The importance of words in shaping perceptions

Posting will be light for another few days…

IMAGINE if Franklin D. Roosevelt had taken to calling Adolf Hitler the “leader of the National Socialist Aryan patriots” or dubbed Japanese soldiers fighting in World War II as the “defenders of Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

To describe the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese Army in terms that incorporated their own propaganda would have been self-defeating. Unfortunately, that is what many American policymakers have been doing by calling terrorists “jihadists” or “jihadis.”

5 Replies to “The importance of words in shaping perceptions”

  1. Not that I’m disagreeing with Singer and Noor (see here, here, and here), but…didn’t we refer to the Nazis in WWII as the “Third Reich”? That is indeed describing the enemy in terms that incorporate their own propaganda. The concept constructed 1930s Germany as the “inevitable” third-wave of empire, the first being the Roman empire and the second being the Prussian empire of the late 19th & early 20th century. I’m pretty sure we referred to Hitler as the Fuhrer (leader) too, rather than as the dictator or despot, etc. So though it doesn’t diminish the argument, I don’t think the current conflict is the first time we’ve made this mistake.

  2. It’s never a mistake to use the correct terminology.If the U.S. government has no better answer to the dilemma their indefatigable and brutally executed (sic) pursuit of extractive resources has caused in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Not an exhaustive list) than make up new nomenclature and use it disingenuously, the nation is in grave danger from it’s own governmental/bureaucratic/managerial infrastructure.

  3. Terrorism And The Bush Doctrineby John Maszka
    ISBN-13: 9781606100103
    Pub. Date: May 2008
    “Terrorism and the Bush Doctrine is a must read for anyone concerned with terrorism. This title is both sensitive to the issue of terrorism and persuasive in its approach to solving it.”
    Terrorism is perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind in the twenty-first century. It has been researched, debated, analyzed and contemplated by some of the greatest minds on the planet. And yet no known solution exists. When putting out a fire, while it is important to know what type of fire it is before attempting to put it out, firefighters understand that the key to putting out any fire is to remove its source of oxygen. Likewise, terrorism depends on popular support to sustain itself. Without popular support, the majority of funding, recruits and overall acceptance will disappear. Therefore, the primary goal for eliminating terrorism is to eliminate the sources of popular support. This book argues that this has to be the standard approach and strategy. These pages examine three primary components of contemporary American foreign policy: unilateralism, preemption and military hegemony, as well as how they impact terrorism.

  4. “It’s never a mistake to use correct terminology”There is, of course, the issue of determining what that terminology might be. Just because someone declares that they are something doesn’t make it so. In this case what makes someone a “jihadi”? Is it just their declaration that that’s what their activities are? Not necessarily.
    Rather than ceding that particular debate to terrorists, especially given the power of the term “jihad” among Muslims, we need to find another way to describe the people we are fighting against. Otherwise we grant them additional legitimacy every time we talk about them. There’s a reason that through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s one of the key components of counterterror doctrine was to not acknowledge the political agendas of terrorists in the media. If you grant terrorists the status of anything other than violent criminals, you make it look like they have a valid viewpoint, allowing them to gather additional support.
    That’s why terms like irhabi, extremist, or terrorist are better descriptors than “jihadi” or “salafist”, or even “insurgent”/”guerilla”. It’s imperative not to fight the information war on the enemy’s terms. If we do, we’ve already lost the most important battle.

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