August 25, 2006 | The Sun Sentinel
Call the Enemy by the Name it Calls Itself
The organized campaign against the use by government of the term “Islamic fascists” is an indication that the War of Ideas is raging in the center of the War on Terror. In this clash of words and ideas, it is the education of the public, as well as the identity of those who do the educating, that will make a difference. The less informed Americans are about the enemy's ideology, the more Islamist pressure groups can attack the president, congressional and world leaders on rhetoric, blurring the public mobilization.
The term used by the president — “Islamic fascists” — when referring to the al-Qaida plotters in London, triggered a wave of negative reactions by Islamist lobbies, but also by moderate Muslim groups worldwide. The president most likely meant “Islamo-fascists” when he was attempting to expose the radicals. But Islamist lobbies were quick to “interpret” it as implying that “Muslims are fascists” — an assumption which would necessarily elicit strong negative feelings from the Muslim community, moderates included.
“Islamo-fascism,” on the other hand (a term used by the president in speeches in 2005), makes for a more precise term because it refers to a particular set of ideologies and movements such as Salafism, Wahabism and Khumeinism, not a religious community per se. Just as the word “Crusaders” doesn't equate with “Christians,” the term “Islamist” doesn't equate with “Muslims.”
In the Arabic debates online and on the airwaves, reform- oriented Arabs and Muslims who are opposed to Fundamentalism call the followers of the latter Islamiyeen (Islamists), fashiyeen (fascists), Jihadiyeen (jihadists) and others. Ironically, the radicals of al-Qaida and Hezbollah identify themselves as “Islamists” and “jihadists.”
Hence, it would be most logical to use the terminology produced by both of the Muslim sides: Islamist-jihadists.
But it is important that leaders, intellectuals and academics explain to their audiences that words are part of the War of Ideas. The public must understand that there are political forces that are putting pressure on governments and media around the world to block knowledge as part of an effort to shield the radicals and the terrorists.
Here is a summarized lexicon for basic words:
In view of sensitivities and the complexity of the debate, terms to avoid are any association between the term Muslim and terrorism, fascism, etc, especially if it is generalized. One may be born a Muslim, but becomes an Islamist. So the term Islamic is an attribute to a behavior, an action or a self-assertion.
The root identification between Muslim and Islamic is clear, but the linguistic nuance between Islamic and Islamist in the Arabic language is very narrow. In English (and other Western languages) it would be best to use the most identifiable term when addressing an ideological movement. While one can use the term Islamic when associating with radicalism, it would be academically permissible to use it while stressing on the attribute such as radical Islamic groups, instead of Islamic radicals. This description would equalize with, for example, “radical any other group.”
However, as advanced above, the most accurate terms would be directly borrowed from Arabic, such as Islamist and jihadists. Both are well-known ideologies with clear political and militant agendas, massively used in the Arab and Muslim world.
Islamist is a perfectly legitimate term that describes a particular ideology such as Salafism, Khumeinism or jihadism. Not only is it used in the academic world as an indicator for an ideology and not a community, but it is used by followers around the world. Thus adding attributes to Islamist is academically sound and understood. For example: Islamist-fascists or Islamo-fascist, Islamist-Salafist, etc.
But the most descriptive term of the actual “movement” at war with the U.S and democracies around the world is clearly jihadism or al Jihadiya. It is a militant doctrine, an ideology, which has generated movements, including the terrorist organizations at war with the U.S., Europe, Russia, India and the moderate Arab and Muslim countries. Arab media and governments use this terminology, but the most important argument is that the terrorists describe themselves as jihadists when in action, and Islamists ideologically.
If Islamist pressure groups criticize any official for using the term Jihadist and Jihadism, they can be responded to that the Nazis called themselves Nazis in WWII.
The U.S. president, Congress and other world leaders have the duty to alert the public with regard to the name, ideology and plans of the enemy — in this case, the jihadists.
Dr Walid Phares is a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the author of Future Jihad.