Fox News' Sean Hannity lashed out at nominee for CIA Director John Brennan for identifying the term “jihad” as a legitimate tenet of Islam. But Brennan's comments are in line with mainstream thought on the term, and former President Bush expressed similar sentiments in 2005.
Brennan: Don't Cede The Term Jihad To Our Adversaries Because It Gives Them Religious Legitimacy
John Brennan: The United States 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 2010 speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, John Brennan stated that it is wrong to “describe our enemies as jihadists” because jihad means “holy struggle” and is “a legitimate tenet of Islam meaning to purify oneself of one's community.” Brennan added that if we describe our enemies as jihadists, it would therefore “play into the false perception that they are religious leaders defending a holy cause”:
The president's strategy is absolutely clear about the threat we face. Our enemy is not terrorism because terrorism is but a tactic. Our enemy is not terror because terror is a state of mind and, as Americans, we refuse to live in fear. Nor do we 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 there is nothing holy or legitimate or Islamic about murdering innocent men, women and children. Indeed, characterizing our adversaries this way would actually be counterproductive. It 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.
Moreover, describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al-Qaida and its affiliates to justify terrorism, that the United States is somehow at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America.
Instead, the president's strategy is clear and precise. Our 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. [Center for Strategic and International Studies, 5/26/10]
Sean Hannity Attacked John Brennan For His Comment On Jihad
Sean Hannity On Brennan's Comments: “Is He That Stupid And Naïve?” Sean Hannity asked former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani if Brennan could really be so “stupid and naïve” to believe that jihad was a legitimate tenet of Islam:
SEAN HANNITY (host): Here's the worst part of it. Let me play this other cut here where he talks about jihad or using a legitimate term jihad. Jihad is holy war. Jihad is terrorism. Watch this one.
BRENNAN (video clip): Nor does President Obama see this challenge as a fight against jihadists. Describing terrorists in this way, using a legitimate term jihad, which means to purify oneself, or to wage holy struggle for a moral goal risks giving these murderers the religious legitimacy they desperately seek but in no way deserve.
HANNITY: Is he that stupid and naïve? Because this is going to be our new CIA Director?
RUDY GIULIANI: Or that much of an apologist. I --
GIULIANI: There is a legitimate interpretation of jihad, and there's an illegitimate interpretation of jihad. I get it, I studied the -
HANNITY: There's really one, though. [Fox News, Hannity, 1/9/13]
Hannity On The Word “Jihad”: “We All Interpret It To Be What It Is: Terrorism Against Westerners.” In an interview with Senator Ted Cruz, Sean Hannity suggested the term “jihad” could only mean “terrorism against westerners”:
SEAN HANNITY (host): Well, then we have the announcement of Brennan for CIA, and Brennan is the guy that said jihad is a legitimate tenet of Islam. Jihad? Holy war? We all interpret it to be what it is: terrorism against westerners. [Fox News, Hannity, 1/8/13]
Brennan's Position That Jihad Does Not Necessarily Mean A Violent Struggle Is Well Within The Mainstream
University of Chicago Lecturer Noha Aboulmagd-Forster Explains That The Most Common Interpretation Of “Jihad” May Be The “Struggle For Self-Improvement.” Noha Aboulmagd-Forster told National Geographic that most practicing Muslims view jihad primarily to be the struggle within oneself:
The concept of jihad as a struggle for self-improvement is little known among non-believers. Yet Noha Aboulmagd-Forster, who teaches Arabic at the University of Chicago's Center for Middle Eastern Studies, stresses that it may be the most common interpretation of the term.
“Something widely quoted by the Muslim 'man on the street' is that the most difficult jihad is the one of the soul,” she said. “The biggest trouble is not with your enemy but with yourself.” [National Geographic, 10/24/03]
Former President Of Chicago Theological Seminary: For Most Muslims, “Jihad Does Not Mean 'Holy War.'” Former Chicago Theological Seminary President Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite wrote in the Washington Post that jihad “does not mean 'Holy War'” to most Muslims:
In the last several years I have been working in both Muslim-Christian and now Muslim-Christian-Jewish dialogue on issues of war and peace. From this work I have learned that Jihad, both historically and for most Muslims today, does not mean “Holy War”. Jihad literally means “struggle” or “struggle in the way of God.” It is sometimes called the 6th pillar of Islam and equates to the responsibility of believers to struggle to improve themselves and/or society.
