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This attempt to whitewash Islam certainly has precedents, such as a 2008 government memo that not only warned against “offending,” “insulting,” or being “confrontational” to Muslims, but tried to justify such censorship as follows:
Never use the terms “jihadist” or “mujahideen” in conversation to describe the terrorists. 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 [emphasis added].
Aside from the fact that the above definitions are highly misleading, the notion that the words we use can ever have an impact on what is and is not legitimate for Muslims is ludicrous: Muslims are not waiting around for Americans or their government—that is, the misguided, the deluded, in a word, the infidel—to define Islam for them. For Muslims, only Sharia determines right and wrong.
The U.S. government needs to worry less about which words appease Muslims and worry more about providing its intelligence community—not to mention its own citizenry—with accurate knowledge concerning the nature of the threat.
Without words related to Islam, how are analysts to make sense of the current conflict? What are the goals and motivations of the “jihadists”? What are their methods? Who might be “radicalizing” them? Whom are they affiliated to? Who supports them? These and a host of other questions are unintelligible without free use of words related to Islam.
Knowledge is inextricably linked to language. The more generic the language, the less precise the knowledge; conversely, the more precise the language, the more precise the knowledge. In the current conflict, to acquire accurate knowledge, which is essential to victory, we need to begin with accurate language.
This means U.S. intelligence analysts and policymakers need to be able to use, and fully appreciate the significance of, words related to Islam—starting with the word “Islam” itself, i.e., submission to a worldview based on Sharia, a code of law antithetical to Western common law. It means the U.S. military needs to begin expounding and studying Islamic war doctrine—without fear of reprisal, such as when counter-terrorism strategist Stephen Coughlin was fired by the Pentagon for focusing on Islamic doctrine and therefore being politically incorrect. In short, it means America’s leadership needs to take that ancient dictum—“Know thy enemy”—seriously.
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