The nonbinding 14-point guide on counterterrorism communication, prepared by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, urged U.S. officials to drop language and terminology that may offend Arab and Muslim communities; to use terms such as ?violent extremist? or ?terrorist? instead of ?jihadist.?
WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - Elements within the George W. Bush administration appear to have started questioning the value of abstractly ominous phrases such as the “war on terror” and the “axis of evil,” according to a memo leaked to the Associated Press in April.
The nonbinding 14-point guide on counterterrorism communication, prepared by the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, urged U.S. officials to drop language and terminology that may offend Arab and Muslim communities; to use terms such as “violent extremist” or “terrorist” instead of “jihadist;” and to shift the discussion away from the dualistic “Clash of Civilizations” or battle between “Islam and the West,” a paradigm that casts Islam as inherently violent.
“A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means ‘striving 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,” according to the report. “We need to emphasize that terrorists misuse religion as a political tool to harm innocent civilians across the globe.”
It goes on to suggest using the word “totalitarian to describe our enemy” because, according to the report, the term is widely understood in the Muslim world. Keep the focus on the terrorist, not us, it said, and don’t ascribe “al-Qaeda and its affiliates motives or goals they have not articulated. Our audiences have more familiarity with the terrorist messages than we do and will immediately spot U.S. government embellishment.”
Lastly, “Try to limit the number of non-English terms you use if you are speaking in English,” because “it’s not what you say, but what they hear.” In other words, mispronunciation could make a statement incomprehensible, such as in the example of “Qutbism,” which refers to author Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood member during the mid-1950s who penned the controversial book, “Milestones,” and whose ideas inspired al-Qaeda.
The word Qutb in English is often mispronounced to mean “books.” Talking tough on terror has been the main currency of the Republican Party and the main project of neoconservative pundits in Washington. But in the aftermath of the Bush administration’s failed Middle East policy, many officials, including the bullhorn-in-chief himself, have pushed to reform the public diplomacy machinery and to correct the rhetorical missteps that unintentionally serve to legitimize groups that share al-Qaeda’s ideology.
The inspiration may have come from Bush confidante and hand-holder Karen Hughes, who acted as an adviser to the administration until she was appointed undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, a position she left in November 2007.
Ms. Hughes had never been to the Middle East and had no expertise in the Muslim communities that were the main targets of the White House’s public diplomacy goals. But her year-long effort to change the U.S. image abroad did yield the National Strategy for Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, a 34-page document that calls for the U.S. to mind its language.
“Avoid characterizing people of any faith as ‘moderate’—this is a political word which, when extended to the world of faith, can imply these are less devout and faithful. The terms ‘mainstream’ or ‘majority’ are preferable,” according to Hughes report.
In the face of increased calls from analysts and officials within the intelligence community to focus on the very serious public diplomacy problem on its hands, the Bush administration appears to have taken Ms. Hughes’ advice to heart.
The president has used the phrase “Islamic terrorist” only once since the beginning of 2007 and has buried the “Islamo-fascist” neologism embraced by right-leaning U.S. officials and terrorism analysts. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has also refrained from using the word “jihadi” in her public speeches since last September.
Recent developments appear to have caused a split among Republicans on how to define terrorism, and the recent disclosure has ruffled the feathers of members on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In April, every Republican voted for an amendment to an intelligence bill that would ban the use of federal cash to produce documents that used the same terminology as the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center report. The amendment, authored by the panel’s ranking Republican was defeated.
In response to the new U.S. National Counterterrorism Center recommendations, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said the U.S. was crippled by “political correctness” as it tried to meet “the threats around the world.”
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