WASHINGTON — Don't call them jihadists any more.
And don't call Al Qaeda a movement.
The Bush administration has launched a new front in the war on terrorism, this time targeting language.
Federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counter Terrorism Center, are telling their people not to describe Islamic extremists as "jihadists" or "mujahedeen," according to documents obtained by the Associated Press. Lingo such "Islamo-fascism" is out, too.
The reason: Such words may actually boost support for radicals among Arab and Muslim audiences by giving them a veneer of religious credibility or by causing offense to moderates.
For example, while Americans may understand "jihad" to mean "holy war," it is in fact a broader Islamic concept of the struggle to do good, says the guidance prepared for diplomats and other officials tasked with explaining the war on terror to the public. Similarly, "mujahedeen," which means those engaged in jihad, must be seen in its broader context.
American officials may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers, or spokesmen for ordinary Muslims," a Homeland Security report says. It's titled "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims."
"Regarding 'jihad,' even if it is accurate to reference the term, it may not be strategic because it glamorizes terrorism, imbues terrorists with religious authority they do not have and damages relations with Muslims around the world," the report says.
Language is critical in the war on terror, another document says, an internal "official use only" memorandum circulating through Washington titled "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication."
The memo, originally prepared in March by the Extremist Messaging Branch at the National Counter Terrorism Center, was approved for diplomatic use this week by the State Department, which plans to distribute a version to all U.S. embassies, officials said.
"It's not what you say but what they hear," the memo says in bold italic lettering, listing 14 points about how to better present the war on terrorism.
"Don't take the bait," it says, urging officials not to react when Osama bin Laden or Al Qaeda affiliates speak. "We should offer only minimal, if any, response to their messages. When we respond loudly, we raise their prestige in the Muslim world."
"Don't compromise our credibility" by using words and phrases that may ascribe benign motives to terrorists.