Fox & Friends criticized the Obama administration's "new national security strategy" because it will "no longer make references to radical Islamic extremism or jihad." However, this policy is not new; indeed, Bush administration officials discouraged the use of such terms, which they said "unintentionally legitimize" violent extremists.
Fox & Friends attack reported ban on "references to radical Islamic extremism or jihad" as "insulting" and "mindboggling"
From the June 3 broadcast of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
BRIAN KILMEADE (co-host): As part of the new national security strategy, the Obama administration says they will no longer make references to radical Islamic extremism or jihad. But our next guest says that is like fighting blindfolded.
Walid Phares, expand on that. You're a Fox News terrorism analyst and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. Aren't we not insulting the nonradical Islamists by not bringing that up? Is this making them feel better?
PHARES: Absolutely. This is the most stunning statement in a war with the terrorists that lasted nine years so far. At the ninth year, we are not able to define what is the ideology of the enemy? The administration said, yes, we're fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But what is the ideology of Al Qaeda and the Taliban? How can we have plans -- how can we de-radicalize people? If we capture people, how can we de-radicalize them if we don't even understand what's their ideology. It is just mindboggling.
Bush administration also discouraged use of such terms
Karen Hughes -- Bush's "top diplomat to the Muslim world" -- advised against using "the language of religion." An April 7 Associated Press article reported that the Obama administration "will remove religious terms such as 'Islamic extremism' from the central document outlining the U.S. national security strategy." The AP further noted that during the Bush administration, Karen Hughes, President Bush's "top diplomat to the Muslim world," urged against the use of phrases such as "Islamic extremists" and "radical jihadists." The AP reported that "Hughes and Juan Zarate, Bush's former deputy national security adviser, said Obama's efforts build on groundwork from Bush's second term, when some of the rhetoric softened." From the AP article:
But the Bush administration struggled with its rhetoric. Muslims criticized him for describing the war against terror as a "crusade" and labeling the invasion of Afghanistan "Operation Infinite Justice" -- words that were seen as religious. He regularly identified America's enemy as "Islamic extremists" and "radical jihadists."
Karen Hughes, a Bush confidant who served as his top diplomat to the Muslim world in his second term, urged the White House to stop.
"I did recommend that, in my judgment, it's unfortunate because of the way it's heard. We ought to avoid the language of religion," Hughes said. "Whenever they hear 'Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,' they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That's the world view Osama bin Laden wants them to have."
Hughes and Juan Zarate, Bush's former deputy national security adviser, said Obama's efforts build on groundwork from Bush's second term, when some of the rhetoric softened.
Bush administration document: "Never use the term 'jihadist.' " A May 2008 UPI article stated: "U.S. officials are being advised in internal government documents to avoid referring publicly to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups as Islamic or Muslim, and not to use terms like jihad or mujahedin, which 'unintentionally legitimize' terrorism." The document discourages the use of "ill-defined and offensive terminology," such as " 'Islamo-fascism,' which are considered offensive by many Muslims." The document from the National Counterterrorism Center goes on to state: "[N]ever use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahideen' in conversation to describe the terrorists. A mujahed, a holy warrior, is a positive characterization in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means 'striving in the path of God' and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement a global jihad unintentionally legitimizes their actions."
Bush administration Homeland Security document cautions against "using terms such as, 'jihadist,' 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamist,' and 'holy warrior.' " A January 2008 Homeland Security document summarized recommendations made by Muslim leaders and scholars about proper and strategic terminology to use while discussing terrorism and stated that "the experts counseled caution in using terms such as 'jihadist,' 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamist,' and 'holy warrior' " in order to "avoid unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers, or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims":
Expert Recommendation 2 -- Do not give the terrorists the legitimacy that they seek.
What terrorists fear most is irrelevance; what they need most is for large numbers of people to rally to their cause. There was a consensus that the USG should avoid unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers, or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims. Therefore, the experts counseled caution in using terms such as, "jihadist," "Islamic terrorist," "Islamist," and "holy warrior" as grandiose descriptions.
Using the word "Islamic" in a phrase will sometimes be necessary in order to distinguish terrorists who claim the banner of Islam from other extremist groups who do not invoke religion, or who invoke other faiths. Nevertheless, CRCL [Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties] understands the experts' caution in this regard to be rooted in the concern that we should not concede the terrorists' claim that they are legitimate adherents of Islam. Therefore, when using the word, it may be strategic to emphasize that many so-called "Islamic" terrorist groups twist and exploit the tenets of Islam to justify violence and to serve their own selfish political aims.
The same is true of the moniker "Islamist" (or the related "Islamism"), which many have used to refer to individuals who view Islam as a political system in addition to a religion. The experts we consulted did not criticize this usage based on accuracy; indeed, they acknowledged that academics and commentators, including some in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, regularly use "Islamist" to describe people and movements. Nevertheless, they caution that it may not be strategic for USG of£icials to use the term because the general public, including overseas audiences, may not appreciate the academic distinction between Islamism and Islam. In the experts' estimation, this may still be true, albeit to a lesser extent, even if government officials add qualifiers, e.g. "violent Islamists" or "radical Islamism."
Regarding jilzad, even if it is accurate to reference the term (putting aside polemics on its true nature), it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have, and damages relations with Muslims around the globe.
Some say that this is a war against "Salafis." However, Salafism is a belief system that many people follow. This includes al-Qaeda leadership, as well as many individuals who are not violent at all. Again, if we assign this term to al-Qaeda, we will be handing them legitimacy that they do not have, but are desperately seeking.
The consensus is that we must carefully avoid giving bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders the legitimacy they crave, but do not possess, by characterizing them as religious figures, or in terms that may make them seem to be noble in the eyes of some.
Right-wing media previously attacked Brennan over statements about jihad
As Media Matters has noted, right-wing media have claimed Obama administration counterterrorism adviser John Brennan's statement that jihad is a "legitimate tenet of Islam" is "absurd" and "frightening" and indicates Brennan is "deranged." But Bush similarly stated that extremists "distort the idea of jihad" to support their terrorist acts.
Brennan: U.S. doesn't "describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one's community." In a May 26 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Brennan said that the U.S. doesn't "describe our enemy as jihadists or Islamists because jihad is holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one's community" and that "[i]t would play into the false perception that they are religious leaders defending a holy cause when in fact, they are nothing more than murderers, including the murder of thousands upon thousands of Muslims." Brennan also said that "[o]ur enemy is al-Qaida and its terrorist affiliates. For it was al-Qaida who attacked us so viciously on 9/11 and whose desire to attack the United States, our allies and our partners remains undiminished."
Bush repeatedly said "extremists distort the idea of jihad." In a November 11, 2005, speech, Bush said that "[t]hese extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against Christians and Hindus and Jews -- and against Muslims, themselves, who do not share their radical vision." In an October 17, 2005, speech, Bush said that "[t]hese extremists distort the idea of jihad into a call for terrorist murder against anyone who does not share their radical vision, including Muslims from other traditions, who they regard as heretics."