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War of the Words — Don't Call It Jihad Anymore!

War of the Words — Don't Call It Jihad Anymore!

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?


Join The Conversation
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
OK, I stand corrected. The point is, I hope there is as much outrage over that and other terrorist killings of innocent people....
stephley stephley 9 years
"BAGHDAD — Psychiatric case files of two female suicide bombers who killed nearly 100 people in Baghdad this month show that they suffered from depression and schizophrenia but do not contain information indicating they had Down syndrome, American officials said Wednesday." The Down Syndrome story was corrected by February 20, 2008 by a Rear Admiral.
UnDave35 UnDave35 9 years
I am sorry for the loss. Innocent life lost is always a tragedy. I assume that American troops are responsible. I only hope that you are this upset when terrorists strap bombs to the bodies of down syndrome girls and blow them up in crowded market places....
zeze zeze 9 years
Your very welcome. The power of distortion in translation is the exact reason why language is so important. It's not just translation, I've taken some English lit courses were we looked at the politics of language, and while some of it far-fetched, some of is really interesting. I mean look at the "protect America act" or "war on terror" you have to be evil to go against these! There was a guy on John Stewart, forgot his name, who mentioned how all the candidates use specific words in order to further their "persona" and after he mentions it you think back and it's so true!
Jillness Jillness 9 years
Thank you for the info, zeze! It is amazing how nuance can be distorted in translation.
hypnoticmix hypnoticmix 9 years
Absolutely words are a huge player. I know I sound like a broken record but like I always say context..context..context. That's what it comes down to whether it be the war on terror, sound bights on the news, anything were you're trying to make a sound judgment or express the correct point requires the correct context.
MarinerMandy MarinerMandy 9 years
Some will say this is political correctness run amok, but I say it is a good step towards preventing the inflammation of a sensitive situation. The extremists have hijacked those words and by referring to them by those words we legitimize their claims.
Auntie-Coosa Auntie-Coosa 9 years
Words do have meaning. And some words have more emotional weight than others. Now, who's going to get the Main Stream Media to use the new terms?
zeze zeze 9 years
FINALLY! Someone finally noticed this! In Islam Jihad, as it is known by most Muslims today, is a term meaning "struggle" or "strive" it refers to ordinary everyday life, to strive to be a better person, to strive for a better life (financially, religiously, socially). It's only link to violence is in terms of SELF DEFENSE, where if one person threatens you and your family you have the right to fight back and you have a duty to protect yourself and your family and religion (in case of someone forcing conversion). Jihad and Mujahadeen and Martyr are all "Good" words in Islamic society - They DO NOT reference to the stuff terrorist do, but when the the US government and media calls these people Mujahadeen/Jihadist it links them to noble traditions in Islamic history and might encourage those vulnerable to radicalism by hearing words of praise being linked to terrorists - not to mention the offense to the religion when we call acts of terror acts of Jihad. Terrorist have bastardized this term claiming that they are fighting the west's attacks on Islam. Jihad does not give one the right to attack innocent people or behead innocent journalist in some theoretical battle. It refers to actual threats and life/death and defense against the person responsible, not third persons. So when we repeat after these monsters, and call them "jihadist" we are inadvertently giving their battle and their interpretation of the term the credibility is lacks. I really hope this catches on.
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