At least sound like you have a clue and stop calling Islamist terrorism Jihad

I learned a new word today.  A pretty important one, I think, and one that we should all start spreading: hirabist.  I actually learned about this word on Saladin’s website but I found that this article by P.W. Singer of the Brookings Institute clearly articulates why Westerners should immediately cease talking about Jihad:

The word “jihad” means to “strive” or “struggle,” and in the Muslim world it has traditionally been used in tandem with “fi sabilillah” (“in the path of God”). The term has long been taken to mean either a quest to find one’s faith or an external fight for justice. It makes sense, then, for terrorists to associate themselves with a term that has positive connotations. For the United States to support them in that effort, however, is a fundamental strategic mistake.

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.

Of course, it’s probably best not to engage in these nuances at all. Which is why American leaders would do best to call terrorists by their rightful name: “terrorists.” The label may seem passé, but terrorism is an internationally recognized word for an internationally recognized crime. If we want to win a war of words, we would do well to choose the ones we use with greater care.

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  1. #1 by logiopsychopath on August 14, 2010 - 2:41 am

    So, whose side are you on, anyway?

    I haven’t been by in a while–oh and btw–I have another new word for you to look up–Quissling.

  2. #2 by logiopsychopath on August 14, 2010 - 2:42 am

    Or should that be Benedict Arnold?

  3. #3 by Christian Beyer on August 14, 2010 - 10:19 am

    Quisling? True they did accommodate the fascists, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Islamophobes are fascist. Just inclined towards fascism. So maybe Quisling does work.

  4. #4 by logiopsychopath on August 14, 2010 - 7:37 pm

    You’re an Islamophobe? You mean you admit that enemies of the U. S. are dangerous?

    You’re just trying to please Jack.

    Actually, one of my perfessers, Dr. Rutan, predicted this kind of stuff (Islamic attempts to assert their Jihadist power) more than twenty years ago. Is Rutan among the prophets.

    • #5 by Christian Beyer on August 14, 2010 - 9:12 pm

      Strictly speaking, your professor was wrong. Like Christians, the VAST majority of American Muslims (like my next door neighbors) are good citizens. Some of them (like some Christians) are nut jobs. The Irish Christians have been blowing up people for years. Don’t get me started on the Germans.

  5. #6 by logiopsychopath on August 15, 2010 - 11:01 am

    hmm. I see. What about the Germans?

    You are right, however. In my travels in churches in three states (Washington, CA, and M-Land–not to mention others met in my other travels) many whack jobs dwell in churches. I think organized religion attracts nutz, to say the least.

  6. #7 by anon on August 16, 2010 - 1:30 am

    “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.”
    —-from my understanding, it isn’t about theology but justice…the extremists want to locate the ideological battle in the idea of justice (the external struggle of Jihad)……Simply put, they want law and justice (or so they say) and they mean to get this by “freeing” the lands from (Western) oppression and injustice. Western intervention (foreign policy) is what helps in turning extremist rhetoric into reality. —that is, many of these countries have U.S. bases and/or corrupt governments precieved to uphold U.S. economic interests at the cost of public welfare…….etc
    However, the truth is that a corrupt leader will be corrupt regardless of the “West” who are only taking advantage of a geopolitical reality.

    I must also say—–I don’t think the “Muslim World” has confusion or doubts about “American motives”……I think thats pretty clear in their foreign policy actions regardless of ignorant rhetoric—–the only people getting confused seem to be the Americans themselves…….?……..

  7. #8 by Christian Beyer on August 16, 2010 - 11:49 am

    OK, so within the Muslim community Jihad can mean different things, or even though it may have the same meaning for different Muslims its execution may be radically different, to the point where one side may not agree that the other side is really Muslim at all.

    Sounds a lot like the confusion over the “Gospel”. Some evangelists insist upon an angry rhetoric, sometimes resorting to violence, in order that the Gospel is spread. Others might think working quietly alongside other people is all that one needs to do.

