Small Wars Journal

David Kilcullen's Call for a "New Lexicon"

In his multi-faceted article, "New Paradigms For 21st Century Conflict," David Kilcullen of General David Petraeus' senior staff in Baghdad recommends five major initiatives to be taken in developing truly effective counterterrorism (COIN) strategies, operations and tactics against al Qaeda-style Terrorism (AQST).

In briefest of terms, these are to (1) Develop a New Lexicon, (2) Get the Grand Strategy Right, (3) Remedy the Imbalance in Government Capability, (4) Identify New Strategic Services, and (5) Develop Capacity For Strategic Information Warfare. While others will comment in learned fashion on all five of these topics in due course, this commentary will concern only the first -- the proposed New Lexicon.

To make a medical analogy, this is an enemy which is not in the nature of a state-based, clearly definable tumor to be neatly cut out by a scalpel but is, instead, an ideology-based cancer which been metastasizing for several decades and is attacking far-flung elements of Western Civilization simultaneously and seeking a "death by a thousand cuts" result.

The first of Kilcullen's five steps toward an effective antidote -- a worldwide chemotherapy counterattack -- on the raging AQST cancer is his call for "a new lexicon based on the actual, observed characteristics of [our] real enemies ..."

In so doing, he clearly recognizes that in order to meet Sun Tzu's ancient admonition that we must "Know The Enemy," we absolutely must have a truthful common language by which to achieve that end and then to communicate such knowledge effectively to multiple audiences.

Although he does not list particulars of this proposed new lexicon, here are more than a dozen of the Arabic and Islamic words of which he would almost surely approve. They are the words, the semantic tools and weapons, we will need to break out of the habit-of-language box (largely invented by Osama bin Laden himself) which currently depicts us as us the bad guys, the "infidels" and even "the Great Satan" -- and which sanctifies suicide mass murderers as so-called jihadis and mujahideen ("holy guys") and "martyrs" on their heroic way to Paradise.

Importantly, the ubiquitous (It's everywhere! It's everywhere!!) word Jihad is entered four times in order to more clearly define its several confusing and often conflicting meanings.

irhab (eer-HAB) -- Arabic for terrorism, thus enabling us to call the al Qaeda-style killers irhabis, irhabists and irhabiyoun rather than the so-called "jihadis" and "jihadists" and "mujahideen" and "shahids" (martyrs) they badly want to be called. (Author's lament: Here we are, almost six years into a life-and-death War on Terrorism, and most of us do not even know this basic Arabic for terrorism.)

Hirabah (hee-RAH-bah) -- Unholy War and forbidden "war against society" or what we would today call crimes against humanity. Among the many al Qaeda-style crimes and sins which constitute this most "unholy war" are such willful, and unrepented transgressions as those enumerated in the next section of this proposed glossary of terms.

Jihad al Akbar (gee-HAHD ahl AHK-bar) -- this "Greater Jihad" is a personal and spiritual struggle or striving to become closer and more faithful to Allah and his teachings as set forth in the Qur'an.

Jihad al Saghir (gee-HAHD ahl Sahg-HEER) -- "Lesser Jihad" can be a physical -- and even a military -- struggle to protect or to free Muslims and non-Muslims from oppression, but only in strict accordance with reasonable and non-terroristic standards set forth in the Qur'an, which provides that only the Caliph (or head-of-state?) can legally declare such a Jihad. Osama bin Laden is neither.

Jihad al Kabir (gee-HAHD ahl kha-BEER) -- the spiritual and intellectual quest to promote common knowledge of Divine Revelation through all of Allah's Prophets and to carry out ijtihad (consultative efforts throughout the Umma) in applying both Revelation and Natural Law -- and Reason -- to human affairs.

"Jihad" (gee-HAHD, so called) -- al Qaeda's false label for both Irhab and Hirabah, which is at heart an anti-Islamic, apostate and forbidden "war against society" and a satanic assortment of "crimes against humanity," such as the many ruthless and willful violations of Qur'anic standards listed below.

mufsiduun (moof-see-DOON) -- Islam's word for evildoers, sinners and corrupters whose criminality and sinfulness, unless ended and sincerely repented, will incur Allah's ultimate condemnation on Judgment Day; Islam's optimum antonym for "mujahiddin."

munafiquun (moon-ah-fee-KOON) -- hypocrites to Islam who pretend to be faithful to the Qur'an but who willfully violate many of its basic rules, mandates and prohibitions. Once again, please refer to the ten AQ-style transgressions listed below.

hizb (hizb) - a political party, as in Hizballah (Party of God), or as the senior Saudi cleric Sheik Jafar Hawali recently called this radical and arguably apostate Shi'a organization Hizb al-Shaitan (Party of Satan, Party of the Devil).

