Western governments, in the past few years, have been grappled with debates on how to define ongoing Islamic violence to help deal with it best. So far any mention of 'Muslim', 'Islam', 'Jihad', and last of all 'terrorism' have been removed from documents and discussions on it. Nonetheless, it is out and out "terrorism" in ideal defenition of the word.
There has been a lot of debate on how the ongoing violence by Muslim fanatics, perpetrated in the name of 'Islam' or 'Islamic Jihad', be defined. After 9/11, as emotion was running high, the Bush Administration's calling the campaign against violent Islamic militants a "War on Terror" received wide acceptance. However, Muslims generally have been unhappy with this label: they would be happier if violence by Muslim fanatics would be relegated to a form of social criminal activity; so has been the opinion of many Western liberal commentators.
As the U.S.-led War on Terror lingered on, with al-Qaeda-minded militant outfits flourishing around the world, giving the impression that War on Terror might fail, there has been a lot of soul-searching in the West about the entire campaign, especially on how to define it.
Is the label War on Terror counter-productive?
Should it be called Islamic or Jihadi Terrorism?
Governments in Western countries, of course advised often by radical Muslim organizations, initially reached the conclusion that the violence by a small fraction of Muslim fanatics should not, in any way, be connected to Islam. New manuals were rolled out for distribution amongst various government organizations, particularly law-enforcement agencies, instructing them not to mention words like 'Islam', 'Muslim' or 'Jihad' whiling reporting or talking about violence by Islamic militants.
This was an effort to disconnect Muslims or Islam completely from ongoing violence by radical Muslims; in other words, it was an effort to appease Muslims. Reason has also been given that associating Islam or Muslims to violence make Muslims feel victimized, pushing them further toward taking a radical path. The massive increase in violent trend amongst Muslims worldwide since 9/11, instead of its expected decrease after years of War on Terror, gives good justification to such a line of thinking.
The latest in this saga of redefining ongoing Islamic violence, especially after the arrival of President Obama, has been the debate on whether the violence should be called "terrorism" at all. In fact, the Obama administration has also obliterated the word 'terrorism' from its lexicon concerning ongoing Islamic violence, and has, instead, tried to label it as "man-caused disaster", howsoever ridiculous it may sound. Yet, others advocate that it should simply be seen as normal social criminality by individuals or gangs and be dealt with as such.
Thus, not only the terms 'Islam', 'Muslim' and 'Jihad', but also 'war', 'terrorism' and 'terror' have been effaced from manuals, documents and discussions dealing with ongoing violence by Muslim radicals. The reasoning behind this latest line of thinking has been nicely articulated by one of our reader, Roger, in a letter to me, which I quote below:
I have a question for you. I do not know much about Islam, but have formed the following opinion.
The Muslims and Christians and Jews have been fighting for several thousand years. To avoid playing into the idea of this history of war, the words, "war on terror" ought to be eliminated, as it dignifies the terrorist criminals and thugs as "warriors". Rather, it should be called a "police action", and the terrorist should be called what they are, criminals and gangs of thugs.
If this is a wrong way of thinking, if the world should keep calling it a "war on terror", please explain why. And in the explanation, please address the primary issue; I am concerned calling it a "war on terror" dignifies the jihadists as "warriors"! I am thinking of the American police action against the Italian Mafia that took several generations to complete. We never called it a "war on the Mafia", that would have dignified them way way too much. We termed it a police action, and identified the murderers as criminals, thugs, and the outcast of society, and arrested them, and put them in jail. Yes, it took a generation, but the Mafia is pretty much wiped out now in America. If that is not appropriate for the Islamic terrorists, please explain why.
To the question of whether the measures undertaken against Islamic violence should be called 'war on terror', the best solution is to call it by what it is: 'war on Islamic Jihad or Islamic Jihadi terrorism'.
But that's probably not possible. 'War on terror' is mostly acceptable so far, although not to President Obama, a line of thinking you seem to support.
The first thing we must consider: whether the action of Jihadis can qualify as 'terrorism'. It does.
'Terrorism' is an indiscriminate violent campaign to achieve an ideological aim. Ongoing Islamic Jihadis have a unified ideological goal, and their violence is indiscriminate.
Violence of Jihadis is qualitatively different from social criminality or criminality of Italian Mafia as you have mentioned. Jihadis want a new socio-political order on the global scale; common criminal gangs or mafia don't have such well-defined comprehensive political goal.
Calling it 'war on terror' may dignify the perpetrators somewhat. Nonetheless, in this age of secular democracy, general population, at least in the liberal West, also see 'terrorism' as a dishonorable means to achieve a political goal. This 'label' is somewhat discrediting to the campaign.
Thank you for your reply. I am persuaded by you that this is much larger in scope than the Mafia. You make a perfect point that the Mafia was pretty much a criminal organization with limited scope and impact, usually just in a few local cities and markets, while the Islamic Jihad has the future of the world as its scope, with methods that Hitler would approve. So I no longer will object to labeling it war. I supported Obama, but am becoming slightly nervous that he is not being tough enough. I do remember Reagan having no compunction to calling China a "gang of thugs" and Russia as "the evil empire".
I agree, the impact on humanity is probably going to be severe. I worry about the future. I have heard encouraging words from people who are dedicated to building schools for girls in Afghanistan and some other Muslim countries, with the idea that a society becomes more civil when women are educated. After all, children are in the hands of their mothers during their most formative years.
The war on Islamic Jihad terrorism will require the full resources of modern countries. The first step is to understand the situation correctly.
Thank you for your efforts to educate us all.