Jihad as “struggle to improve society”is more akin to the way we in the U.S. have used the phrase “war on poverty”. A “war on poverty” does not mean literally killing those who impoverish others -- it means attacking the conditions of poverty in a vigorous though non-violent way.
There is also what is called “the greater Jihad” which refers to the inner struggle for faith by the individual believer. It is the “greater” Jihad, many Muslims believe, because it the more difficult struggle and also the most worthwhile. [The Washington Post, 7/25/07]
The American Muslim's Musaji: By Overthrowing Mubarak Peacefully, Egyptians “Struck A Blow Against The Deviant View Of The Meaning Of Jihad Taught By Groups Like Al Qaeda.” Sheila Musaji, editor of The American Muslim website, extolled the protests that overthrew former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak without resorting to violence because it represented “a true Islamic, spiritual jihad” rather than Al Qaeda's perversion of it:
The Egyptian revolution brought down a brutal tyrant using only non-violent means. In doing so, they have not only begun the process of changing Egypt, but perhaps of changing the world. They have given hope to many, and they have reminded many of previous non-violent struggles.
This was not an al Qaeda perversion of jihad, but a true Islamic, spiritual jihad -- a struggle for freedom and justice. Because it was a non-violent movement, the Egyptian people have won the hearts of people around the world, and have inspired people around the world to struggle to achieve and/or retain freedom and democracy.
[T]he Egyptian people have struck a blow against the deviant view of the meaning of jihad taught by groups like Al Qaeda who believe that violence is the only way to achieve anything. The Egyptian people have proved that change is possible through non-violent means. This is going to make it very difficult for groups like al Qaeda to justify their violence as a legitimate means to an end. [The American Muslim, 6/14/12]
Even President Bush Agreed With Brennan That Extremists “Distort The Idea Of Jihad”
George W. Bush: “Extremists Distort The Idea Of Jihad.” In a 2005 speech, former President George W. Bush said that extremists were distorting the idea of jihad, calling their distortion “very different from the religion of Islam”:
All these separate images of destruction and suffering that we see on the news can seem like random, isolated acts of madness -- innocent men and women and children who have died simply because they boarded the wrong train, or worked in the wrong building, or checked into the wrong hotel. Yet, while the killers choose their victims indiscriminately, their attacks serve a clear and focused ideology -- a set of beliefs and goals that are evil, but not insane.
Some call this evil Islamic radicalism; others, militant Jihadism; and still others, Islamo-fascism. Whatever it's called, this ideology is very different from the religion of Islam. This form of radicalism exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision: the establishment, by terrorism, subversion and insurgency, of a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom. These 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. [George W. Bush, 11/11/05]
George W. Bush: Extremists Distort Jihad To “Call For Terrorist Murder Against Anyone Who Does Not Share Their Radical Vision.” In another speech, former President Bush pointed out that extremists “distort the idea of jihad”:
As we work together to defeat the terrorists, we must be very clear about the enemies we face. The killers who take the lives of innocent men, women, and children are followers of a violent ideology very different from the religion of Islam. These 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.
Their strategy will fail. Many Muslim scholars have already publicly condemned terrorism, often citing chapter 5, verse 32 of the Koran, which states that killing an innocent human being is like killing all of humanity, and saving the life of one person is like saving all of humanity. I appreciate those of you here who have joined these scholars in rejecting violent extremists. And I believe the time has come for all responsible Islamic leaders to denounce an ideology that exploits Islam for political ends, and defiles your noble faith. [George W. Bush, 10/17/05]
For more on the right-wing media's past efforts to scandalize Brennan's comments on jihad, click here.