Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff

As Terrorism Changes, So Does Its Terminology

May 28, 2008 06:01 AM
by Josh Katz
Language has become an issue in the War on Terror, and the United States has struggled to pinpoint the appropriate terminology.

30-Second Summary

In late April, the Associated Press reported on a Homeland Security report released in January and the subsequent March memo for diplomatic use. The report, called “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims,” put forward new guidelines for naming terrorists.

Terrorists should not be called “jihadists,” “mujahedeen,” or “Islamo-fascists,” says the report. The terms “violent extremist” and “terrorist” should be used instead. The report suggested that the old terminology confused terrorists with mainstream Muslims, and emboldened the terrorists.

Condoleezza Rice may have heeded the call. She has not publicly used the term “jihad” since September of 2007, the Associated Press reports.

But the viewpoint espoused by the memo does not appear to have unanimous support in the government. Every House Republican voted to ban similar publicly-funded studies in the future. Also, the week after the AP story came out, the Counterterrorism Blog claimed that the White House continued to use the obsolete terms. And Sen. John McCain of Arizona will continue to refer to members of al-Qaida as “Islamic terrorists,” according to the Middle East Times.

In a May 27 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens expressed concern that the guidelines recommended using the word “progress” instead of “liberty.” The “inanity here is so mind-boggling,” he writes.

But the Web site altmuslim stresses the importance of the new guidelines: “Central to both these initiatives is an recognition that mainstream (née moderate) Muslims are key to the solution when Islam is used to justify terrorism.”

Background: The Homeland Security report and the GOP split

The Homeland Security report
‘Terror lexicon reveals GOP split’

Opinion & Analysis: Debating the merits of the new terminology

Against the new guidelines
For the new guidelines
Inconsistency in the government

Related Topic: Freedom fries

Reference: The Homeland Security report


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