I've been talking a lot recently about the information war and moving from kinetic operations to hearts and minds COIN. One major aspect of that is how we speak about our enemies and how we frame the struggle we are in. GWOT is out as it always sucked. We fight a Global Counterinsurgency against violent religious extremists and we need a common reference for them. We have gone all the way around our ass getting to our elbow in this attempt and nothing has stuck. Radical religious extremists who have hijacked an otherwise peaceful religion and now conduct terrorist acts in pursuit of a return to the gloris of the Caliphate and worldwide sharia law is a little clunky and all attempts to shorten it have simply failed. Recently all kinds of folks birthed cows when the State Department stated that we should mind our wording and choose terms that advance our arguments.
There is an excellent piece in today's NYT that explores the proper way to refer to murderous scum according to Islamic teachings.
First, to call a terrorist a “jihadist” or “jihadi” effectively puts any campaign against terrorism into the framework of an existential battle between the West and Islam. This feeds into the worldview propagated by Al Qaeda. It also serves to isolate the tens of millions of Muslims who condemn the violence that has been perpetrated in the name of Islam.
Second, these words locate the ideological battle exactly where the extremists want it to be. The terms of discussion are no longer about the murder of innocents in terrorist acts; they are about theology.
Third, when American leaders use this language it sends a confusing message to the Muslim world, showing ignorance on basic issues and possibly even raising doubts about American motives. Why, after all, would we call our enemy a “holy warrior”?
If we want to say what we mean, what terms better describe Qaeda members and other violent extremists? “Muharib” or the more colloquial “hirabi” or “hirabist” would be good places to start. “Hirabah,” the base word, is a term for barbarism or piracy. Unlike “jihad,” which grants honor, “hirabah” brings condemnation; it involves unlawful violence and disorder.
I am totally down with the condemnation thing and Hirabi sounds kinda foul, you know fits in with the whole goat-molesting thing that we all associate with the terrorists. Ed Morissey is on point as well.
Most of us who use the term jihad do so with an ironic intent, a manner of belittling these grandiose fantasies of Islamist terrorists that they kill women and children for their concept of the Almighty. Irony doesn’t translate well, though, and the impression could be left that we honor these nutcases rather than ridicule them.
We use words purposefully and we ought to purpose them according to effectiveness not whether they make us feel good using them. So Hirabis it is for the foul scum of al Qaeda and any other Islamist rat bastards who befoul this nasty rock.