic in the first place. Americans, on the other hand, who still wonder "why they hate us," are in desperate need of understanding. Using accurate terminology is the first step.
Finally, as this article is dedicated to "words," know that there is a reason that the words "knowledge" and "acknowledge" are etymologically related: without doing the latter — in this case, without acknowledging the true nature of the Islamist enemy and his goals — one can never possess the former: requisite knowledge for victory.
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
American Foreign Policy -- The Middle East
American Foreign Policy -- Political & Psychological Warfare
International Politics & World Disorder:
War, Peace, & Geopolitics in the Real World:
Foreign Affairs & U.S. National Security
Page Two Page One
Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
Counterterrorism & U.S. National Security
U.S. National Security Strategy
Raymond Ibrahim, a historian of Islam, Islamism and the Middle East, is the Associate Director of the Middle East Forum and the editor of The Al-Qa'ida Reader, a collection of tranlations of key texts and documents of the Islamist movement. Ibrahim's translations of the religious texts and political propaganda comprising this collection help readers comprehend the origins, development, history, and serious danger of the Islamist war doctrines of Usama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Founders of Al-Qa'ida and implacable enemies of the U.S.A. and the West.
The foregoing article by Raymond Ibrahim was originally published in the Pajamas Media, May 4, 2009, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (Article URL: http://www.meforum.org/article/2134/words-matter-in-the- war-on-terror)
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
LINKS TO PARTICULAR ISSUES & SUBJECT MATTER CATEGORIES
TREATED IN THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVE, U.S.A.:
American Government 2 * American Government 3 * American Government 4
American Government 5 * American Politics * Anglosphere * Arabs
Arms Control & WMD * Aztlan Separatists * Big Government
Black Africa * Bureaucracy * Canada * China * Civil Liberties * Communism
Congress, U.S. * Conservative Groups * Conservative vs. Liberal
Constitutional Law * Counterterrorism * Criminal Justice * Disloyalty * Economy
Education * Elections, U.S. * Eminent Domain * Energy & Environment
English-Speaking World * Ethnicity & Race * Europe * Europe: Jews
Family Values * Far East * Fiscal Policy, U.S. * Foreign Aid, U.S. * Foreign Policy, U.S.
France * Hispanic Separatism * Hispanic Treason * Human Health * Immigration
Infrastructure, U.S. * Intelligence, U.S. * Iran * Iraq * Islamic North Africa
Islamic Threat * Islamism * Israeli vs. Arabs * Jews & Anti-Semitism
Jihad & Jihadism * Jihad Manifesto I * Jihad Manifesto II * Judges, U.S. Federal
Judicial Appointments * Judiciary, American * Latin America * Latino Separatism
Latino Treason * Lebanon * Leftists/Liberals * Legal Issues
Local Government, U.S. * Marriage & Family * Media Political Bias
Middle East: Arabs * Middle East: Iran * Middle East: Iraq * Middle East: Israel
Middle East: Lebanon * Middle East: Syria * Middle East: Tunisia
Middle East: Turkey * Militant Islam * Military Defense * Military Justice
Military Weaponry * Modern Welfare State * Morality & Decency
National Identity * National Security * Natural Resources * News Media Bias
North Africa * Patriot Act, USA * Patriotism * Political Culture * Political Ideologies
Political Parties * Political Philosophy * Politics, American * Presidency, U.S.
Private Property * Property Rights * Public Assistance * Radical Islam
Religion & America * Rogue States & WMD * Russia * Science & Ethics
Sedition & Treason * Senate, U.S. * Social Welfare Policy * South Africa
State Government, U.S. * Subsaharan Africa * Subversion * Syria * Terrorism 1
Terrorism 2 * Treason & Sedition * Tunisia * Turkey * Ukraine
UnAmerican Activity * UN & Its Agencies * USA Patriot Act * U.S. Foreign Aid
U.S. Infrastructure * U.S. Intelligence * U.S. Senate * War & Peace
Welfare Policy * WMD & Arms Control
Africa: Black Africa *
Africa: North Africa *
American Government 1
POLITICAL EDUCATION, CONSERVATIVE ANALYSIS
POLITICS, SOCIETY, & THE SOVEREIGN STATE
Website of Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
An Online Journal of Political Commentary & Analysis
Dr. Almon Leroy Way, Jr., Editor