Center for Strategic Communication

[ by Charles Cameron — jihad and struggle, a question of terminology ]


Now isn’t that curious? Right at the end of Jonathan Demme‘s film The Silence of the Lambs, after the copyright notice, after the obligatory comment about the characters being fictitious and no similarity to actual persons, living or dead, being intended or to be inferred, we’re informed that A Luta Continua: the struggle continues.


I’m reminded of this from time to time by the use of the term jihad, which has come in some circles to have a meaning quite close to holy war or just war (and for five points, quick, the difference is?) or even crusade – but can also mean the effort to align oneself with the will of God. There are those who say jihad means bloody warfare, and those who say that’s the lesser jihad while the greater jihad is the struggle against the nafs, roughly speaking our selfish nature…

And then there are those who use the term — who may be meaning warfare by it, or some kind of moral effort — or even a political one.

But when the term is used, we all too often think we know what it means — with the possibility of misreading it in more than one direction, likely depending on whether the reader, viewer or listener views Islam as warlike, peaceable, both, neither, or none of the above.



It occurred to me that it might be interesting to consider our word struggle.

When Jonathan Demme says the struggle goes on in Portuguese, what’s he getting at? Does he simply mean that Hannibal Lecter will shortly have his unsavory psychiatrist colleague for dinner?

I think not — for one thing, Demme has tagged the phrase onto the end of several other movies.

Struggle’s an interesting word: it straddles the distinction between violent and non-violent effort.

Would we understand events unfolding in the Middle East and elsewhere any better, if we substituted the word struggle for jihad every time we heard it? Perhaps it would help us understand that there’s an inherent ambiguity to the word…

I don’t know. I thought I’d ask.


Selected reading:

David Cook, Understanding Jihad
Reuven Firestone, Jihad: the Origin of Holy War in Islam
Michael Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History

also of possible interest by of comparison:

Reuven Firestone, Holy War in Judaism: The Fall and Rise of a Controversial Idea