Friday, April 27, 2007

Linguistics and the Mohammedans

I first heard of Jim Guirard in a James Fallows article in the September '06 issue of The Atlantic. Guirard is an anti-terrorism strategist and recommends a fascinating approach concerning language and terrorism. He writes that
when we counterattack al Qaeda's pseudo-Islamic scam of so-called "Jihadi Martyrdom" in Western secular words only -- criminals, thugs, killers, bring to justice, etc. -- we are simply shooting with blanks. Worse yet, when we parrot the Terrorists' own words of self-sanctification, we even shoot ourselves by the perverse effects of "semantic infiltration," which the late great Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan defined thirty years in a Cold War context as follows:

"Semantic infiltration is the process whereby we come to adopt the language of our adversaries in describing political reality. The most brutal totalitarian regimes in the world call themselves 'liberation movements.' [Just as today's AQ-style Terrorists call themselves 'holy warriors']. It is perfectly predictable that they should misuse words to conceal their real nature. But must we aid them in that effort by repeating those words? Worse, do we begin to influence our own perceptions by using them?"
He proposes that we instead use an alternative lexicon: replace jihadis and mujahideen with irhabis (terrorists) and mufsiduun (evildoers, mortal sinners, corrupters), instead. No more Jihad (Holy War) but ungodly Hirabah (unholy war, war against society) and forbidden Irhab (Terrorism). Same goes for the Godly heroes of Jihadi martyrdom they falsely claim to be but as the Satanic perpetrators of Irhabi murderdom (terroristic genocide). Not destined for a virgin-filled Paradise for killing all of us so-called kuffar (infidels) but to a demon-filled Jahannam (Eternal Hellfire) for killing so many thousands of innocents, fellow Muslims, "People of the Book" and "Sons of Abraham." And finally, take away the abd'al-Allah (Servants of Allah) they falsely claim to be and insert the abd'al-Shaitan (Servants of Satan), the murtadduun (apostates) and the khawarij (outside-the-religion deviants) they really are.

I cannot find one major commentator on the war that has complied with the sensible and easy propaganda that Guirard proposes. Is it too much work?


Adam Walter said...

Interesting. Hmmm... This would definitely be worth looking at as a propaganda tool to be used in broadcasts in the Middle East. As far as using these terms in our own culture as we discuss the international scene, though--I'm sure people here would become quickly bored with the exercise. We just don't have the same tribalistic fanaticism that the Islamic world can count on for such things. Besides that, the blue states probably agree that the U.S. (as run by a Republican administration) is acting as the Great Satan.

Brian said...

I can understand why the MSM wouldn't do this but I don't understand why the new media doesn't pick up on it. In Lawrence Wright's New Yorker article last year titled The Master Plan he quotes Zawahiri telling Zarqawi to tone down his barbaric attacks because "more than half this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media." The terrorists understand the media aspects of this war better than we do and we are accepting the positive words they have given us for themselves and their actions and thoughtlessly used them over and over.

Around the same time Wright's story was published WaPo reported that "only 33 FBI agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic, and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism." When are we going to get serious about this long war? I see a lack of seriousness here that is disheartening and unsettling.