Small Wars Journal

General James Mattis - Attacking the al Qaeda "Narrative"

In his June 2007 State Department E-Journal article, New Paradigms For 21st Century Conflicts, Dr. Dave Kilcullen of General David Petraeus' senior staff in Baghdad called for, among other things, a "New Lexicon" for better defining and more effectively defeating enemies which subscribe to the faith-based mantra of "Death to America, the Great Satan".

In other public statements and in several Small Wars Journal postings, Kilcullen entered very slowly, very prudently into the virtually verboten realm of attacking al Qaeda-style Terrorism in Islamic religious context, rather than in Western secular terms only -- referring to the AQ terrorists as "munafiquun" (hypocrites to authentic, Qur'anic Islam) and pointing out that "they call themselves mujahideen" but are doing barbaric things which are anything but holy.

To which this word warrior says: Spot on! Two small steps for a good man, two giant steps for truth-in-language and truth-in-Islam in the War on al Qaeda-style Terrorism -- a.k.a., Irhabi Murderdom and the AQ Apostasy, as this essay recommends as its most appropriate new names.

But even these two measured Kilcullen attacks on the terrorists' religious legitimacy were in conflict with the State Department's basic rule in such matters. As stated on page 25 of the US National Strategy For Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, the official advisory is, in part, as follows: Use caution when dealing with faith issues. Government officials should be extremely cautious and, if possible, avoid using religious language, because it can mean different things and can be easily misunderstood...

So broad brush is this avoidance of matters and words religious that the traditional "hearts, minds and souls" frame of reference no longer includes the word "souls."

In respectful contradiction to this "avoid using religious words" directive, this writer has been able to post three recent essays supportive of Dr. Kilcullen's specific acts of re-labeling and of his general call for a "New Lexicon" for expanding this line of counterinsurgency to its full potential.

The latest of these essays, Petraeus Aide's Call for a New Lexicon, offers over a dozen of the Arabic and Islamic words which are necessary frames of reference in any such anti-bin Ladenism Glossary, or Lexicon.

Enter Marine Corps Lieutenant General Jim Mattis

By fortunate circumstance, Lieutenant General Jim Mattis, Commanding General of US Marines Forces Central Command and I Marine Expeditionary Force, and the Marine Corps' premier counterinsurgency (COIN) expert -- has just inserted himself into the religious and/or the pseudo-religious aspects of the current war on al Qaeda's metastasizing cancer of so-called "Jihadi Martyrdom."

As Mattis has charged in a recent North County Times interview, the al Qaeda narrative in this respect is nothing but tyranny in false religious garb. Although he does not list the specific Islamic terms which constitute that pseudo-religious scam, the most likely ingredients of this patently false but highly seductive, self-sanctifying narrative would be bin Ladenism's six-word mantra of so-called

(1) Jihad (holy war) by supposed

(2) mujahideen (holy warriors) and UBL-anointed

(3) shuhada (martyrs) destined for a promised 72-virgins

(4) Jennah (Paradise) as reward for killing us alleged

(5) kuffr (infidels) and, in time, the alleged

(6) Shaitan al-Kabir (the Great Satan, America), as well

Notice, please, that the widespread parroting of this AQ-supportive narrative is much akin to the "useful idiocy" of those in the Cold War who parroted (and who demonized those few who would not join them in parroting) the Soviets' and Fascist Fidel Castro's deceitful narrative of so-called

(1) Wars of National Liberation by alleged

(2) Progressive Movements and supposed

(3) Patriotic Fronts on their way to heaven-on-earth

(4) People's Democracy as a reward for killing all of us

(5) Fascists and for defeating the evils of

(6) American Imperialism

The two situations and the patently false labeling sustaining each are virtually identical. They are both highly representative of the problem which the late, great Senator Pat Moynihan and Dr. Fred Charles Ikle -- Ronald Reagan's Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) - described in the early 1980s as "semantic infiltration."

As Moynihan defined the term, Simply put, semantic infiltration is the process whereby we come to adopt the language of our adversaries in describing political reality. The most totalitarian regimes in the world would call themselves 'liberation movements.'... [substitute 'Jihadi Martyrs'] ... It is perfectly predictable that they should misuse words to conceal their real nature. But must we aid them in that effort by repeating those words? Worse, do we begin to influence our own perceptions by using them?"

Back then, it was a case of Leninist and Castroite "tyranny in false Liberationist garb." Today, it is the neo-Leninist and fascist-Left equivalent which General Mattis so correctly condemns as being wrapped in "false [Islamic] religious garb." Indeed, both of these monumental scams are deceitful echoes of the militant atheist Vladimir Lenin's cynical postulation that

"We will find our greatest success to the extent that we inculcate Marxism as a kind of religion. Religious men and women are easy to convert and win, and will easily accept our thinking if we wrap it up in a kind of religious terminology."

The question now is what should be done about it -- namely, what is the optimum counter narrative that will begin applying the necessary antidote to the AQ cancer which has spread across the planet? Like any cancer, it is deadly. But like any cancer, it can and must be defeated -- both by destroying individual cells and by a death-to-the-source chemotherapy of worldwide "delegitimization."

