WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has ordered a revision of America’s National Security Strategy with the aim to remove terms that link Islam to terrorism, administration officials said.
The officials said the change would remove terms like “Islamic radicalism” from the National Security Strategy, a document that was created by the previous administration to outline the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.
The US National Security Strategy outlines major national security concerns and the methods to deal with them. Such documents are prepared periodically by the executive branch of the government for Congress. US media outlets often refer to this document for borrowing terms to use in a report.
The Bush-era document describes the war against terrorists as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism … the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Thursday welcomed the announcement, saying it was a step in the right direction.
“We welcome this change in language as another step toward respectful and effective outreach to Muslims at home and abroad,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
He recommended that media professionals and commentators adopt similarly neutral and objective language and avoid “loaded” terminology.
In 2008, the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre produced a document, called “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counter-Terrorism Communication,” which encouraged government agencies and officials to avoid characterizing Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups as “Islamic” or “Muslim,” as that could “unintentionally legitimise” their tactics.
US Counterterrorism officials said the move to rewrite the security strategy is part of an effort to assure the Muslims that the United States does not link them with terrorism.
Since taking office, President Obama has attempted o seek reconciliation with the Muslim world. During his landmark speech at Cairo University in Egypt in June 2009, Mr Obama said that the US did not have any enmity with the Muslim world.
The document that the Obama administration is consulting for drafting the new strategy — “A Guide for Counter-Terrorism Communication” — urges US officials to “avoid labelling everything ‘Muslim.’ It reinforces the ‘US vs. Islam’ framework that Al Qaeda promotes.” It reminds US officials that “a large percentage of the world’s population subscribes to this religion” and “unintentionally alienating them is not a judicious move.”
Urging officials not to use the word Islam in conjunction with terrorism, the guide notes that, “Although the Al Qaeda network exploits religious sentiments and tries to use religion to justify its actions, we should treat it as an illegitimate political organisation, both terrorist and criminal.”
Instead of calling terror groups Muslim or Islamic, the guide suggests using words like totalitarian, terrorist or violent extremist — “widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy.”
By employing the language the extremists use about themselves, the guide warns, officials can inadvertently help legitimise them in the eyes of Muslims.
“Never use the terms ‘jihadist’ or ‘mujahideen’ … to describe the terrorists,” instructs the guide. “A mujahid, a holy warrior, is a positive characterisation 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 legitimises their actions.”
The guide also bans the use of the word caliphate to describe Al Qaeda’s goal. The term “has positive connotations for Muslims,” says the guide, adding, “The best description of what (Al Qaeda) really want to create is a ‘global totalitarian state.’”
A longer document — “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims” — says officials should use “terms such as ‘death cult,’ ‘cult-like,’ ‘sectarian cult,’ and ‘violent cultists’ to describe the ideology and methodology of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” It recommends eschewing the terms Islamist or Islamism — the advocacy of a political system based on Islam – while referring to terrorist groups.
The document urges officials to consider describing Al Qaeda’s ideology as “Takfirism” — the practice of declaring Muslims who disagree with extremism apostates who can be killed.