CHARLOTTE, N.C., March 20, 2018 – Increased access to information continues to proliferate through 24-hour broadcasting, the internet and social media. As a result, we have become accustomed to using various terms interchangeably when they are often quite different in meaning. Take the word “terrorism” for example.
Terrorism: What does that word even mean?
“Terrorism” is frequently lumped into a category that can mean several different things. However, unless those various interpretarions are clarified, the term tends to mean different things to different people.
Part of the problem occurs when one attempts to define the specific meanings of many words or terms in common use. Over time, this process can lead to distinct misinterpretations of these words based on context. As we see and hear daily on national network news broadcasts, a serious need exists to clarify commonly used terms like “terrorism.”
The core problem hinges on the fact that “terrorism” and “terrorist” are generally understood to refer to murderous acts commited by radicalized Muslims. But all Muslims are not terrorists. This fact often getslost in converstion, especially following a particularly egregious terror attack.
The truth about terrosim is that it is a strategy, not an ideology. Many fail to catch this distinction. That makes the meaning of “terrorism” easy easy to misinterpret.
Islam vs. Islamist: What’s in a word?
Verifiable facts clearly show that most terrorist attacks throughout the world are carried out by fanatical Muslims frequently defined as “Islamists.” However it is possible to be an Islamist – i.e., someone who believes strongly in the tenets of Islam – without endorsing terrorist activities.
A true “Islamist” who follows the writings of the Koran and Hadith probably desires the same end results as their more violent counterparts. Why? Quite simply, that’s because this is what Muhammad taught back in the 7th century.
By the same token, countless adherents to Islam are effectively Muslims in name only. For reasons too complex to explain in a brief column, these are people who have been Muslims for so many generations they no longer know or understand basic Islamic teachings. In many cases, such individuals make up a large percentage of the group we tend to refer to as “moderate Muslims.”
Moderates and jihadists
Technically, the term “moderate Muslim” is an oxymoron. One who follows the literal teachings of Muhammad must believe in the superiority of Islam and its worthiness to control the world.
To distinguish between these two projections of Islam, we might usefully refine our definition of Islamic terrorists. We can accomplish this bysubsituting a more specific yet well-understood term: “jihadists.”
Though the recent school shootings in Florida were “terrifying” and irrational, it would be inaccurate to call them “terrorism” or acts of terror. The killing spree in Broward County, while tragic and brutal, turned out to be a random act of violence. No controlling ideology supported this murderous act.
True terrorism relies on an ultimate goal in the mind of the terrorist, other than merely the killing of innocent people.
Terrorism, semantics and political correctness
Hundreds of thousands of words fly about the media and the internet on any given day. The average person becomes easily confused about the true meaning of common words carelessly flung about. Complicating these issues of semantics and usage, political correctness, or PC, also looms large. Confusion about the accepted meaning of commonly used terms continues to grow. That’s thanks in large part to the wilful misinterpretation and misunderstanding of terms for ideological purposes.
We find our political leaders today nearly always guarded in their use of words and phrases in public discourse. Typically, though, they become more cavalier when using terminology relating to Islam, Islamism, jihad and terrorism. Perhaps they are simply ignorant of the implications of these words. Alternatively, they may fail to comprehend Islamic ideology in its complexity. But today, they should strive for as much accuracy in their discussions of Islam as they insist on when covering their own posteriors for political purposes.
Last Sunday, CBS-TV’s long-running “60 Minutes” news magazine aired an extensive segment about religious and secular reforms now underway in Saudi Arabia. Among other notable changes, these new reforms will afford women the right to drive this coming June.
CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell did an excellent job probing 32-year old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Prince, functioning as the Saudis’ de facto king, has been instrumental in pushing the new Saudi reforms. According to O’Donnell “There were no time restrictions and no preconditions” for the interview. That alone proved a significant change from the past.
Bin Salman gave a strong account of his position during the interview. Revelations included the Prince’s description of how young the overall Saudi population has become in recent years. Also notable: this demographic’s fascination with social media.
On the surface, the crown prince appeared sincere and hopeful. But he was keenly aware that he was addressing a worldwide television audience. If, indeed, bin Salman proves a true reformer, it would very likely change the face of the Middle East dramatically. Only time will tell.
Will Islam evolve?
There is strong opposition to the Prince’s modernization efforts by radicalized, die-hard elements in the Kingdom. For that reason, accomplishing this task may ultimately prove overwhelming. Certainly ISIS, even in its weakened state, would like to control Mecca and wrest it from Saudi control. Economically, the Saudis are also in a state of flux, since their dominance in the worldwide oil market lacks the power it once had only a decade ago.
However the Prince’s efforts turn out, fundamental change to the Islamist, jihadist mindset must evolve from within. Such a process requires steady and sincere efforts similar to what Mohammed bin Salman proposes. Problematically, 14 centuries of jihadist tradition give his opposition a strong counter-argument.
That is why it is critical that we in the West strive to fully understand words like “terrorism,” “Islamist,” “Islamism,” “Islamophobia” and “jihad,” just to mention a few.
Waged now at least since 1979, our current war against terror has been fought in an ever-changing parade of global arenas. But on another level, it’s also been a war of words and terms frequently fought out in academia and the media. Interpreting this Babel of words correctly is just as important, if not more so, than the killing and retailation we witness on the evening news.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com). Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News