Separating Friend from Foe
It’s my understanding that there’s a certain ambiguity to the Arabic word, jihad. It can mean either violent, physical struggle or it can mean internalized struggle, as in the struggle between one’s own good and evil impulses. There’s a similar ambiguity to the English word, crusade. It can mean raising an army to invade Palestine or it can mean something a lot more spiritual as in the evangelist Billy Graham’s famous Crusades. However it sounds to Muslim ears I doubt that many Americans believe that the Rev. Graham is attempting to raise an army to forcibly eject Muslims from Palestine with his crusades. I’m sure my fellow asociate blogger here at OTB, John Burgess, who’s fluent in Arabic, can speak more authoritatively on the subject than I.
And, again, it’s my understanding that to many Muslims jihad, in the sense of spiritual struggle, is a religious obligation. It has a largely positive, benign connotation.
That’s why I agree with David Kilcullen, as James noted not too long ago, that we would be much better off using the words irhabis (terrorists) or mufsiduun (evildoers) in referring to violent radical Islamists. At the very least it is a way of separating potential friends and allies in the Muslim world from our foes in that world. I definitely do not believe that the official change of diction constitutes a “strategic collapse”.
In the post cited above Joseph Myers argues the contrary, declaiming:
I submit the people advocating this line of argument are either unstudied as to what they are saying, or if the sourcing for these lines of argument can be traced to their original roots, then I would wager those roots are in the strategic disinformation of the “global Islamic movement.”
One must also question if those recommending and making these decisions have a doctrinal understanding of any of the original lexicon, much less intellectual preparation to change it to something else. Has anyone considered that maybe our perceptions are being shaped by the jihadists as much as we think we are shaping foreign perceptions?
Caution reminds us that to the extent we outsource our knowledge base we outsource our decisions. To the extent we do this with our knowledge of Islam and Islamic jihad we do so at risk.
This lexicon change represents systemic organizational failure: a professional failure and the failure to know is a failure of leadership.
I agree that we’re on the brink of a strategic failure but I don’t think that failure resides in the words we use to describe our enemies. In the presidential primaries precious little has been said about our grand strategy in the War on Terror (or whatever we’re calling it now). Is the problem strictly an incidental one as was demonstrably believed during the Clinton Administration? Or is it something more systemic? If the former, how will they improve on the approach of that administration which manifestly failed? If the latter will they continue the Bush Administration’s off again, on again emphasis on liberalization and democratization, a strategy which I doubt can succeed in a time frame short enough to avoid catastrophe? Is the grand strategy to be something entirely different? I’d like to hear some of this stuff spelled out but serious, life and death policy issues are being drowned out in the scandals du jour and gotchas of the campaign.
Before I leave the subject, the site linked above, American Thinker, could use some help. It’s generally a thoughtful site, my blog-friend Rick Moran of Right Wing Nut House, one of the most reasonable guys in the Right Blogosphere, is a contributor there, and I favor supporting the reasonable even if I don’t alway agree with their point of view. If you’re so inclined, drop by and give them a hand.