Jahannam (jyah-HAH-nahm) -- Islam's antonym for Paradise and meaning the Eternal Hellfire to which Allah on Judgment Day condemns unrepentant, unforgiven evildoers and hypocrites of the unholy war variety.

khawarij (kha-WAH-reej) -- outside-the-religion and outside-the-community individuals and activities; derived from the ancient al Qaeda-like militant Khawar or Kharajite sect, eventually suppressed and expelled as apostates and enemies of authentic, Qur'anic Islam.

istihlal (eesh-tee-LAHL) -- Islam's cardinal sin of "playing God," as Osama bin Laden is doing when he attempts to pervert Islam into his own suicide mass murderous image, and turning it into nothing but a perpetual killing machine -- of all Christians, all Jews and all Muslims who happen to disagree.

irtidad (eer-tee-DAHD) or ridda (REE-dah) -- apostasy, a certifiably correct conviction for which is punishable by death in this life and by Allah's eternal damnation in the next, with al Qaeda's murderous extremism eventually to be labeled "The al Qaeda Apostasy."

takfir (takh-FEER) -- the Wahhabi and al Qaeda-style practice of making wholesale (and largely false and baseless) accusations of apostasy and disbelief toward Allah and the Qur'an. Those radicals, absolutists and judgmental fanatics who engage in this divisive practice of false witness are called "takfiri."

Shaitan and shaitaniyah (shy-TAHN and shy-TAHN-ee-yah) -- Islam's Arabic words for Satan and satanic [example: Osama Abd' al-Shaitan, Osama Slave or Servant of Satan]

While there are at least as many more, even dozens more, Arabic and Islamic words which could and will be added to any such "New Lexicon" of anti-Terrorism, this is at least a decent start. It consists mainly of words and meanings that the al Qaeda, al-Sadr and al-Shaitan killers do not want us to know or to use in making them, rather than us, the real enemies authentic, Quranic Islam.

It comes at a time when (even after almost six years of the GWOT) there is no US Government-approved lexicon or glossary of terms at all. Not in the Pentagon. Not in the State Department. Not in the White House. Not even in the Intelligence Community. In both the ongoing "war of words" and the overlapping "war of ideas" this is definitely NOT a good idea.

Benefits of the New Lexicon

So, what is the point of this new and improved lexicon of Arabic and Islamic words and frames of reference? In terms of the vital "hearts, minds and souls" aspects of the Long War (or is it the Endless War?) on AQ-style Terrorism about which Dr. Kilcullen is so appropriately concerned, the rewards could be great, indeed.

Just for starters, imagine the khawarij (outside the religion) al Qaeda's great difficulty in winning the approval of any truly devout and faithful Muslims whatever once these genocidal irhabis (terrorists) come to be viewed by the Umma (the Muslim World) as mufsiduun (evildoers) engaged in Hirabah (unholy war) and in murtadd (apostasy) against the Qur'an's God of Abraham -- and as surely on their way to Jahannam (Eternal Hellfire) for their Satanic ways.

In this context of truth-in-language and truth-in-Islam, bin Ladenism's so-called "Jihadi Martyrdom" becomes Irhabi Murderdom (Genocidal Terrorism), instead, with it a hot ticket to Hellfire rather than to Paradise. And is this not precisely the powerful disincentive we need for the unholy cancer of suicide mass murder?

Of course, to sustain the validity of such condemnatory labels, there must be a true-to-the-Quran basis for their application to the al Qaeda, al Sadr, Hizballah, Hamas and assorted other Terrorists.

