Language of Command

Hey Clive, why don’t you know any languages of India?

“Why, if I had, I should not have conquered India; the black knaves would have led me astray by their cunning advice; but as I never understood them, I was never misled by them”.

06-29-2006, 04:37 PM
BAGHDAD – The pen is mightier than the sword, and sometimes in the war of words we unwittingly give the advantage to the enemy.

In dealing with Islamic extremists, the West may be giving them the advantage due to cultural ignorance, maintain Dr. Douglas E. Streusand and Army Lt. Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV. The men work at the National Defense University at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C.

The two believe the right words can help fight the global war on terror. “American leaders misuse language to such a degree that they unintentionally wind up promoting the ideology of the groups the United States is fighting,” the men wrote in an article titled “Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism.”

A case in point is the term “jihadist.” Many leaders use the term jihadist or jihadi as a synonym for Islamic extremist. Jihad has been commonly adapted in English as meaning “holy war.” But to Muslims it means much more. In their article, Steusand and Tunnell said in Arabic – the language of the Koran – jihad “literally means striving and generally occurs as part of the expression ‘jihad fi sabil illah,’ striving in the path of God.”

This is a good thing for all Muslims. “Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement a global jihad thus indicates that we recognize their doctrines and actions as being in the path of God and, for Muslims, legitimate,” they wrote. By countering jihadis, the West and moderate Muslims are enemies of true Islam.

The men asked Muslim scholars what the correct term for Islamic extremists would be and they came up with “hirabah.” This word specifically refers to those engaged in sinful warfare, warfare contrary to Islamic law. “We should describe the Islamic totalitarian movement as the global hirabah, not the global jihad,” they wrote.

Another word constantly misused in the West is mujahdeen. Again, in American dictionaries this word refers to a holy warrior – again a good thing. So calling an al Qaeda terrorist a mujahid legitimizes him.

The correct term for these killers is “mufsidun,” Streusand and Tunnell say. This refers to an evil or corrupt person. “There is no moral ambiguity and the specific denotation of corruption carries enormous weight in most of the Islamic world,” they wrote.

People can apply other words instead. “Fitna/fattan: fitna literally means temptation or trial, but has come to refer to discord and strife among Muslims; a fattan is a tempter or subversive,” they wrote. “Applying these terms to our enemies and their works condemns their current activities as divisive and harmful.”

The men also want officials to stop using the term “caliphate” as the goal of al Qaeda and associated groups. The Caliphate came to refer to the successors of the Prophet Mohammed as the political leaders of the Muslim community. “Sunni Muslims traditionally regard the era of the first four caliphs (A.D. 632-661) as an era of just rule,” the men wrote. “Accepting our enemies’ description of their goal as the restoration of a historical caliphate again validates an aspect of their ideology.”

The men point out that an al Qaeda caliphate would not mean the establishment of just rule, but rather a global totalitarian state where women would be treated as chattel, music banned and any kind of difference severely punished. “Anyone who needs a preview of how such a state would act merely has to review the conduct of the Taliban in Afghanistan before Sept. 11, 2001,” they wrote.

The correct term for the al Qaeda goal is global totalitarian state – something no one in the world wants.

Finally, the men urge Westerners to translate Allah into God. Using Allah to refer to God would be like using Jehovah to refer to a Hebrew God. In fact, Muslims, Christians and Jews all worship the God of Abraham. Using different names exaggerates the divisions among the religions, the authors say.

The men have launched an education effort. “Our work is an attempt to educate the interagency community about the challenges of communication with Islamic audiences,” they wrote in answer to written questions. “Our particular effort is in its infancy, but is showing some level of success.”

Scholars at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College use the essay in class, and the Marines are using an earlier version of the essay as part of their lessons-learned Web site. The final version of the essay is on the National Defense University’s Center for Strategic Communications Web site.

[thx Mark].

This Spectred Isle II

Priyamvada Gopal, who previously brought the heat to Niall Ferguson, has a new piece up on Guardian’s blog, The story peddled by imperial apologists is a poisonous fairytale. No punches pulled. She calls Ferguson a “neoconservative ideologue” driven by “the messianic fantasies of the American right”. Now, I happen to agree with much of Gopal’s criticism but I have to insist that such is not the way to engage in a debate about empire – a much needed debate, I might add. Ferguson is not a neocon and he is not driven by messianic fantasies. Whatever else may be wrong with him [and a search on CM alone will point you in the right direction]. So anyways, go read her.

