Regarding the whole “Words Matter” issue, and how U.S. governmental agencies are dropping theologically-laden words from the lexicon — which the Danes are sadly emulating — some time back, one Peter Singer wrote a NY Times piece arguing that dropping such words in favor of generics, such as “terrorists” or “extremists,” is, in fact, a brilliant idea, to which I responded to in American Thinker. Soon thereafter, Erick Stakelbeck interviewed us both for CBN. The transcript follows; the video of the interview is at the CBN link. “Why Words Matter in The War on Terror,” by Erick Stakelbeck, for CBN, August 14:
CBNNews.com – Terms like “radical Islamist” and “jihadist” have dominated headlines and speeches since 9/11, with the Bush administration using them frequently to describe America’s enemies.
But that language may be about to change.
Although Al-Qaeda and other terrorists identify themselves as jihadists — holy warriors — some feel we make a mistake by calling them what they call themselves.
“It makes sense why they would want to be called it. It makes no sense why we would want to call them that,” said Peter Singer, a national security expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington.
Singer co-wrote a recent New York Times op-ed that argues against the use of words like “jihadist” to describe Islamic terrorists.
“This feeds into their idea that this is a religious war, and it’s not.,” he said. “They want it to be a war of religions, but we have said very clearly that this is not a war on Islam, it’s not Christianity vs. Islam in some way. It’s about radicals, it’s about extremists who are using violence.”
U.S. government agencies agree with Singer’s view.[…]
But one native Arabic speaker we talked with says the government has it all wrong.
Islam expert Raymond Ibrahim is author of The Al-Qaeda Reader. It translates previously undeciphered statements by the group’s leadership into English.
“The fact is, the Muslim world isn’t waiting around holding its breath to hear the U.S. Government — an infidel entity — define Islamic terms for them,” Ibrahim said. “This seems to me unprecedented. When we fought the Japanese and we fought the Nazis, we called them what they called themselves.”
“If Osama bin Laden calls himself a mujahid, we should understand what a mujahid is. And we should understand that that is, in English, a holy warrior who’s fighting on behalf of Islam,” he said.
“You want to know your enemy: how they think, what they call themselves, what those terms mean,” he added.
Singer says Western governments and media should avoid using these theological terms because they could offend Muslims.
He suggests using “muharib” or “hirabist” to describe Al Qaeda. These terms mean “barbarians” or “pirates” in Arabic.
“A term like “hirabi” or “muharib” is a term that’s inherently negative within the teachings of the Muslim world,” Singer said.
But according to Ibrahim, these terms are not widely used or understood in the Muslim world, while the concept of jihad is well-known and historically prevalent.
“According to Islamic law, offensive jihad–offensive, not just to defend yourself, but offensive, to go out and invade–is as codified and is obilgatory,” he said.
Moreover, and as an Arabic speaker, I cannot stress this enough: hearing some pretentious intelligence officer seriously (but with a cute accent) refer to al-Qaeda types as “muharibs” or “hirabis” is nothing short of hilarious. Actually, if they can’t use “jihadi,” better to just stick to “terrorist,” without trying to appear knowledgeable about arcane Arabic definitions based on sharia law. Finally, and as I wrote in my American Thinker piece: “The world’s Muslims aren’t holding their breath to hear what sort of Islamic legitimacy the US government is about to confer on al-Qaeda, since it is not for non-Muslims to decide what is and is not Islamic in the first place. Americans, on the other hand, who are still asking “why do they hate us,” are in desperate need of understanding. Using accurate terminology is the first step.
To understand this enemy, Ibrahim says, you can’t separate its ideology from its theology.
“You trace it to Islamic doctrine and law, jihad is simply warfare to subjugate the infidel world to Islamic rule.”
The debate over language has also reached Capitol Hill. Last month, the House passed an amendment to an intelligence bill that would deny funding for any government measure to ban words like jihadist.
Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra, who introduced the amendment, says governnment agencies shouldn’t be hampered by political correctness when fighting the War on Terror.