Language matters

Language matters

According to The Associated Press, President Obama’s advisers want to remove religious terms such as “Islamic extremism” and “jihad” from key documents outlining U.S. national security strategy. The change, according to advisers, is designed to emphasize that the United States is not at war with Islam.

We find this disturbing, a papering-over of reality.

Karen Hughes, President George W. Bush’s top diplomat to the Muslim world in his second term, said that words like “Islamic extremism,” “Islamic jihad,” and “Islamic fundamentalism” are interpreted in the Muslim world as attacks on Islam. Extremists like Osama bin Laden feed on that feeling of persecution.

We agree with the president’s goal of trying to better relations with the Muslim world and understand that Obama’s advisers, who recommend removing such words, may have good intentions. This policy change, however, is an attempt to sugarcoat the threat facing not just our nation and Israel, but the entire world.

“Islamic fundamentalism” sounds like an attack on faith because that’s exactly what it is. Islamic scholars and moderates agree that fundamentalist Islam – which calls for violence against non-Muslims and the Western world – is a perversion of that faith that threatens Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

To deny the existence of Islamic fundamentalism would severely limit our ability to fight such extremism. How can we help the moderates seeking to reclaim their religion from thugs and terrorists if we do not recognize that there is a problem?

In order to fight an enemy, we have to understand that enemy, whether a terrorist, drug dealer, or even a traffic violator. If we no longer acknowledge the role of jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism, then we are treating acts like the Sept. 11 attacks, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, and the cruelties of the Taliban as if they exist within a vacuum. We must recognize that dangerous fundamentalists have indeed hijacked a religion. To pretend they have not would weaken the very moderates we are trying to win over while strengthening the fundamentalists’ grip on Islam.

Sharks and dolphins are different species, but they do share basic physical features. To pretend a shark is the same as a dolphin, however – just because we want more friends in the tank – would be as foolish as this policy.


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