Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Naming is strategic

According to Stephen Waterman, a British journalist in Washington writing for the Swiss ISN Security Watch, "guidelines leaked this month show that US diplomats are being told - and other officials advised - not to describe al-Qaida as Islamic terrorists, and not to use terms like jihadist or mujahideen when referring to the group's members and supporters."

The Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties in the Department of Homeland Security the guide, entitled "Words That Work and Words That Don't," to embassies along with a more detailed document "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims."

Predictably, some have seen the documents as a "betrayal on the part of our liberal pacifist State Department and their appeasement-oriented minions."

Waterman says,

"The revelation that the US government might actually be shaping public messaging to take account of the way Muslims - and foreign ones at that - perceive US policy brought immediate howls of outrage.

"The right-wing blogosphere resounded to accusations of political correctness, and critics of the policy immediately demanded to know who were the experts and Islamic leaders the department had consulted." (Here, here, here, here, and here).

Representative Peter Hoekstra (Republican-Michigan), the senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence said the guidance "smacks of McCarthyism in reverse."

The debate over language is part of a broader difference of opinion within the Establishment about "who the US is and should be fighting in its war on terror." There is another debate about whether or not the military is the appropriate agency for responding to non-state terrorism. That position also acknowledges the strategic importance of word choice in framing the issue, but is well outside the frame of the "debate" about how to "define the enemy."

Read the Waterman's article in ISN Security Watch =>Recommend this Post

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