    Now, I certainly don’t believe in the “Good News” about an angry God who sends people to hell but then brutally sacrifices his son in order that those who choose to follow him will be saved from damnation. And that the 2000 year history of the Church is proof of God’s approval. But most Christians probably do. So when an atheist (or any non-Christian), upon finding out that I am a Christian, begins to denounce this “Gospel”, denigrating the Christian faith and its institutions as war like, intolerant and blood thirsty, should I be offended? Because I am not.

    I actually think that there is plenty of reason for people to think this way. There is plenty of historical evidence. Though the accusations are not entirely true and not all Christians believe or behave this way, it is up to responsible Christians to recognize any validity the accusations may have and condemn their own religion where necessary. We, Christians, can’t all be right about these things, no matter how tolerant we may want to be. Belief is not the issue – behavior is.

    I think the same must be said of responsible Muslims. They can’t be all right, either.

  8. #9 by anon on August 16, 2010 - 10:20 pm

    “…same meaning for different Muslims its execution may be radically different…”—–interesting point
    Jihad—I think the definition of “Jihad” is understood by Muslims because the term has been explained in the hadith (sayings of the Prophet). I would say, the term is exploited (and misused)by those who have a political agenda. For example, one could say the term “Patriotism” (Love of country) is pretty much understood by Americans yet it was exploited to stifle dissent to the Iraq war by labelling those who did not agree as “unpatriotic”. Those who bought into the rhetoric of war were “Patriotic”. Likewise, many extremists also use language and concepts such as “rule of law”, “Justice”, “Jihad”(struggle for social justice) to further their cause. The extremist”ideology” isn’t about “religion”/Islam, but about “Justice”—that is their selling point—to other Muslims (who already know what Islam is)—-but to the “West” it may seem to be about religion/Islam because they don’t understand Islam. The Western worldview looks through its experience/history with Christianity—not realizing that the Muslim history/experience is different. For “Westerners”, they struggled through the “dark ages” to emerge into the “enlightenment” where they felt liberated from stifling Christian dogma. The Muslims on the other hand have an idealized view of the emergence of Islam. Our Prophet(pbuh) brought civilization, rule of law, and social justice to a land divided and torn by a cycle of voilence. The time before Islam is referred to as the “Jahiliya”(ignorant, barbaric) or what would be the equivalent of the dark ages. Islam liberated people from the Jahiliya. For many countries that are struggling with nationalism, modernity, democracy, globalization social and economic changes…etc—this image has resonance. —-Which is why the extremists exploit this term(Jihad) in the first place.
    For most Muslims, adjusting to the challenges we face today is not a matter of “Jihad” but “Ijtihad”(to strive for —or—the excersise of our intellectual faculties to comprehend new situations and find solutions to them).
    Jihad is NOT voilence or terrorism and anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim, who uses this term for such a purpose is misusing it.
    Responsible Muslims today should work towards the betterment of their societies but also beware of empty rhetoric used to advance someone’s political agenda.

  9. #10 by lurid tales of doom on August 24, 2010 - 6:32 pm

    I suppose the only problem with using ‘muharib’ is that people without a grounding in Arabic languages won’t know who you’re talking about. It’s like ‘fatwā’ which after the fatwā issued against Salman Rushdie was widely reported, is generally taken to mean ‘a death sentence’ but is actually just a non-binding opinion of a scholar on Islamic law. As I’m sure you know one major advantage of using muharib in the place of jihadi is that it marks the clear disparity between the actions of these militants and normative Islamic morality, locating the conflict from within the Islamic framework has in the past been one of the most successful ways to pacify such militancy because the Koran simply does not justify their actions – that’s why even poorly funded and run deradicalisation programs have had greater intelligence successes than interrogation has.

  10. #11 by anon on August 24, 2010 - 9:26 pm

    “people without a grounding in Arabic languages won’t know who you’re talking about.”—but then those people didn’t know anything about “jihad” either—which is also Arabic. Your point of Fatwa is interesting—misguided or not, the discussion generated in free societies like Europe and U.S. have had an effect in the Middle East and East where some countries have begun to curtail idiotic Fatwas by irresponsible and ignorant persons.

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