Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A copy of "Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism" by Dr. Douglas E. Streusand and LTC Harry D. Tunnell IV, May 23, 2006, was handed me by my commander who was curious to know what my thoughts on it might be. I have read and reread it and find it takes a view diametrically opposed for instance to that of Mary Habeck's, who's book I discussed briefly in a post below. I find it useful therefore in engaging this topic further and wrestling with the truth in the matter.

At the risk of doing injustice to the paper as a whole I have identified what struck me as keypoints and here reiterate them, with comments interspersed:

"We cannot win widespread support throughout the Muslim world if we use terms that, to them, define the behavior of our enemies as moral."

This is the main point of the article. Further the claim is made that the terms being promoted are the most accurate. "Because the Global War on Terrorism- or more precisely the war against Islamic totalitarian terrorism- includes a war of ideas, leaders, h journalists, authors and speakers must use the most accurate terms to describe those ideas."

Pause for a moment. The authors are revealing their approach to the conflict here in their choice of terms. "Islamic totalitarian terrorism". The authors will go on to explain that totalitarianism originated in the West first with the National Socialists and then with the Communists, a generalization indeed, and one suggesting that the problem we face is one originating in the West and rooted in Western influence. Is this accurate? The authors make it further clear that they intend to frame the struggle as being one against a "political ideology" and would like this to be viewed as the most accurate perspective: "To refute challenges to the new context surrounding these expressions, any user of these terms must be able to define the words in order to defend their accuracy and the appropriateness of their use. Otherwise anyone who dares to define the enemy using its own Islamic language can be challenged by a variety of 'pundits' who still see the struggle in terms of religion or poverty rather than political ideology..." Recall Mary Habeck's point in my earlier post:
"The consistent need to find explanations other than religious ones for the [jihadist] attacks says more about the West than it does about the jihadis. Western scholars have generally failed to take religion seriously. Secularists, whether liberals or socialists, grant true explanatory power to political, social, or economic factors but discount the plain sense of religious statements made by the jihadis themselves. To see why jihadis declared war on the United States and [try] to kill as many Americans as possible, we must be willing to listen to their own explanations. To do otherwise is to impose a Western interpretation on the extremists, in effect to listen to ourselves rather than to them."

By viewing the conflict we are in as being against merely a political ideology with religious frills, "Islamic totalitarian terrorism" with a definition of Islamic (along with jihad) that conforms to our interpretation of the U.S. Constitution as opposed to taking seriously the religious element in our faces, are we imposing "Western interpretation on the extremists, in effect to listen to ourselves rather than to them"?

The stress on the term "accuracy" and its cognates in this essay especially catches my attention. Just what are they trying to be accurate about? The authors make it clear what they are not trying to be accurate about: "We need not concern ourselves with the identification of the original or legally correct meaning of the term; individual Muslims will make up their own minds.

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