The Break Dance

In case you noticed, Iraq is kinda back in the news. The Chosen One is up 8-10 points in the polls. The Dems are finding every possible way to not think or act. In the annales of Iraq War, the following would get indexed as high comedy: Republicans say: Stay the Course; Democrats say: Cut and Run; The Generals say run through the course once and then cut to the exit; Iraqi PM says, excuse me! Do you ever get the feeling that no one got the pottery barn memo? Every single party in D.C. has, and continues to, play the Iraq War for domestic politics.

But, what about our thinking heads? What are people who aren’t running in elections have to say about the future in Iraq? In a recent essay published in Foreign Affairs, Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon, Stephen Biddle argues that the US has to stop with the Vietnamization of Iraq and instead, a)”slow down the expansion of the Iraqi national military and police” and b)”threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds to coerce them to negotiate”. Clearly, Biddle is arguing for Direct Rule over Iraq – the stated policy of the British Empire after the Rising of 1857. The objective, then and now, is stability and the clear containment of local powers whether military or political. Biddle may disagree with my characterization but that is my conclusion when I read:

Washington should also avoid setting any more arbitrary deadlines for democratization…Democracy is the long-term goal in Iraq, of course, but getting there will require a near-term constitutional compromise whose key provision must be an agreement to limit the freedom of Iraqi voters to elect governments that concentrate ethnic and sectarian power. Resolving the country’s communal security problems must take priority over bringing self-determination to the Iraqi people — or the democracy that many hope for will never emerge.

To steal from Spinal Tap: “It’s like, how much more colonialism could this be? And the answer is none. None more colonialism.”

Foreign Affairs asked a group of policy-heads and academics to respond to Biddle’s article. Larry Diamond, James Dobbins, Chaim Kaufmann, Leslie H. Gelb came back with their reading of Biddle as well as their suggestion on possible strategies in Iraq. Diamond argues that the UN and EU should be asked to mediate in Iraq and get the communalism under control. Dobbins suggestes that Iraq’s neighbors have a vested interest in a stable Iraq and should be given that responsibility; along with a recommendation that US think along the lines of the “counterinsurgency campaigns of Central America in the 1980s, where U.S. military involvement was largely limited to advice and training”. Paired, of course, with a well placed dictator, er, diplomacy. Kaufmann proclaimes that Iraq is doomed to “develop internal communal borders with a few heavily guarded crossing points” and the best that the US can do is minimize the ethnic cleansing. And finally Gelb, also takes a page from the British Empire [the end of colonial India time, in his case], and states that “decentralization” is the only real option. A US brokered Partition with some attempt to “to assist those Iraqis who wish to relocate to safer terrain, temporarily or permanently”.

Rather grim, no? What happened to the promised freedom? How did a country in four years develop sectarian and communal conflict so entrenched that one can only speak in terms like ‘ethnic cleansing’ and ‘federated boundaries’? Is there any reading of Iraq’s history in these assessments? Any reading of Iraq’s present that is not informed wholly by US media or state? Did they think of asking an Iraqi?

I have long maintained that the comparisons between the US adventures in Iraq and the British Empire were short on facts and long on sentiments but after reading these essays in the Foreign Affairs, I am of the mind that the facts are going to catch up to the sentiments, real soon.

Cole & c.

Philip Weiss has a short piece in the Nation on Cole, with a terrible pun for a title, that lays out how Cole’s potential appointment at Yale was scuttled. The concluding remarks by Cole, “I knew when I began to speak out that I wasn’t going to be hired. I knew my academic career was over. I knew that I can be in this place, be a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan for the rest of my life. But I would never be a dean. I would never be a provost. I would never be in the Ivy League.” should either be a rallying cry for us academics or a fair warning to shut the hell up until we retire.

Well, Juan, I’d rather be in your league than any Ivy league.

Incidentally, Philip Weiss has an excellent blog and he also comments on Frontline’s Cheney docu The Dark Side that aired last night. As I watched it, I kept thinking how important it is to live a moral and ethical life, and of standing up for those morals. There were so many aids and analysts who rued not speaking up or pressing harder … and look at the consequence.