This is readily available in the fact that at the heart of AQST's own false labels and false promises of a sex-orgy Paradise is a pattern of plainly satanic and cultic violation of many of the fundamental precepts of authentic, Qur'anic Islam -- including such sinful transgressions and such de facto desecrations of the Qur'an as:

- Wanton killing of innocents and noncombatants, including many peaceful Muslims

- Decapitating the live and desecrating the dead bodies of perceived enemies

- Committing and enticing others to commit suicide for reasons of intimidation

- Fomenting hatred among communities, nations, religions and civilizations

- Ruthless warring against nations in which Islam is freely practiced

- Issuing and inspiring unauthorized and un-Islamic fatwas (religious edicts)

- Using some mosques as weapons depots and battle stations, while destroying others

- Forcing extremist and absolutist versions (and perversions) of Islam on Muslims, when the Qur'an clearly says that there shall be "no compulsion in religion"

- Distorting the word "infidels" to include all Christians, all Jews and many Muslims, as well -- when the Qur'an calls them all "Children of the Book" (the Old Testament) and "Sons of Abraham," and calls Jesus one of Islam's five main Prophets

- Deliberate misreading, ignoring and perverting of passages of the Qur'an, the Hadith and the Islamic Jurisprudence (the Fiqh)

If all of these ruthless and unrepented evils (and many more, too numerous to list here) do not constitute a monumental Apostasy against the "peaceful, compassionate, merciful, beneficent and just" Allah who is repeatedly so described by the Qur'an, then there is no such thing.

But, of course, there is such a thing in Islam and its proper name in Dave Kilcullen's proposed New Lexicon should be "al Murtadd al Qaeda" (The al Qaeda Apostasy) -- not by the pseud--Islamic standards of the "takfiri"-prone Salafi and Wahhabi cults which gave birth to Bin Ladenism but as Allah's just punishment for the many ruthless and unrepented transgressions and desecrations of the Qur'an listed above.


Jim Guirard -- TrueSpeak Institute 703-768-0957 ... and

A DC-area attorney, writer, lecturer and anti-Terrorism strategist, Jim Guirard was longtime Chief of Staff to former US Senators Allen Ellender and Russell Long. His TrueSpeak Institute website is devoted to truth-in-language and truth-in-history in public discourse.


Jon Roland

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 10:44am

Exclude dangerous Muslims
A candidate for the presidency has promised that if he is elected, he will ban Muslims from entering the United States (until "we can figure it out") , a proposal that has been denounced as racist, improperly discriminatory, or impractical. But it addresses a real problem of infiltration of Muslim "terrorists", many of which are already on U.S. soil. Is there a way to exclude the dangerous ones?
Excluding U.S. citizens is in conflict with the right of denizenship (nonalienation from the land). But what about foreigners or foreign visitors? There may be a way to distinguish dangerous ones from most harmless ones.
The dangerous ones fall into distinct groups: the Wahhabis , or as they prefer to be called, the Salafis., which are Sunni, or the Khawarij, which include both Sunnis and Shi'a, which no longer use that word, although Shi'a groups, such as Hezbollah, tend to be associated with local conflicts or national sponsors.
The groups who most threaten the West are the Sunni Salafi and the Iranian Shi'a imams. Each tries to propagate its views through mosques and madrasas under their control. Those, and the groups who fund them, can be identified.
It is possible in principle to compile a database of their members, or at least of associations with mosques and schools that breed them. The number is large, and we can never identify them all, but we can begin to try.
For example, the Wahhabis, supported by wealthy Saudis, have been especially active. It should be possible to identify the leading ones and perhaps many of those they influence. Many of them dominate mosques in Europe and the United States, and are heavily funded in that effort. Some of their clerics openly teach hatred and violence. There would be legal problems with trying to deport them if they had not provably violated a law, but it is not out of the question to deport them for sedition, and to ban the remittance of funds to support them. It is also not out of the question to demand that no such seditionists be permitted to operate, to civilly sue or prosecute them, and to try to replace them with harmless Sufis. Those they influence could be identified before they act, and driven out of the country by civil and criminal litigation. For civil prosecution we would need to establish a doctrine of threat that would be actionable.
The database would need to be partly made public, so that those threatened could protect themselves in these ways.
Ultimately, it may be necessary to classify such threats as latrones (brigands) or praedones (pirates) subject to the laws of piracy, and dealt with summarily, not with the full due process appropriate to prosecution for ordinary crimes. Guerra, the attacks of ladrones or praedones, cannot be effectively dealt with like ordinary crimes. That is a formula for defeat. They are enemies, not formal national combatants, but something in between, neither war nor crime, for which the Piracy Clause of the U.S. Constitution provides.

