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War of Words

Fighting terror with a dictionary.

12:00 AM, May 30, 2008 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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U.S. FEDERAL AGENCIES charged with high responsibilities in defending the nation have achieved new levels of semantic obsession, thinking that the goal of defeating Muslim terrorists is undermined by improper terminology. We have already suffered debates about "Islamofascism" and the nomenclature of "Wahhabism" versus "Salafism." But the most absurd such example so far appears in a guidance memorandum issued by the Department of Homeland Security, titled "Terminology to Define Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims." This compendium of politically correct vocabulary was developed in consultation "with a broad range of Muslim American community leaders and scholars," who, perhaps predictably, are left unnamed. In addition, also predictably, the memorandum is careful to note that "this memorandum does not state official Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policy."

DHS, in beginning the memo, states that "words matter." Well, who could deny that? But the importance of words is double-edged. Vague, accommodating, flattering, and ameliorative words tell our enemies that we are ignorant and weak. Clear, unflinching, accurate, and blunt words put our foes on notice that we know what is happening in the Muslim world, and are strong enough to act on our knowledge.

Further, knowledge counts more than words when dealing with Islam. Muslims know very well when their interlocutors are ignorant or unaware of realities in Muslim societies. And our most dedicated and shrewd opponents, whether in al Qaeda or in the hallucinating clique of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his satellites, understand that they can use our own ignorance against us.

DHS and its advisers will encourage our adversaries by making us look ignorant. We must, they say, "avoid helping the terrorists by inflating the religious bases and glamorous appeal of their ideology." By this logic, it seems that terrorists are recruited not by Muslim rhetorical claims that twist religious concepts to political ends, but by American advertising of the terrorist threat. Muslims know otherwise.

The department's memo, doubtless reflecting susceptibility to the ideological predispositions of its Muslim advisers, includes many absurd proposals. DHS informs its staff that "senior government officials and commentators in the mass media regularly indict all Muslims for the acts of a few." Since when do "senior government officials" share responsibility with media commentators for statements by the latter? The U.S. Constitution remains in force. Media statements, regardless of how distasteful or otherwise inappropriate they may be, are protected from censorship by DHS and other federal agencies. As for the allegation that "senior government officials" have "regularly indict(ed) all Muslims for the acts of a few," the only proper response is: nonsense. Not one member of the cabinet of President George W. Bush has ever suggested that the war on terror was anything other than a struggle against a small minority of Muslims. Bush himself repeatedly praises Islam as a great religion and condemns those who pervert it in the interest of political manipulation. Nobody in government has seriously suggested that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are being fought to eradicate the faith of Islam, and occasional obstreperous acts or remarks expressing such biases have typically been censured and otherwise punished.

The same DHS memorandum cheerfully recommends such positive actions as "President Bush's remarks while visiting a mosque in the days after 9/11." Here again, we detect the influence of the DHS's Muslim advisers. DHS officials seem unconcerned that on September 17, 2001, when President Bush stood up in a Washington mosque, Nihad Awad, national director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the premier organization in America's "Wahhabi lobby," stood beside him. In the same group was the president of the radical American Muslim Congress (AMC), Yahya Mossa Basha, a petitioner for aid from the Wahhabi clerics of Saudi Arabia. Also on hand were representatives of the Muslim Political Action Council (MPAC), whose co-founder, Salam al-Marayati, had gone on Los Angeles talk radio the afternoon of the Twin Towers and Pentagon attacks and immediately thrown suspicion for the atrocities on Israel.

Then come the first three DHS recommendations:

* "[The U.S. Government] should not feed the notion that America is engaged in a broad struggle against the so-called 'Muslim World.'"