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Defining the Fight, Part 3: What is a Jihadist?

20/08/2009

IJohn Brennan’s CSIS speech (See parts one and two where I addressed a logical disconnect in the speech and argued this is a ‘global war’), he reported that the President will not use the word ‘jihadist’ to describe the enemy, which may mean that the US government as a whole will not use this word either. He worries that employing a term that has positive connotations in Islamic practice and is a legitimate part of the Islamic faith will legitimize our enemy. Brennan informs us that jihad means ‘to purify oneself or to wage a holy struggle for a moral goal’. President Obama’s views on this are problematic for a few reasons:

1)    It assumes that the language of non-Muslims somehow impacts how Muslims interpret their own religion.

2)    It ignores the fact that they are called jihadis by media in the Islamic world

3)    It basically tells our national security practitioners that they should not bother to understand Islam, Islamic laws on war and peace, and Islamic political thought – areas of study that are crucial for us to understand at the tactical, operational, and strategic level when facing an enemy that self-identifies as ‘Islamic’.

4)    Jihad results in purification, but does not mean ‘to purify oneself’. They seem to be operating on incorrect definitions and as Brennan wisely stated in the same speech, ‘How you define a problem shapes how you address it.’ According to Islamic jurisprudence, jihad is defined as ‘war against non-Muslims’ and ‘warfare to establish the religion’; the aim of jihad is ‘voiding the earth of unbelief’ and ‘making God’s word the highest’. I would respectfully recommend that Brennan, the President, and readers of this blog (I assume Brennan and POTUS aren’t among you…) read any fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) manual you can get your hands on (here is a great one), Understanding Jihad by David CookJihad in Classical and Modern Islamby Rudolph Peters, and War and Peace in the Law of Islam by Majid Khadduri. Heck, even read this essay on jihad from Hassan al Banna, the founder of the ‘moderate’ Muslim Brotherhood. Then pick up a good collection of al Qaeda speeches and texts like this one. Judge for yourself.

If jihad is not what Brennan says it is, how has this error shaped (or misshaped) the policies of the Obama administration in this area?