One way to do this under current statutes would be to declare wahhabis, salafis, and Khawarij as terrorist organizations (pirates or latrones if we want to be accurate). That would provide the basis for excluding them from entering the U.S. and banning money being sent to them. That would make the issue clear, and confront the Saudis and others with a choice: stop exporting and supporting terrorists or incur sanctions.

The traditional Latin terms for brigands is latrones, and for pirates is praetones. We should revive the Latin terms to clarify thew issues.

Jon Roland

Mon, 04/25/2016 - 10:46am


This distinction was first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval European jurisprudence. As the eminent military historian, Sir Michael Howard, wrote in right after 9/11, the Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi – pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws – ”the common enemies of mankind.” The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict. It is here for instance that the Geneva Conventions were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, Guerra – indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution. While not employing the term, many legal experts agree that al Qaeda fighters are latrrones – hardly distinguishable by their actions from pirates and the like. Who knows what some silly judge might rule in the future, but at least so far, no terrorist organization has been deemed a combatant under the laws of armed conflict.


I have a comment on your post and would be interested in your response.

In a previous post by you (I think) at SWJ concerning Diana Wests column attacking Dave Kilcullen, Dave posted a comment where he indicated that he was proud that he had spent a good portion of his life fighting "Jihadis". It seemed from the context that Dave was referring to terrorists or insurgents who were motivated by an Islam based ideology. Dave didnt write (for example), "terrorists who pervert the doctrine of Jihad" or use something like your term, "Irhabi Murderdom".

This gets to the point I want to make: Its not the place of the West to attempt to designate for the Muslim world what they should or should not mean when they use the term, "Jihad" or what is or is not a "perversion of Islam". That would be true cultural imperialism.

Rather the Western world should attempt to impartially analyze the current intra-Muslim dialogues of influential contemporary clerics, government leaders, academics and media figures to see how it is they have used and continue to use the term "Jihad". If the term "Jihad" is used to describe and acclaim the movements you cited in your post ("al Qaeda, al Sadr, Hizballah, Hamas and assorted other Terrorists") as well as the governments of states such as Iran and Sudan, then the West will have to make it clear that we will apply force against Jihadis and their supporters until they are unable to continue.

In my judgment that would be the path to an honest and effective dialogue between the West and the Muslim world.

Just finishing my MA thesis in IR from Institut d'Etudes Politiques. Its title: COIN in American Military: between institutional Learning and Doctrinal Elaboration (2003-2007)
For those who whant to read it (in french), i can provide a copy. Just send me email adress.

My conclusions draw upon 3 final comments:
-first, American Military (i studied Army and Marine Corps but it does apply to others Services) effectively learned COIN in Iraq. It took three years to institutionnalize and internalize TTPs and Theory about COIN, but finally, it succeed!
Notwhistanding this learning, each service's leaders tends to consider their conventionnal bias as a political mean, against others Services, and against civilians pressures.
-second, a paradox. American Military learned from Vietnam. Not only from bad practices, but even from Best ones. It reminds me that French Counterinsurgency Doctrine (Guerre Psychologique) in Algeria was largely a result of failure in Indochina.
-third, the challenge now lies in Ethics and Information Operations in Iraq and in Western Countries.
Many apologies for my english.
1/LT Stéphane Taillat (Reserve Officer), Regiment d'Infanterie Chars de Marine, Troupes de Marine

This is absolutely outstanding.

I have a conjecture regarding "propaganda" in the context of counterinsurgency, and would be glad to have people pick it apart. (Maybe I should post over on the discussion board.)

This is the conjecture: In COIN, a central idea is that the population is your ally, or it ought to be (and if it's not, you're doing something wrong). You should treat the population as you would your own troops, if you expect them to work with you to expose the insurgents. You wouldn't lie to your own troops except in very extraordinary circumstances, because you would lose their trust for all future operations. Similarly, the messages given to the population should be scrupulously honest, including admission of difficulties and failures, but with the (honestly) positive expression of the desired goal. People know things are hard and don't always work; but if you claim things are working when they obviously aren't, then you lose trust immediately, and may not be able to regain it. Therefore, "propagandistic" (deceitful, manipulative) communications are counterproductive.

Make sense? Nonsense?