Tag Archives: Terrorism

Why be Upset about This?

So, Conservatives are in a huff about the Bush administrations new guidelines to avoid legitimizing terrorists.

Federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are telling their people not to describe Islamic extremists as “jihadists” or “mujahedeen,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Lingo like “Islamo-fascism” is out, 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.”

It’s been clear to smart people for a long time that using inappropriate language to describe the “Global War on Terror” can actually be counterproductive in fighting al-Qaeda. Richard Clarke was one of the first to make this argument publicly when he slammed President Clinton for legitimizing bin Laden by publicly talking about him. Now the Bush administration seems to have finally gotten that calling terrorists “jidadis,” or “mujahedeen” can legitimize them, whereas calling them Islamo-fascists can not only offend Muslims but can give them credibility by portraying them as American enemies on par with Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II. The administration’s take away seems pretty accurate:

“We must carefully avoid giving bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders the legitimacy they crave, but do not possess, by characterizing them as religious figures, or in terms that may make them seem to be noble in the eyes of some,” [the Homeland Security report] said.

But as much this rebranding makes sense, some Republicans aren’t happy about it. Like Rick Santorum:

It’s official: We’re fighting . . . terrorists.

You can also call them violent extremists if you like, but never use jihadist or mujahedeen or Islamo-fascist to describe our enemy. These words are deemed pejorative and offensive, according to a recent Bush administration memorandum to federal employees whose jobs involve explaining our ongoing war to the public.

I didn’t get the memo, but the headline on the Associated Press story caught my eye. Two years ago at the National Press Club I challenged the president to go on a communications offensive here at home to redefine the war. I argued that using the politically correct expression war on terror was not only objectively false, but also dangerously misleading.

“We are not fighting a war on terror,” I said then, “any more than we fought a war on blitzkrieg in World War II.”

Blitzkrieg, of course, was a tactic. So is terrorism. In World War II, we fought against German Nazism, Japanese Imperialism and Italian Fascism – militarist, totalitarian ideologies that governed these societies and motivated believers elsewhere to rally and spread these movements across the globe. Terrorism isn’t a governing philosophy or organizing principle. It is simply a means to achieve an ideological end, in this case the spread of radical Islam.

I am sure Franklin Roosevelt’s candid portrayal of our World War II enemies offended many Germans, Italians and Japanese. But did this motivate our own recent immigrants from enemy countries to oppose America and the war? A few perhaps, but thousands of these patriots who came here for liberty joined our armed forces or the effort on the home front and defended it. My father, an 18-year-old Italian immigrant when the war broke out, was one of them.

But isn’t it accurate to say we are at war with terrorists? Yes, but misleading. We are not at war with Colombia’s FARC, Rwanda’s FDLR rebels, or Spain’s Basque separatists. We are at war only with terrorists motivated by Islam who view themselves as true followers, as self-described holy warriors.

But he’s not done there. Not content to rail against guidelines aimed keeping us from offending Muslims and giving al-Qaeda credibility, Santorum decides to insult some Muslims.

Our government in this memo is teaching us a politically correct version of the truth. For example, it tells us that democracy and Islam are compatible. But Islam is less compatible with democracy than is Christianity. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” There was from the beginning a recognition of two realms – the sacred and the secular. From Islam’s inception there has been one realm. Islamic law (sharia) is the law of the government.

Santorum isn’t the only one. Rep. Pete Hoekstra actually introduced legislation to ban the new guidelines.

His amendment aimed to end what he called ‘McCarthyism in reverse” and “speech codes that encumber accurately describing the radical jihadist terrorists that attacked America.”

Santorum says that we need to fight an ideological struggle.

This conflict, like all great conflicts, is not just a military struggle. It’s an ideological struggle, as well. It must be fought in the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad. How can we win a battle of ideas if we don’t have the will to set forth what the enemy truly believes? How can we convince Americans it’s worth the long and great sacrifice to defend ourselves against this grave threat if we worry more about our image abroad than relating the real story at home?

Santorum’s problem is that he thinks that Muslims hate us because we are a democracy. He refuses to even consider the possibility that al-Qaeda has any other reasons for disliking the United States. He talks about educating Americans about “the ideology and motivation of the enemy.”

Yet he has no understanding of it himself. If he knew what he was talking about he’d know that al-Qaeda’s focus on the United States dates only from the mid-90s when bin Laden’s Afghan Arab organization of Soviet War veterans with Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian organization what was forged in the run-up to and aftermath of the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Zawahiri’s organization had traditionally focused on overthrowing what they considered the illegitimate Egyptian government.They shifted their focus to America because they argue that they have no chance of defeating their “near enemy,” the Egyptian regime or any other the other Middle Eastern regimes they consider illegitimate, when those regimes were propped up by the “far enemy,” the United States.

Instead he blathers on about Islam being incompatible with democracy. He doesn’t realize that the term Islamo-Fascism can insult all adherents of Islam. He doesn’t understand that calling al-Qaeda the mujahedeen and jihadists gives them credibility among the general population that can increase their recruiting. But then again, Santorum thought Iraq would be a good way to fight the war on terror. So perhaps, we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s this dumb.

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