Bush alters jihadist rhetoric
- U.S. administration alters `jihadist' rhetoric
By Khody Akhavi
Jun 2, 2008
The nonbinding 14-point guide on counterterrorism communication,
prepared by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, urged U.S.
officials to drop language and terminology that may offend Arab and
Muslim communities; to use terms such as `violent extremist'
or `terrorist' instead of `jihadist.'
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - Elements within the George W. Bush
administration appear to have started questioning the value of
abstractly ominous phrases such as the "war on terror" and the "axis
of evil," according to a memo leaked to the Associated Press in
April. The nonbinding 14-point guide on counterterrorism
communication, prepared by the U.S. National Counterterrorism
Center, urged U.S. officials to drop language and terminology that
may offend Arab and Muslim communities; to use terms such
as "violent extremist" or "terrorist" instead of "jihadist;" and to
shift the discussion away from the dualistic "Clash of
Civilizations" or battle between "Islam and the West," a paradigm
that casts Islam as inherently violent.
"A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the
context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means `striving in the path
of God' and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our
enemies `jihadis' and their movement a global jihad unintentionally
legitimizes their actions," according to the report.
"We need to emphasize that terrorists misuse religion as a political
tool to harm innocent civilians across the globe."
It goes on to suggest using the word "totalitarian to describe our
enemy" because, according to the report, the term is widely
understood in the Muslim world. Keep the focus on the terrorist, not
us, it said, and don't ascribe "al-Qaeda and its affiliates motives
or goals they have not articulated. Our audiences have more
familiarity with the terrorist messages than we do and will
immediately spot U.S. government embellishment."
Lastly, "Try to limit the number of non-English terms you use if you
are speaking in English," because "it's not what you say, but what
In other words, mispronunciation could make a statement
incomprehensible, such as in the example of "Qutbism," which refers
to author Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood member during the mid-
1950s who penned the controversial book, "Milestones," and whose
ideas inspired al-Qaeda. The word Qutb in English is often
mispronounced to mean "books."
Talking tough on terror has been the main currency of the Republican
Party and the main project of neoconservative pundits in Washington.
But in the aftermath of the Bush administration's failed Middle East
policy, many officials, including the bullhorn-in-chief himself,
have pushed to reform the public diplomacy machinery and to correct
the rhetorical missteps that unintentionally serve to legitimize
groups that share al-Qaeda's ideology.
The inspiration may have come from Bush confidante and hand-holder
Karen Hughes, who acted as an adviser to the administration until
she was appointed undersecretary for public diplomacy and public
affairs, a position she left in November 2007. Ms. Hughes had never
been to the Middle East and had no expertise in the Muslim
communities that were the main targets of the White House's public
diplomacy goals. But her year-long effort to change the U.S. image
abroad did yield the National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and
Strategic Communication, a 34-page document that calls for the U.S.
to mind its language.
"Avoid characterizing people of any faith as `moderate'this is a
political word which, when extended to the world of faith, can imply
these are less devout and faithful. The terms `mainstream'
or `majority' are preferable," according to Hughes report.
In the face of increased calls from analysts and officials within
the intelligence community to focus on the very serious public
diplomacy problem on its hands, the Bush administration appears to
have taken Ms. Hughes' advice to heart. The president has used the
phrase "Islamic terrorist" only once since the beginning of 2007 and
has buried the "Islamo-fascist" neologism embraced by right-leaning
U.S. officials and terrorism analysts. Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice has also refrained from using the word "jihadi" in
her public speeches since last September.
Recent developments appear to have caused a split among Republicans
on how to define terrorism, and the recent disclosure has ruffled
the feathers of members on the House Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence. In April, every Republican voted for an amendment to
an intelligence bill that would ban the use of federal cash to
produce documents that used the same terminology as the U.S.
National Counterterrorism Center report. The amendment, authored by
the panel's ranking Republican was defeated.
In response to the new U.S. National Counterterrorism Center
recommendations, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the U.S.
was crippled by "political correctness" as it tried to meet "the
threats around the world."
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