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Words are Important

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Words are Important

by Colonel Jeffrey D. Vordermark, Small Wars Journal

Words are Important (Full PDF Article)

Americans love to throw around foreign words, be it in casual conversation or while waxing eloquent on your favorite blog. I recall as a kid -- long before blogging was even a concept - the joke about being able to speak Japanese. "Sure I can, I know Suzuki, Kawasaki, karate, and a few other Japanese words." Then it was fun and games, but in today's era of transnational terrorism and globalism it does more than just point to cultural gullibility, is a dangerous predilection. It is time that our lexicon's level of sophistication matches our commitment to winning the Global War on Terror.

We have fallen into the "jihad" trap. The term is used in casual banter yet most remain clueless regarding its origin or meanings. We think, therefore we know. Pundits, academics, and laymen profess to know its meaning, and the term is daily news in the mouths of reporters and in the banners of headlines. Unfortunately, its very use assumes that Islam is simple and monolithic -- something we can easily grasp merely by purporting to understand the basic tenets of the religion and of course, we must use it because everyone else does. As a nation and society, we could not be more incorrect. A simple Google search for the term jihad yields over 15 million hits. Why not, as the perpetrators of international terror themselves often use "jihad" to describe the attributes and actions of their organizations. Face it, there is meaning in a name, and groups struggling for legitimacy will cling to what they can in order to sell their product.

Words are Important (Full PDF Article)

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Ahmed (not verified)

Wed, 10/21/2009 - 1:26pm

Muslims have been trying to alert DoD to the likely outcome of Jim Guirard's nonsensical crusade to rename jihad as "hirabah" for several years! Hirabah is not just a word that is like "irhab" or "irhabiyun" (roughly terrorism, terrorists). It is the precise name of a capital crime punishable with death which includes brigandry and rape. It is not up to Americans to decide what is or is not jihad, or true jihad. Guirard's thesis is copied & then muddled. So long as millions of Muslims believe these individuals are engaged in jihad, what is important is to point out their failure to observe the requirements of true jihad; and/or the harm they will do all Muslims in continuing. You are NOT Muslim legal scholars and should avoid this babel of confusion.

Umar Al-Mokhtār

Sun, 04/12/2009 - 1:17pm

In addition to using Vordermark's term "hirabah" for their activities, we should also start to use Kilcullen's recommendation to call those engaged in hirabah as "takfiri." As he points out in his book takfirism was outlawed by King Abdullah of Jordan in the Amman Message of 2007. To call them jihadists or mujahideen only helps to legitimize the actions of these miscreants. In this type war ideas and words matter as much, if not occasionally more, as actions.

Victim is an appropriate choice as insurgencies, mobs, gangs, etc... rebel from grievances perceived. Life is tough; life is not fair. After something bad happens to you, you simply have to choose- Victim, Survivor, or Striver...

Well said Schmedlap...


Fri, 04/10/2009 - 1:46pm

My favorite type of article: concise and correct.

I would also add that while Haribah is a good word for the movement, we should also seek to characterize the individuals within the Haribah movement. The best term that I've seen suggested is <a href="…; - victim of extremist manipulation. While many of the leaders within the Haribah are loyal to their cause, they recruit hapless, often woefully ignorant victims to do their dirty work. Those people are Dhahiya.

Thanks for this article, well said indeed. Words are soo very important.
Earning my living working at an information desk it is my near-everyday experience that two people using the same word not necessarily mean the same thing. Trust is good, checking is better.

Rigs (not verified)

Fri, 04/10/2009 - 1:39am

Great read. Often I hear people use "Jihad" or "Jihadi" to refer to Muslim terrorists even when they know better. After a caveat that "Jihadi" is an imprecise word, they reluctantly continue to use it anyway. Now that I know about the concept of "Hirabah" I will certainly spread the word to those who wield imprecise or ignorant terms. I really need to spend some time reading up on Islamic jurisprudence, it's really sad that I've never heard of Hirabah - I've paid a lot of money at my university for high level classes in Middle Eastern government, politics, and also terrorism.

Well said sir. As friends continually remind me...

NPS, Monterey 2008
"Mike, they're miscreants. That's it. Nothing more, nothing less....You call them jihadists, and you don't understand what jihad means. You've just infuriated 2 billion Muslims and given credence to their cause. Theyre simply miscreants." -Pakistani Infantry Officer

Baghdad, April 2003

At first, he didnt understand what I was saying. After three or four tries, he burst out laughing.

"Mike, its no different here. Ill be damned if I try to tell my wife what to do in the home. We just have different customs. Outside the house, I am the head of the household. Inside the home, my wife is in charge. In Islam, women wear the veil as a means of respect for their husbands- its how they submit to Allah; its part of their jihad."

Although I did not agree with it, it made sense. Anyways, it was their culture, and who was I to tell them how to live? I certainly had enough problems of my own to fix in order to live a righteous life. I then asked him to explain jihad. It was foreign to me, and I only had pictures in my head of the planes hitting the twin towers.

"Mike, jihad is two-fold: 1. ones never ending inner struggle to live a life that is acceptable to Allah, 2. Societys attempts to live collectively in peace."

I had so much to learn.

Greg Mortenson continues...

"Osama, baah! Osama is not a product of Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is a creation of America. Thanks to America, Osama is in every home. As a military man, I know you can never fight and win against someone who can shoot at you once and then run off and hide while you have to remain eternally on guard. You have to attack the source of your enemys strength. In Americas case, thats not Osama or Saddam or anyone else. The enemy is ignorance. The only way to defeat it is to build relationships with these people, to draw them into the modern world with education and business. Otherwise the fight will go on forever."

-Pakistani General (Ret) Bashir
Three Cups of Tea: One Mans Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time