Tuesday, June 17, 2008
A Rose By Any Other Name - Tiptoeing Around Jihad
Do words matter? What's in a name anyway?
After meeting with a number of American Muslim figures whom they refuse to identify, The US Department of Homeland Security and the US State Department's Counterterrorism Communications Center each issued directives last month urging government employees to avoid words like "jihad," "mujahedeen" , "Islamist' or any reference to Islam or Muslims in relationship to terrorism or Al Qaeda. There were also sections that dealt with stressing that Islam and secular democracy are fully compatible, that officials should avoid terms like "moderate Islam"( because of the claim that that term is somehow offensive to the Muslims they met with) and instead use terms like "mainstream or traditional" to describe non-terrorist Muslims.
The idea behind this change is to promote the ever important 'hearts and minds' factor among Muslims, to avoid the idea that the West is in conflict with the Muslim world, and to eliminate the glamor and religious aura surrounding Islamic fascism.
The idea that by somehow refusing to call something by its right name and clearly identifying the ideology and motivation of our enemies is quite typical of the Saudi friendly Bush Administration's approach since 9/11, which brought us the ridiculous misnomer of the so-called 'war on terror'.
There are a number of reasons why this approach is not only wrongheaded, but suicidal.
The whole idea that the Islamic world is going to care what a bunch of infidels label people like Hezbollah, Hamas or al-Qaeda or their efforts is ludicrous. Neither those Muslims who do not support or approve these group's desire for a world wide caliphate or those Muslims that do are going to give a rip what we call it. Nor are most of them, particularly outside of the US prepared or able to debate the matter objectively.
Aside from the fact that Islam by its very nature doesn't promote questioning or what we in the West would refer to as freedom of ideas, the entire concept of an objective media barely exists in the Muslim world. One need only to sample the blatant anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism and fantastic conspiracy theories promulgated in most of the Muslim world's press to get a proper handle on this little factoid.
Just as one example, it tends to shock most typical Westerners that the vast majority of Muslims believe the Mossad pulled off 9/11...in spite of Osama bin-Laden himself cheerfully taking credit for it.
Another problem with the tiptoe approach is that it dignifies the Islamist viewpoint as being worthy of respect, while making the very ideas we're supposedly trying to promote as subject to debate. It equates one with the other, and actually brings us down to the jihadi's level...or raises them to ours.
Honor killings,female circumcision, the demonization of Jews, the lack of basic rights for women and the Jim Crow dhimmi status of non-Muslims are all part of Islam and sharia law.When we fail to recognize that, when we dignify those within and outside our country who promulgate these views by failing to be straightforward about the fact that sharia, Islamism ( by which I mean political Islam) and its advocates are unacceptable from our point of view, we not only muddy the waters here at home but perform a disservice to freedom seeking Muslims abroad.
That's important enough that I want to repeat it - dignifying the Wahabi, Salafist and khomenist strains of Islam as worthy of being considered seriously as anything other than an enemy to our Western freedom is a serious and perhaps even fatal error.
And the effect on our own war effort here at home is palpable when we're unwilling to be blunt about what and whom we're fighting.
Another common fallacy is that if we're careful not to offend Islamist Muslims, more of them will come over to the West's side and renounce violence against the infidels. The point was actually made in the DHS report that government officials should not criticize the Salafist ideology, "since a lot of Muslims follow Salafist beliefs but are not violent."
By that analogy, we should been very careful about criticizing the Nazis, especially before World War II. After all,the vast majority of them were not directly violent , and were not involved in the killing of Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies or other 'undesirables'.
However, what that vast majority were involved in was supporting the ones who were in every way.Should we thus have eliminated terms critical of the Nazis or Germans from our government vocabulary in the hopes that Hitler's avid supporters were suddenly going to embrace Western style democracy?
To win a battle of hearts and minds, you first have to clearly define who you are, and what you stand for...and act on it. The fact that we haven't, I think, can largely be traced to the extraordinary degree to which the Saudis and other like them have purchased influence in our society.
However, there are ways in which we can wage propaganda warfare against our enemies, provided we're willing to look at reality and see things as they are.
Islamism is, like it or not, an honor/shame culture. And it's most vulnerable when it's not respected.
The best anti-jihadist propaganda available is to show that lack of respect by clearly identifying the jihadists and the nation states that tacitly support them for exactly what they are...medieval barbarians.It was the first hand experience with al Qaeda's brutality that turned Sunni Muslims in Iraq away from them, not our attempts to convince them otherwise.
Due to the controlled nature of the media in much of the Muslim world,there's a limited amount of US counterjihad propaganda that can get through, but some of it always will. Showing the Muslim world first hand the results of honor killings, the innocent Muslims massacred by jihadis, and pictures of atrocities like Beslan will do a lot more to sway the hearts and minds of decent people of whatever faith than any amount of tap dancing around calling jihad by its proper name.
It is what it is, and there are plenty of ways to call it what it is and show what it means without demonizing all Muslims.
Zero tolerance here at home for the wahabist, salafist or khomenist strains of Islam here in the West, surveillance of mosques and madrassahs here in the West and the closure of those that disseminate ideas conducive to violence, become involved in financing or abetting terrorism or that attempt to subvert our Constitution is another important step. So is engagement by our government with US Muslims who cherish our freedoms and are willing to speak out. American Muslims like Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Wafa Sultan and Irshad Manji could do incredible good with an official megaphone behind them.
It still astounds me that rather than trust in the patriotism of American Muslims and urge them to out the jihadis in our midst, our government seemingly put all Muslims in America in the same boat but actually accepted Islamist front groups like CAIR as the primary voice of Muslims in America.
And lastly, the best way to win a war of ideas is to simply to win a war.When the jihadist supporting states are either defeated or cowed, their poisonous ideology will go with it. For all of Hitler's avid support in Germany, once he was defeated it was simply astonishing how many Germans discovered they had never, ever supported the Nazis in the least!
Funny how that worked out, isn't it?
We can win the war of ideas against jihad. But first, we had better make up our minds that we're in a war...and what we're for and what we're against.
Playing games of let's-pretend with semantics when our survival hangs in the balance is not only counterproductive, it's dangerous.
hat tip to GW...for the idea and the inspiration.