U.S. aims to un­link Is­lamic buzz­words and ter­ror­ism

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Shaun Water­man

U.S. of­fi­cials are be­ing ad­vised in in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment doc­u­ments to avoid re­fer­ring pub­licly to al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups as Is­lamic or Mus­lim, and not to use terms like ji­had or mu­ja­hedeen, which “un­in­ten­tion­ally le­git­imize” ter­ror­ism.

“There’ s a grow­ing con­sen­sus [in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion] that we need to move away from that lan­guage,” said a for­mer se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who was in­volved un­til re­cently in pol­icy de­bates on the is­sue.

In­stead, in two doc­u­ments cir­cu­lated last month by the Na­tional Coun­tert­er­ror­ism Cen­ter (NCTC), the mul­ti­a­gency cen­ter charged with strate­gic co­or­di­na­tion of the U.S. war on ter­ror, of­fi­cials are urged to use terms such as vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists, to­tal­i­tar­ian and death cult to char­ac­ter­ize al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups.

“Avoid la­bel­ing ev­ery­thing ‘Mus­lim.’ It re­in­forces the ‘U.S. vs. Is­lam’ frame­work that al Qaeda pro­motes,” ac­cord­ing to “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counter-Ter­ror­ism Com- mu­ni­ca­tion,” pro­duced last month by the cen­ter.

“You have a large per­cent­age of the world’ s pop­u­la­tion that sub­scribes to this re­li­gion,” the for­mer of­fi­cial said. “Un­in­ten­tion­ally alien­at­ing them is not a ju­di­cious move.”

The doc­u­ments, first re­ported by the As­so­ci­ated Press, were posted on­line two weeks ago by the In­ves­tiga­tive Project on Ter­ror­ism.

They high­light de­vel­op­ments in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’ s strat­egy for its war on ter­ror that have been fiercely crit­i­cized by some who have been its clos­est al­lies on the is­sue, and ap­par­ently are be­ing ig­nored by the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can Party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Sen. John McCain of Ari­zona.

Some com­men­ta­tors noted af­ter Pres­i­dent Bush’ s State of the Union speech in Jan­uary that Mr. McCain had stopped us­ing the term Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, in­stead re­fer­ring — as the NCTC guide rec­om­mends — to “ter­ror­ists and ex­trem­ists — evil men who de­spise free­dom, de­spise Amer­ica, and aim to sub­ject mil­lions to their vi­o­lent rule.”

But in a re­cent in­ter­view with The Wash­ing­ton Times, a McCain aide said the sen­a­tor would con­tinue to use the term Is­lamic ter­ror­ism.

Daniel Suther­land, who runs the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Of­fice for Civil Rights and Civil Lib­er­ties, in­sisted that the avoid­ance of the term Is­lam in con­junc­tion with ter­ror­ism “is in no way an ex­er­cise in po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. [. . . ] We are not wa­ter­ing down what we say.”

“There are some terms which al Qaeda wants us to use be­cause they are help­ful to them,” he said.

The “Words That Work” guide notes, “Al­though the al Qaeda net- work ex­ploits re­li­gious sen­ti­ments and tries to use re­li­gion to jus­tify its ac­tions, we should treat it as an il­le­git­i­mate po­lit­i­cal or­ga­ni­za­tion, both ter­ror­ist and crim­i­nal.”

In­stead of call­ing ter­ror­ist groups Mus­lim or Is­lamic, the guide sug­gests us­ing words like to­tal­i­tar­ian, ter­ror­ist or vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist — “widely un­der­stood terms that de­fine our en­e­mies ap­pro­pri­ately and si­mul­ta­ne­ously deny them any level of le­git­i­macy.”

By em­ploy­ing the lan­guage the ex­trem­ists use about them­selves, the guide says, of­fi­cials can in­ad­ver­tently help le­git­imize them in the eyes of Mus­lims.

“Never use the terms ‘ji­hadist’ or ‘mu­ja­hedeen’ [. . . ] to de­scribe the ter­ror­ists,” the guide says. “A mu­ja­hed, a holy war­rior, is a pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­i­za­tion in the con­text of a just war.

In Ara­bic, ji­had means ‘striv- ing 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.”

A longer doc­u­ment pro­duced by Mr. Suther­land’ s of­fice and also cir­cu­lated by the NCTC com­piles ad­vice from Is­lamic com­mu­nity lead­ers and re­li­gious pro­fes­sion­als in the United States about ter­mi­nol­ogy of­fi­cials should use and avoid.

“Ter­mi­nol­ogy to De­fine the Ter­ror­ists: Rec­om­men­da­tions from Amer­i­can Mus­lims,” says of­fi­cials should use “terms such as ‘death cult,’ ‘cult-like,’ ‘sec­tar­ian cult,’ and ‘vi­o­lent cultists’ to de­scribe the ide­ol­ogy and method­ol­ogy of al Qaeda and other ter­ror­ist groups.”

It also rec­om­mends es­chew­ing the terms Is­lamist or Is­lamism — the ad­vo­cacy of a po­lit­i­cal sys­tem based on Is­lam — “be­cause the gen­eral pub­lic, in­clud­ing over­seas au­di­ences, may not ap­pre­ci­ate the aca­demic dis­tinc­tion be­tween Is­lamism and Is­lam.”

The use of the term may be ac­cu­rate, the doc­u­ment says, but “it may not be strate­gic for [U.S. gov­ern­ment] of­fi­cials to use the term.”

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