Another chance to raise Smith-Mundt: Is the State Department and President Bush “legitimizing” the actions of the enemy by continuing to use “jihadi”?

Briefly, you probably already know that the State Department approved the change in terminology recommended by the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC), which in turn was based on a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report, “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims.” 

Yesterday, Jeffrey Imm, at Counterterrorism Blog, notes the State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2007, released this week, wasn’t updated to reflect the new lexicon. 

…it is apparent that these new guidelines are not being reflected in the State Department annual terrorist report and in comments from President Bush.

In the April 2008 State Department Country Reports on Terrorism 2007 released today, anyone can clearly see the use of the terms “jihad”, “jihadist”, “jihadi”, “mujahedin / mujahadin”, “caliphate”, “Islamist” — as nouns describing enemy terrorist activity and ideology (not just in the titles of Jihadist groups’ names).

Such usage can been easily found in the Microsoft Word version of the State Department report:
– “jihad”: pages 63, 75, 81, 107, 126, 127, 174, 187, 272
– “jihadi(s)”: pages 10, 93, 94, 103, 107, 122
– “jihadist”: pages 116, 117, 120, 121
– “Islamist”: pages 17, 52, 62, 75, 87, 93, 95, 122, 188, 271, 291

These references are clearly describing State Department counterterrorist analyst descriptions of enemy terrorist individuals, activity, and ideology. For example, such phrases in the annual State Department terror report as: “promoting jihad and recruiting potential suicide bombers” (p. 75), “a recruitment network for foreign jihadis” (p. 93), “recruiting jihadists to fight” (p. 117), “numerous cells dedicated to sending Jihadi fighters” (p. 122), “AQ leadership has called for jihad against UN forces” (p. 174) — don’t sound like a view of “jihad” as a “spiritual struggle”.

Moreover, in President Bush’s April 28 press conference, he referred to the enemy as “jihadists” – to an assembled press corps that never asked him a single question about the remark.

In last week’s reported NCTC memorandum and DHS report on the proper terminology in describing the enemy, the NCTC is quoted stating that “[n]ever use the terms ‘jihadist’ or ‘mujahedeen’ in conversation to describe the terrorists…calling our enemies ‘jihadis’ and their movement a global ‘jihad’ unintentionally legitimizes their actions.” As described in last week’s article on this subject, I pointed out that this viewpoint challenges many of the key passages in the 9/11 Commission Report.

This raises a (humorous) question that Imm asks:

Does the NCTC and DHS now think that the State Department and President Bush are “legitimizing” the actions of the enemy by using such terms?

Why is this humorous?  A motivating factor behind Smith-Mundt was the fear that the State Department would undermine the President and the United States by being too soft or even sympathetic to the enemy propaganda.  Between this example, which is somewhat excusable for reasons of the bureaucracy but still should have been prevented, and Senator Tom Coburn preventing the confirmation of Jim Glassman as Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, is it any wonder we need to revisit Smith-Mundt?  So much of what brought about the Act sixty years ago is repeating itself today.

I recommend reading Jeffrey Imm’s whole post, The Continuing Debate Over “Jihadists” As The Enemy, that includes a discussion on why nouns and verbs are so important.  See also Jim Giurard’s post on the same here.

UPDATE: For the original DHS docs, see this post (h/t CT Blog).

(H/T Steve at COMOPS)

5 thoughts on “Another chance to raise Smith-Mundt: Is the State Department and President Bush “legitimizing” the actions of the enemy by continuing to use “jihadi”?

  1. I think one of the more interesting dimensions of this is the paradox of communications in/of/from the White House.On the one hand, there’s an emphasis on public diplomacy and strategic communications – which, as you and Andrew Exum have pointed out, is nonetheless woefully misdirected.
    On the other hand, the current Administration’s early rhetoric (unaided by it’s top man’s perceived stiffness as an orator) recast conditions in its own ideological, linear, frontier terms – with all that that implies in terms of military and other security commitments.
    I digress. Setting aside the confusion all this creates in the modern geopolitical imagination – on the shearing force between territorial states and social networks – the complexities of discourse are wide open for a few PhD dissertations. Which was my main point. Bring on Derrida. And Foucault… and Baudrillard… and Agamben… and…

  2. We have now been provided with code words with which the discerning can identify the communicator’s insider or outsider status as well his intended TA. My primary TA is my fellow Jacksonians, and now I have a list of Officially Designated Politically Incorrect Terms to weave in to my blog posts. Refusal to use the Officially Approved Terminology now becomes an act of resistance.Failure to properly identify the enemy and name this war makes it much tougher to sell than it should be. How do you persuade Americans that a stateless, amorphous, ad hoc group of Islamic religious extremists is such an existential threat to the survival of their Westphalian nation-state superpower that the sacrifice of thousands of the precious few Military Aged Males (and some Females) fit and motivated to defend it is worth the price?
    The terminology useful for influencing Muslim TA’s is counterproductive in maintaining support and reinforcing national will in the domestic TA.

  3. I just went over to the State Dept to see if they had a version of the terrorism report without the watermark. Evidently they prefer html and did not provide a pdf version. What’s wrong with these guys? Do they purposefully try to make it hard to share information?Nothing in WMD terrorism worth noting, but that isn’t suprising.

  4. I, for one, am happy to see an effort being made to stop using words that 99% of Westerners don’t understand, such as the multiple definitions of “Jihad” in Islam. We need to align our communications policy with our war efforts, and the emphasis on the latter is clearly one of greater cultural understanding and enlisting the aid of moderates in the Islamic world. We cannot hope to do that as long as we continue to abuse these important terms.For those readers who would like to learn about the intricacies of Islam and Holy War, I recommend James Turner Johnson’s “The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions”. You can preview it here:

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