The Continuing Debate Over "Jihadists" As The Enemy
By Jeffrey Imm
Last week, the Associated Press reported that the State Department approved National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) guidelines for terminology in defining the enemy created by NCTC's Extremist Messaging Branch, based on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims". In these new guidelines, the term "jihadist" (among others) was not to be used in defining the enemy or its actions.
But this week, it is apparent that these new guidelines are not being reflected in the State Department annual terrorist report and in comments from President Bush.
In the April 2008 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 released today, anyone can clearly see the use of the terms "jihad", "jihadist", "jihadi", "mujahedin / mujahadin", "caliphate", "Islamist" -- as nouns describing enemy terrorist activity and ideology (not just in the titles of Jihadist groups' names).
Such usage can been easily found in the Microsoft Word version of the State Department report:
- "jihad": pages 63, 75, 81, 107, 126, 127, 174, 187, 272
- "jihadi(s)": pages 10, 93, 94, 103, 107, 122
- "jihadist": pages 116, 117, 120, 121
- "Islamist": pages 17, 52, 62, 75, 87, 93, 95, 122, 188, 271, 291
These references are clearly describing State Department counterterrorist analyst descriptions of enemy terrorist individuals, activity, and ideology. For example, such phrases in the annual State Department terror report as: "promoting jihad and recruiting potential suicide bombers" (p. 75), "a recruitment network for foreign jihadis" (p. 93), "recruiting jihadists to fight" (p. 117), "numerous cells dedicated to sending Jihadi fighters" (p. 122), "AQ leadership has called for jihad against UN forces" (p. 174) -- don't sound like a view of "jihad" as a "spiritual struggle".
Moreover, in President Bush's April 28 press conference, he referred to the enemy as "jihadists" - to an assembled press corps that never asked him a single question about the remark.
In last week's reported NCTC memorandum and DHS report on the proper terminology in describing the enemy, the NCTC is quoted stating that "[n]ever use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedeen' in conversation to describe the terrorists...calling our enemies 'jihadis' and their movement a global 'jihad' unintentionally legitimizes their actions." As described in last week's article on this subject, I pointed out that this viewpoint challenges many of the key passages in the 9/11 Commission Report.
Does the NCTC and DHS now think that the State Department and President Bush are "legitimizing" the actions of the enemy by using such terms?
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War on Extremism (W.O.E) versus War on Jihad
In President Bush's April 28 press conference where he defined the enemy as "jihadists", the President also referred to the war with them as an "ideological struggle". But what ideology are we struggling against, Mr. President? "Jihad" or "Extremism"? Or is the newspeak of the War on Extremism (W.O.E.) just too hard for our leadership to remember?
It seems that the administration cannot decide on this critical, defining issue in this global war. This is the result of a reactive, tactical-centric approach to global war with an undefined enemy. The effectiveness of America's global war efforts are dependent on such agreed-upon definitions and clear identification of the enemy. Yet within the past week, one part of the government is stating "never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedeen'", while another part of the government is using precisely such terms in policy speeches to the nation and in documentation on the ongoing threat.
In the very visible debate over the Iraq war, Defense Secretary Gates made a similar "gaffe" in the past two weeks. On April 13, Secretary Gates appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" and clearly communicated his views that "the enemy is extremism in Iraq". Yet a week later, on April 21, when speaking at West Point U.S. Military Academy, Secretary Gates warned of "the threat posed by violent jihadist networks"; this same speech does not once refer to "extremists". Once again, Secretary Gates needs to clarify - who is the enemy - "extremists" or "jihadists"? Surely, the Secretary of Defense can consistently define the global enemy we are fighting.
The State Department's annual report clearly states that Americans are fighting Jihadists in Iraq, and is concerned over such issues as: a "network for foreign jihadis in Iraq" (p. 93), the "travel of jihadists to Iraq" (p. 116), "recruiting jihadists to fight in Iraq" (p. 117), and "cells dedicated to sending Jihadi fighters to Iraq" (p. 122). Or does the State Department really mean "extremists"?
Advocates of a War on Extremism (W.O.E.) and NCTC / DHS Guidelines
As I pointed out in last week's article in the national drift towards a War on Extremism (W.O.E.), the trend towards redefining the war as one of fighting "extremism" and in accommodating Islamists has been growing -- both in the United States and internationally. The NCTC / DHS terminology guidelines represent another worrisome milestone on this dangerous path.
But there are advocates of such a strategy of W.O.E. who have welcomed the NCTC and DHS terminology recommendations to ban the use of terms such as "jihadist".
For example, the NCTC/DHS guidelines were warmly received by the Muslim Brotherhood-founded Muslim American Society (MAS). (Perhaps the NCTC and DHS should ask if they are going in the right direction when a Muslim Brotherhood-founded organization applauds their actions.)
On April 27, the Muslim American Society posted an article from "Think Progress" on the MAS website titled "Homeland Security Report Sharply Rebukes McCain's 'Islamic Extremism' Rhetoric". The article references the efforts by unindicted HLF terror trial co-conspirator, the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), in launching "a campaign to persuade Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to drop the adjective 'Islamic' when describing terrorists and extremists". Other political blogs have sought to link the two issues, mockingly challenging the McCain campaign if it thinks "the Bush administration's State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and National Counter Terrorism Center should be ignored, too?"
