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Willful Misreading

Bloggers and bureaucrats fail to name the enemy.

12:05 AM, Jun 3, 2008 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
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DAFYDD AT BIG LIZARDS has all sorts of bad things to say about my review of Andrew McCarthy's excellent new book, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad. I will avoid addressing the snarky insults in Dafydd's post and stick to his attempts at substantive criticism.

First, he claims that I misrepresent this January 2008 memo from the Department of Homeland Security. He says that I "never actually read the memo itself" and that the term "'jihadist' was not banned"; instead "the memo suggests caution." Here is what I actually wrote: "Just as Willful Blindness was released, the State Department and other agencies published an edict banning the use of the word 'jihadist' (as well as similar terms) from the government's lexicon."

And here's the problem: I never referred to this DHS memo Dafydd cites either directly or indirectly in this sentence or anywhere else in my review. (And, by the way, I actually had read this DHS memo, which is logically and factually flawed in many ways.) I was referring to an even more recent memo accepted by the State Department, which endorsed the ban--that's right, ban--of the use of terms like jihadist. As reported by the Associated Press on April 24, 2008:

The memo, originally prepared in March by the Extremist Messaging Branch at the National Counter Terrorism Center [NCTC], was approved for diplomatic use this week by the State Department, which plans to distribute a version to all U.S. embassies, officials said.

The AP went on to quote directly from the memo:

"Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahedeen' in conversation to describe the terrorists. ... Calling our enemies 'jihadis' and their movement a global 'jihad' unintentionally legitimizes their actions."

Sounds like a ban to me. Indeed, the AP reported on this memo under the headlines "'Jihadist' booted from U.S. government lexicon" and "Terms to use and avoid when talking about terrorism." For more on the ban, and the trouble the State Department and others are having in implementing it, you can read Jeffrey Imm's excellent blog posts over at the Counterterrorism Blog. In addition, you can download the NCTC memo and read it for yourself here. Dafydd does not refer to it as far as I can tell--only citing the January 8, 2008 DHS memo, which I did not mention.

Second, Dafydd apparently believes that we should call this conflict the "war against global caliphism,"
or some such. He uses the phrase repeatedly. (Ironically, the web link to his posts on the "war against global caliphism" contains the phrase "war on global jihadism)." In that case, he should not be too fond of the NCTC memo, which was approved by State and other agencies, either. For example, the NCTC memo notes:

Avoid the term "caliphate," which has positive connotations for Muslims, to describe the goal of al-Qaida and associated groups. The best description of what they really want to create is a "global totalitarian state."

Will Dafydd submit to the NCTC's will, and avoid using the phrase "war against global caliphism"?

Third, and most importantly, "jihadist" and similar terms are appropriate. The government's argument to the contrary is simply wrong. For example, the authors of the NCTC memo argue that using "jihadis" to describe our enemies "unintentionally legitimizes their action." Dafydd picks up on this argument (via the DHS memo I didn't cite) when he writes that calling our enemies jihadis is not a smart move "because it confers upon the militant Islamists exactly the legitimacy they crave."