BOSTON An organization of religion news reporters yesterday suggested that reporters avoid the term “Islamic terrorist” or similar labels as Muslims and their beliefs receive greater scrutiny.
The Religion Newswriters Association said it was “troubled” by the frequent use of the term in the days after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
The resolution, adopted by a majority vote at the group’s annual meeting, also rejected “similar phrases that associate an entire religion with the action of a few.”
The statement will be sent to the 240 members of the RNA and other news organizations. It will be released today by the Associated Press.
“Terrorist acts are committed by individuals and groups for reasons that often involve a complex mix of cultural, religious, nationalist, economic and psychological motives,” the resolution said.
Hence, reporting in the wake of the attacks should “avoid stereotypes [and] be aware of the complexity of religious traditions and to use care in attempting to describe the motives of terrorists,” the resolution said.
However, some news editors note that terrorist groups often use the term “Islamic” in the names of their organizations, particularly when they claim credit for an attack on civilians or a suicide bombing.
The news writers’ resolution was drafted Thursday, the day that President Bush, in his address to Congress, described Islam as a religion of peace. Mr. Bush made correct distinctions in his attempt to explain the Islamic faith, but not in his description of terrorism as an “ideology,” Ingrid Mattson, vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, said during a panel meeting of religious experts at the news writers’ gathering.
“Terrorism is a tactic, a strategy,” she said. “It’s not an ideology.”
She agrees with those who say that a precise alternative to “Islamic terrorist” was not easy when Islamic terrorists themselves use this term, and when news organizations need simple terms for headlines and stories.
Citing a CNN program titled “Behind the Veil,” Ms. Mattson said that such “exotic orientalism” about Islam pervades Western coverage of Muslim issues, and she recommends Americanizing Muslim terms in the United States.
American Muslims and the U.S. media should use the term God instead of Allah, she said, and the “hijab” that Muslim women wear over their head should be called a scarf.
As with many other Muslim scholars, Ms. Mattson said the word “jihad” refers only to a defensive war so terrorists and radical groups misuse the word when they call for a “holy war” against the United States or Israel.
When Mr. Bush called for a defense of America on Thursday night, she said, he “was basically calling for a ‘jihad,’ which is a justified war.”
In recent years, Muslim policy groups and political organizations in the United States have asked for more accurate usage of Arabic terms and recognition of Islamic holy days.
The groups persuaded news organizations, including The Washington Times and the Associated Press, to use the spelling “Muslim” instead of “Moslem,” as the latter offends some followers of the faith. Some Muslims prefer “Quran” instead of “Koran” for the Muslim holy book, but this usage has not been widely adopted.