Monday, May 12, 2008

The words of war

I thought this article was sooooo interesting. "White House bars loaded labels from words of war--Some speech aids extremists, insults Muslims, report says."

Here's a short snippet:

Federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are telling their people not to describe Islamic extremists as jihadists or mujahedeen, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. Lingo like Islamo-fascism is out, too.

The reason: Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.

Some people might think this is just politically correct posturing to appease Muslims, but I think it's much more than that. How often do we (as Muslims) have to explain the concept of "jihaad" and how it doesn't mean "holy war?" But yet the vast majority of Americans are convinced the two words are interchangeable. They also think that the world's population of over a billion Muslims are waging "holy war" against everyone else. Such idiotic notions might begin with a few rogue and isolated groups attempting to affect political change in their own country or region--who use the language of Islam to gain broader support for their cause.

But when the media picks it their rhetoric, rather ignorantly, and attempts to sound more informed (pseudo-experts) regarding the movements on which they are reporting, the concepts which aren't explained get a free ride on the propaganda, giving people the false impression that Islam is somehow their enemy (because it's waging holy war on everyone) and they start distributing a variety of hate literature targetting Muslims.

The article suggests that government agencies see that when the media uses the religious language for political movements, they give a sort of credibility to the terrorism. People start to think that this is a widespread teaching about Islam, and while I'd like to think that Muslims know better, maybe in some cases they don't. And then people really get confused when the media starts to identify the ideologies of terrorists with known religious movements--you know that has happened when you hear your senator or representative talking about how dangerous "wahhabis" are.

Here is another neat opinion piece about the first article, and it's called Words for the evildoers.

Overall, I think this demonstrates the fact that higher-ups in the American government (like in the State Department and the White House) have realized that endorsing the neoconservative anti-Islamic sentiment is really damaging to American interests, at home and abroad. And it shows that the vicious rhetoric of politicians is just that--rhetoric, and not being passed off as actual policy. At the very least, I think it's a step in the right direction.


Anonymous said...


ASA, dear sister!

Yes, your analysis piece was right on! The language of Islam is so enmeshed within many foreign cultures that, yes, groups trying to affect change do use what we would term "Islamic" rhetoric to somehow legitimize and validate their aspirations.

But, then again, Christianity and Judaism and Hindu extremists have all experienced such rhetoric in the past and today as well.

Methinks that it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate religious emotion from politics!

Faris al-Farik

Amy said...

Wasalaam Faris! Thanks for the comment.

I notice that nobody associates the politics of Myanmar (Burma) with the religion of Buddhism, despite the fact that some other religious groups don't have equality with the majority.

But if a country has Muslims and the government does anything bad, it always seems to be associated with Islam.

the crazy jogger said...

WTH?? they changed the name! OOOooo [the eric cartman way] just like they tried to change the war on terrorism to the long war..!

jst changing a few words wont make a difference as long as innocent muslim lives are being lost

Amy said...

I myself am a strong believer in the power of language. I think that words matter. The words you choose to use, and the words you don't. Words make impressions on the brain, and often tempt people to draw inaccurate conclusions based on incomplete data.

For example, people often associate KSA with Islam, for various reasons--the strict conservative adherence in some parts of the country, the presence of religious holy sites, and the financial backing of da'wah emanating from KSA cause people to associate it with Islam.

People also tend to associate Osama bin Laden with KSA, because he is Saudi after all, though it's not like KSA is helping him.

So what people do is draw this bizarre connection between KSA and terrorism, where it doesn't exist.

Using words like "radical," "extremist," "fascist," in front of words like "islam" or "muslims" causes people to associate one with the other, and then they find themselves thinking KSA is the enemy, despite the fact that KSA is a strong ally of the USA!

So I think words matter. The words people choose affect people's interpretation. Islamic groups choose words steeped in Islamic tradition to gain more support from the people.

Up until now, the media and government and various propaganda machines have been using the same words with a negative connotation, which engenders hatred for islam and muslims.

So I think that language is powerful, and that words should be chosen carefully to accurately reflect what they are meant to describe, without resorting to sensational stereotyping.

the crazy jogger said...

Words do matter but not if u call it something
well maybe the 15 crazies were lucky enuf to have a saudi passport [saying tht cuz tons of ppl want saudi passports but dont get it], it is associated w/ the KSA.

Associating OBL w/ KSA is crazy n arrogant. he's an enemy of KSA too!

but I thnk the affect of these words wont be felt immediatly. after all they have been used SO much in the past 8 years tht its more then enough

but the real part is to get the words off the street. ordinary americans jst wont stop saying that. it was after all some islamic maniacs tht caused 911

PS: try going to some South Asian countries n tell em ur from KSA. they wuld start calling u 'Hajis' n stuff. just thnk tht if u live in KSA u've done this n that..