Wednesday, April 4, 2007

At least our Democratic lawmakers seeking to scrub the phrase “war on terrorism” from the public lexicon are a step or two behind Brussels. There, internal European Union directives now advise government spokesmen to avoid the term “Islamic terrorism” because it is “offensive.” Other banned terms reportedly also include “jihad,” “Islamic” and “fundamentalist.” So, in European capitals, officials may now condemn “terrorists who abusively invoke Islam” when the next radical young Islamist blows apart a train or bus. This is newspeak for the 21st century.

The classified memorandum, obtained recently by the Daily Telegraph, is ostensibly a means to avoid confusion and unnecessary offense to Muslims. And surely there is a strong case to be made that referring to Islamist terrorists as “Islamic” or “jihadi” allows them an unjustifiable self-shrouding in the mantle of nonviolent Islamic traditions which they have no business exploiting.

But that’s not what the document is about. It is about not being offensive. Europe’s Muslim populations are growing rapidly. Muslim radicalism abounds. Accommodationism is on the rise.

How else to explain the prohibition on the term “fundamentalist”? Western societies at one point in the not-too-distant past could comfortably condemn “fundamentalist Islam” for its theocratic outlook on political and social life, for its repression of women and other modern-life incompatibilities. Now that is changing, too.

There are strong cases to modify the remaining prohibited terms, but not to throw them out altogether, as the document reportedly advocates. “Jihad,” according to scholars of Islam, has nonviolent connotations of personal improvement which is part of mainstream Islam. A prohibition on blanket condemnations of “jihad” could make sense because it deprives terrorists of the legitimation nonviolent “jihad” offers and also shows nonviolent Muslims that the West understands the distinction. But “violent jihad” or “terrorist jihad” each make the distinction. There is nothing from the Eurocrats to that effect, however, just a blanket prohibition.

Of course, at this point, we’re deep inside a world of phrase-parsing, which is where Eurocrats feel most comfortable.

Since Islamist terrorism shows no sign of abating, we will have no shortage of opportunities to demonstrate time and again how little sense all this makes.

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