Thursday, July 26, 2007

On Language in the Information War

There was a discussion not long ago about the terms used to describe the attacks and war being perpetrated by Al Qaeda. Its base proposal was that the term "Jihad" meaning "holy war" was being hi-jacked and by using the term "jihadist" we were providing some sort of legitimate cover, acceptable in the Muslim world, to such terrorist acts.

The paper suggested that we adopt the terms used by Arab speakers and Muslims for such people including "takfiri" (one who does not practice Islam correctly; an apostate), "mufsidoon" (spoilers; or illegitimate fighters who go against the legitimate leaders of Islam) and many others.

Whalid Phares declares that this is a ruse on the American Intelligentsia and the Military that is meant to deflect criticism and research into jihad and its effective creation of the terrorists that we see today.

The article was posted under the title "Cultural Ignorance Leads to Misuse of Islamic Terms" by the US-based Islamist organization CAIR. [5] Since then the "concept" of deflecting attention away from the study of Jihadism has penetrated large segments of the defense newsletters and is omnipresent in Academia. More troubling though, is the fact that scholars who have seen the strategic threat of al Qaeda and Hezbollah have unfortunately fallen for the fallacy of the Hiraba. Professor Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics in Washington wrote recently that "Jihad has been hijacked" as he bases his argument on Jim Guirard's lobbying pieces.[6] Satisfied with this trend taking root in the Defense intelligentsia of America, Islamist intellectuals and activists are hurrying to support this new tactic.[snip]

When researched, it turns out that this theory was produced by clerics of the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood, as a plan to prevent jihad and Jihadism from being considered by the West and the international community as an illegal and therefore forbidden activity. It was then forwarded to American- and Western-based interest groups to be spread within the Untied States, particularly within the defense and security apparatus. Such a deception further confuses U.S. national security perception of the enemy and plunges democracies back into the "black hole" of the 1990's. This last attempt to blur the vision of democracies can be exposed with knowledge of the jihadi terror strategies and tactics, one of which is known as Taqiya, the doctrine on deception and deflection. [8]

I am not sure I agree with Phares 100%. Largely because the language that the original report suggested is the language that we typically hear from Iraqis regarding those who have attacked them. Soldiers serving there and in Afghanistan have reported similar language use by those they associate with, civilians, interpreters, government officials, etc. This would indicate to me that the suggested language resonates with the Muslim population of these nations and many others.

The importance of "speaking the language" (ie, using similar terms, grafting ideals, etc) is to better work the counter-insurgency program. This use assists us in appearing sympathetic to the population and their ideas which is a major part of separating terrorists/insurgents from the general population. Reading several reports and bloggers regarding psyops and counter-insurgency (COIN), since jihad is considered an honorable act in defense of a people or community, our purpose is to make jihad only "legitimate" when it is undertaken by forces who oppose the terrorists.

In which case, Phares' complaint lacks an understanding of how this is applied at the very base level of the information war. There is no way that the idea of jihad, a long rooted tradition in Islam, is going to be destroyed or removed from the ideology. There is no way it will ever be completely delegitimized in the religion or region. Our best bet is to change the definition of who is a legitimate mujihadeen (holy warrior) and who is a "mufsidoon". Since this is the terminology used by your average Iraqi, that is the terminology we must adapt and transform in our favor. Mujihadeen are the police and community security forces that fight al Qaeda. They are the legitimate warriors. Al Qaeda are the enemy.

On the other hand, Phares has an important point and that is not to loose sight of the indoctrination and religious practices that provides the base for recruiting members to Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations. We cannot pretend that this religious base is not a fundamental ingredient in our current conflict.

In the end, it is not only the adherents of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri or other leaders that must be destroyed to end this war, but the entire ideology that is spawned by Muslim Sunni Wahabi Salafists.

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