As a means of delegitimizing and even demonizing the AQ-style enemy and its Salafi-Wahhabi sponsors, this longtime admirer of General Mattis suggests to him that this ultimate counter-narrative will be one which paints a certifiably apostate and satanic picture of the Terrorists and their impending trip to Eternal Hellfire in Islamic religious words -- both Arabic and English -- along the following lines:

(1) Hirabah (unholy war, "war against society'") and/or Irhab (Terrorism) by ruthless

(2) mufsiduun (evildoers, mortal sinners, corrupters) destined for

(3) Jahannam (Eternal Hellfire) as a proper punishment for their

(4) khawarij (outside the religion) violations of the Qur'an which are so serious, so

(5) shaitaniyah (satanic) and so willfully unrepented as to constitute

(6) al-Irtidad al Qaeda (the AQ Apostasy) against Qur'anic (not "Shari'a") Islam

At this point, these terms are known by all too few of us. But just as we have learned not only the deceitful "Jihadi" words of the AQ narrative but several other Arabic and Islamic terms, as well -- words such as fatwa (religious edict), intifada (insurrection), Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great), fitna (discord), Shari'a (Islamic Law) and Umma (Muslim World), surely we can learn a few more -- especially those which will at long last allow us to begin demonizing rather than continuing to canonize these genocidal killers.

A prudent way to begin such truth-in-labeling in Iraq and elsewhere is to condemn AQ-style atrocities -- i.e., the slaughter of innocents coming from a prayer meeting, or while shopping in the markets or while celebrating a soccer team victory -- not only in such secular terms as "criminal" and "horrendous" and "barbaric" but as being clearly satanic (shaitaniyah), as well.

After all, who delights in these bloody and often genocidal attacks by Muslims on fellow Muslims? Is it the peaceful, compassionate, merciful and just Allah of the Qur'an? Of course not. Or is it, instead, what any truly faithful Muslim knows to be the cruel, the hating, the murderous and the ever-deceitful Satan himself?

But if we never bother to call it satanic, this makes it all the easier for the AQ-style and the al Sadr-style terrorists to mislabel such sinful criminality forever as "in the will of Allah" -- which it is obviously not.

Beginnings of the Proposed New Lexicon

The urgent need for a long-overdue glossary of such terms is twofold. It will be a unique semantic roadmap by which all of us might better understand and to act upon:

First, the deadly implications of the powerful "Jihad by mujahideen destined for Paradise" narrative which has been invented by the Wahhabi-Salafi-UBL conspiracy and which is carelessly parroted and given legitimacy by all too many of us and,

Second, the much needed antitoxin of the "Hirabah by mufsiduun destined for Hellfire" counter narrative set forth above -- with these three terms and few more serving as a startup -- and with perhaps a dozen more to be added. Again, see David Kilcullen's Call for a "New Lexicon"for the current list of words and for those proofs of the Al Qaeda Apostasy which will fully justify their use.

In reviewing these Arabic and Islamic terms, we should not imagine ourselves using them quickly, expertly, loudly or in a fashion of lecturing or pontificating to any audience. But we should at least understand them well enough -- one word at a time if necessary -- to know which ones will serve our purposes and which ones are to be avoided because they are polishing the haloes of the Irhabi Murderdom likes of bin Laden, al-Sadr and Ahmadinejad. [See also TrueSpeak Essays]

Only then can we begin designing strategies, operations and tactics which will, at long last, begin to define these hyena-like suicide mass murderers, rather than America and the West, as the real and everlasting enemies of authentic, Qur'anic Islam.

In that context, as Ronald Reagan said about the Evil Empire, "We (and the God of Abraham) win. They (and their Satan of Eternal Hellfire) lose."

A DC-area attorney, writer, lecturer and anti-Terrorism strategist, Jim Guirard was longtime Chief of Staff to US Senators Allen Ellender and Russell Long. His TrueSpeak Institute and website are devoted to truth-in-language and truth-in-history in public discourse. Phone: 703-768-0957 - E-mail:


Discuss at Small Wars Council


Sites like ( are fully invested in the enemy's conception of jihad. If the counter-narrative is to get off the ground, you're going to have to give a pathway out for these folks to swap over to the counter-narrative.

Rob Thornton

Tue, 08/07/2007 - 9:52pm

You know, some if the lingo like "Irhabi" is making its way into the ISF lexicon - when I first got there ISF (who spoke some English) when talking to Americans either said Ali Baba (picked up from U.S. troops during 03/04 or simply the terrorists. On the back side I heard IA patrols calling into their BN TOC reports of Irhabi, and in discourse between IA and IP at their Joint targeting meetings.

When Al Jazeera and Islamic state officials such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, etc, clerics, sheiks and mullahs, can with confidence and without fear of losing power, use this type of lexicon to describe AQ and like activities - it will have the desired effect. Until then, it may only meet with marginal success.

As such I think our Strategic Communications and public diplomacy to our Arab & Muslim partners, friends and allies must encourage them to see and understand how we view these activities and to issue public condemnations in the strongest language that challenges the religious beliefs the Irhabi cloaks themselves in.

On the tactical level, I think using the appropriate terms does resonate. When I say tactical I mean the interactions with local officials, HN Security forces, and everyday people on the street during patrols. Hearing it, even from an American as a vocal expression, or on a hand bill - particularly if they are already thinking it anyway, raises the issue and may lead that person to question where they had placed terrorist activities in the context of their faith and life. It also creates an opportunity for dialogue. Your next tip, or the tip to an ISF may come from somebody vocally raising that doubt about what is good and what is bad. I've had some interesting conversations with both English speaking Arabs and through an interpreter while patrolling about our role in Iraq, the future of Iraq and what is right and wrong.

I'd also add that our understanding of these words is fundamental to interaction and understanding our common enemy.