The war on terror just got a new front: the dictionary. This week, the language officials from the State Department and the Department of Homelands Security use to describe the war is set to get a makeover.
Out: Jihadists; Mujahdeen; Islamo-fascism. In: Violent extremist; Terrorist
Some crack linguists realized that some words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by admitting religious credibility or by offending moderates.
To see a sample from the memo, which is way more interesting than its title, Words That Work and Words That Don't: A Guide For Counterterrorism Communication,
Regarding "jihad," even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have, and damages relations with Muslims around the world.
A HSA version called, Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims says that the US may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims."
Words are absolutely a potent tool — just consider the dubbing of "prochoice" and "prolife." Who's against either choice or life? But used in context they imbue the adherents of each with a certain credibility. Is it right to eliminate words like jihad because they could have positive connotations for some? Do we need to be careful not to give bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders legitimacy by characterizing them as religious figures? Should the war on terror become a war of words?