December 14, 2015 | New York Post
Here’s What All Those Terror Terms Actually Mean
After the attacks in Paris and California, the debate in America has again erupted over the appropriate lexicon for discussing terrorism. Here’s an extremely abridged, alphabetized list of words and phrases to avoid like a suspicious package in a crowded train station.
Became Radicalized: Jihadism isn’t a virus that one suddenly contracts. It’s not a passive event. Terrorists choose the path of religious violence. Relatedly, one cannot point to one specific location as a key factor for how someone “became radicalized.” Do we ask where murderers visited before they “became homicidal?”
Contained: One cannot contain terrorism or the ideology that powers it. Counterterrorism is, at best, about encumbering the enemy. This problem is spreading, and it continues to require new resources. Declaring it contained will come back to bite you.
Degrade and Destroy: Choose one. If you’re merely degrading a terrorist group, you have probably yet to determine how to destroy it. If you’re destroying the group, there’s no reason to degrade it. Why not just say you want to vanquish your enemy? That way, it’s not a multiple-choice quiz.
Moderate Gulf Arab Allies: This term is used to describe Saudi Arabia and Qatar, among others. Other than oil, the Saudis’ top export is Wahhabi Islam, which breeds generations of hate we have yet to even confront. Qatar is the piggy bank for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, and it supports a range of bad actors in Syria. But other than that, these countries are moderate.
New threat: Unless you’re a high-school freshman right now, none of this is new. We’ve been at war with this radical ideology since Sept. 11, 2001. And that’s ignoring the first World Trade Center bombing (1993), Khobar Towers (1996) and the USS Cole (2000), to name a few. Don’t forget the Iranian revolution (1979), the Beirut embassy bombing (1983) and the Salman Rushdie affair (1989). Sure, the Islamic State is a new terror group, but it’s got a very familiar beard.
Un-Islamic: They call themselves the Islamic State. That should help clarify a few things. The good news is they only represent a minority of the faith. And their numbers may be dropping with every vile act they commit. But let’s not pretend people actually buy this is divorced from Islam.
Rebalancing our foreign policy: Also known as pivoting. These are euphemisms for retreat. Here’s a tip: Withdrawal doesn’t work as a strategy in war (or the bedroom). Here’s another: In the Middle East, you don’t get to choose your enemies. Your enemies choose you.
Rivalry between ISIS and al Qaeda: Sorry, but the reason jihadis in Syria are beheading Westerners isn’t to make some Yemeni jealous because he’s merely killing Shi’a. Sure, there may be competition among the groups. But they need no excuse to kill.
Root cause: If you think that the Iraq invasion, the Iraq withdrawal, Israeli settlements or American colonialism explains the current jihadi problem, you need to read a history book. You might as well blame jihad on the overabundance of gluten in our daily diets. Actually, if you think one thing is the root cause of any global phenomenon, you need to rethink how you think.
Shocking: See “New threat.”
Violent Extremism: For the love of hummus, make it stop. Nobody knows what this means. A black diamond snowboarder with a short temper can be described as a violent extremist. Can we be a little more honest about what we’re fighting?
We can’t win this alone: Maybe we shouldn’t, but we can. It might not be fun. We might lose friends and allies. We might lose blood and treasure, too. But we also have the largest and strongest military in the world.
War on Terror: A holdover from the George W. Bush presidency, this term may be the worst of them all. Terrorism is a tactic. It’s not an enemy or an ideology. This is akin to declaring war on strafing or sniping. Little wonder we haven’t won the war yet. We might want to make sure we know who we’re fighting before we devise a strategy on how to win.
Jonathan Schanzer is vice president for research at Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @JSchanzer
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