The political blog "The Carpetbagger Report" believes that the NCTC/DHS guidelines demonstrate that "officials seem to realize the significance of these religio-political words". Like many commentators, the author fails to actually define the significance of such "religio-political" words, but assumes that they are understood. Today's State Department report and President Bush's comments in yesterday's press conference clearly shows how wrong that assumption is.
The Thailand newspaper "The Nation" published an editorial applauding such terminology guidelines in its April 30 edition titled "US govt may be getting the message - finally". For context, Thailand is a nation that, over the past 4 years, has seen 2,776 killed as a result of Jihadist attacks in Thailand's southern regions - nearly the same death toll as the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. Thailand is a nation whose southern region has suffered from a continuous string of cowardly Jihadist attacks on children, women, and the elderly, including the beheading of helpless elders.
Yet The Nation's editorial applauds the W.O.E. tactic of banning the term "jihadist", stating that jihad is an "overused word" that is correctly used to apply to the "broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good". The Nation states that "[w]alking a dog across the street to ensure it doesn't get hit by a fast-moving car is a jihad, one Islamic cleric told The Nation." The Nation further argues that "if we want to win the hearts and minds...we are going to have to come up with a choice of words, not to mention the need to think outside the box". This editorial was published the same day as three more of Thailand's police were murdered in a Jihadist ambush. Perhaps The Nation can tell this message to the widows and the families of policemen murdered by Thai Jihadists on the very day its newspaper championed banning the use of the term "jihadist" in reference to terrorism. Clearly, appeasement of Jihadists knows no boundaries.
Why Definitions Are So Vital To Our War Strategy
As previously discussed, the September 18, 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) provides a very limited definition of the enemy restricted to "those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons". For six and a half years since the AUMF, there has been no consistent or detailed definition of the enemy, nor has there been a clearly defined strategy to defeat this enemy in the global "ideological struggle". This has resulted in a reactive approach to fighting "terrorists", and now "extremists", without an ideological framework of who and why we are fighting.
In developing any blueprint strategy in an "ideological struggle", the first and most fundamental action must be shared, agreed-upon definitions. In a war strategy, such definitions are literally of life-and-death importance. Yet our leadership on this issue continues to send out mixed, confused messages as to who and what the enemy is. Not only is solving this problem a priority for future American political leadership, it is the patriotic responsibility of the current American political leadership. This is not a theoretical discussion for the members of America's armed forces who literally trust their lives on the effectiveness of such leadership in providing such clear strategic guidance.
A nation that cannot define its enemy has little hope of defeating it. Hope is not a strategy, but hope is dependent on a strategy. In a global ideological struggle, the one thing the American people can't afford to lose is hope. As the advocates of War on Extremism (W.O.E.) struggle with newspeak on "extremists" that we must not "legitimize", the security, trust, and hopes of the American people are dependent on American political leadership to effectively define an enemy whose ideology we can strategically counter and defeat.
This recent demonstration of the American government's inability to consistently define the enemy illustrates how vital and imperative such action is.
April 30, 2008 - Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 - United States Department of State Publication - Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism (Microsoft Word document)
State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 Web Site (HTML version)
April 28, 2008 - Transcript: Press Conference by the President
April 24, 2008 - Who is America Fighting - Jihadists or Extremists?- The Counterterrorism Blog - Jeffrey Imm
April 24, 2008 - AP: 'Jihadist' booted from government lexicon
April 24, 2008 - AP: Terms to use and avoid when talking about terrorism
April 24, 2008 - JihadWatch.org: 'Jihadist' booted from government lexicon
April 21, 2008 - Secretary of Defense Gates' Speech at West Point
April 13, 2008 - UPI: Gates: Enemy in Iraq is extremism
Authorization for Use of Military Force (Enrolled Bill), September 18, 2001
September 18, 2001 - U.S. Authorization for Use of Military Force
Muslim American Society (MAS) Dossier - The Investigative Project on Terrorism
April 27, 2008 - Muslim American Society Web Site - "Homeland Security Report Sharply Rebukes McCain's 'Islamic Extremism' Rhetoric"
April 25, 2008 - The Carpetbagger Report - Bush administration re-writes the script on terrorism foes
April 30, 2008 - Thailand's The Nation: "US govt may be getting the message - finally"
April 30, 2008 - Thailand's The Nation: 3 policemen killed, 3 others injured in Pattani bomb attack
January 7, 2008 - The Strait Times: Thailand's Muslim south grew bloodier in 2007
August 7, 2007 - Herald Sun: Elderly Buddhists beheaded, house torched
April 25, 2008 - IPT - Dangerous Word Games - by Steven Emerson
February 5, 2008 - Jihadists, Islamists, and "Extremists" - what's in a name? -- The Counterterrorism Blog - Jeffrey Imm
September 11, 2007 - 9/11 and the Inconvenient Truths about Jihad and Islamism -- Jeffrey Imm
July 18, 2007 - Family Security Matters: Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad - Dr. Walid Phares