by Steven R. Corman
Jeffrey Imm over at CT Blog did a post yesterday admiring Rep. Hoekstra’s attempt to amend H.R. 5959 to deny DHS and NCTC the ability to expend any funds in their efforts to discourage use of words like “jihad” in U.S. strategic communication. The amendment was defeated, but passed and 249 members of the House (and 6 of 8 members of the Arizona delegation, including my own Congressman) voted for it.
Question (from Rep. Hoekstra, in speaking for the amendment):
Al Qaeda itself uses these terms to describe its fight against America, our allies, and moderate Muslims around the world. Why then would we prohibit our intelligence professionals from using the same words to accurately describe al Qaeda’s stated goals?
Answer: Because using these words helps label the extremists as holy warriors who are doing their deeds on behalf of God.Â This supports a communication strategy of al Qaeda to legitimize themselves in the eyes of important audiences in the Muslim world by excusing themselves for doing things like killing thousands of innocent civilians in the World Trade Center.Â Since they are working on behalf of God, their twisted logic goes, then ipso facto God must have willed those innocent civilians to die, meaning they haven’t done anything wrong.
The argument that we should use language like “jihadi” because that’s what the Bad Guys call themselves is laughable. To a thinking person, the very fact that “Al Qaeda itself uses these terms to describe its fight against America” should be reason enough to avoid them.Â We didn’t go around describing Germans as the “master race” in World War II, did we?Â Or do Rep. Hoekstra, Mr. Imm, the 249 Representatives who voted for the amendment, and the 900 people who signed a petition against its defeat have so much respect for Osama bin Laden that they want to let him define the terms in the War of Ideas?
Of course not.Â As everyone knows, he who defines the terms wins the debate.Â This makes me wonder just what debate these people are trying to win.Â Is there some hidden religio-political agenda at work here, where the objective is to tar all Muslims with the actions of the violent extremists?Â It is hard to think of another plausible motive for supporting al Qaeda’s communication strategy.Â If there is one, I wish someone would explain it to me.
No, Mr. Corman. We simply realize that without addressing the ideology of Islamic supremacism and Jihad behind “terrorist” attacks that we will not even begin to fight a meaningful war of ideas.
I suggest you also read my article at:
Mr. Imm, thanks for your comment. I agree 100% that we should address extremist ideology. In fact my colleagues and I have been doing research on that very problem. I’m pretty sure the people at DHS and NCTC are with us too.
My point is simply that we can and should address the problem without deploying labels that contribute to the religious legitimization of the extremists. Otherwise we reinforce the very structures we’re trying to tear down.
The essay you cite complains that some alternative labels are vague and others aren’t understood by the American public. Let us remember that Americans didn’t know what “jihad” and its derivations meant until the politicians and news media started using them during the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. A similar effort to educate people about an alternative like “takfiri” could be just as successful. As for terms like “extremist,” politicians in the U.S. effectively use ambiguous language all the time, yet people still understand what they mean.
There is never one and only one way to say something. Hence I disagree with the implication of your essay that unless we use particular language we can’t have an effective strategy against the ideology of the Bad Guys. We are smart enough to both do that *and* use labels that don’t support their communication strategy.