Westerners often flail away at dangerous enemies or situations because they cannot describe or name them accurately, especially Arab-Islamic terror groups.
Here are some words to remove from usage or to save for very special occasions.
Militants: This is a term frequently used by CNN, Reuters, the Associated Press, The New York Times, and other media, even Fox News. It is a nice way to avoid using «terrorist» for someone who has just blown himself up in a shopping mall or bus or whose organization has unleashed indiscriminate rocket attacks against cities. Reuters, for example, has a policy against using the word «terrorist» because it believes it is opinionated or judgmental. Soon, Reuters will replace «bank robbery» with «large withdrawal.» CNN often uses the term «militants,» as in: «Israel launched an offensive against militants in Gaza, killing scores of militants who responded by shooting primitive rockets at Israel.» This is also a classic example of getting who, what, when, where, why, and how all wrong in one sentence.
Militants, like «gunmen» or «fighters,» is a term used to avoid calling murderers and terrorists by their rightful name. «Militants» should be saved for college students who sit-in at the dean’s office, whining about not having the Pass-Fail option, or for Detroit labor unions demanding their full pension plans and golf courses as part of a bankruptcy plan. «Gunmen» should be saved for movies, and «fighters» for boxers.
Arab Spring: This is a euphemism coined by superficial journalists and Western leaders to cover up for wishful thinking masquerading as cold analysis. From Fareed Zakaria of CNN and Time to Barack Obama of the White House, prominent pundits/politicians claim to see a huge democracy movement in a region drowning in autocracy. In fact, they are witnessing struggles between rival ideologies, religious sects and tribes in the Arab-Islamic sphere, from Tunisia to the Gulf. The heart of democracy is regular elections and possible change, along with minority rights.
Man-made disasters, workplace violence, lone gunmen: These are politically correct and factually inaccurate metaphors used by the Obama Administration to describe the Fort Hood terror attack (picture), the abortive mid-plane bombing attempt over Detroit, and the abortive Times Square bombing, among others.
Political Protest: This is what President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice call the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, the taking of the U.S. Consulate in Libya and the murder-sodomy rape of a U.S. ambassador. It is too bad for President Jimmy Carter that he could not get CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite to describe the Iranian takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran as «political protest.»
Abu-Mazen: This is the kunya or nickname of PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas, frequently used by Israeli reporters and Western diplomats who should know better. The term «Abu-Mazen» means «father of Mazen,» and is an endearing name or honorific used by Arabs to honor the father after the birth of the first son. It is somewhat similar to the Russian patronymic name as when late Communist Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev was called Nikita Sergeivich: Nikita the son of Sergei.
Arab women also are often known by a kunya, as the famous Egyptian singer Um-Kulthum: mother of Kulthum. Sometimes an Arabic nickname describes the quality of a person or his or her prowess or an organizational nickname or nomme de guerre. The PLO military commander, Khalil al-Wazir was known as «Abu-Jihad» — «father of holy war» because of his job and also because his son’s name was Jihad. His wife, Intissar al-Wazir was known as Um-Jihad: Mother of Holy War. Israeli commandos liquidated Abu-Jihad but did not touch the mother or anyone else in the family.
In the case of Mahmoud Abbas, his son Mazen died a long time ago, and his term as leader of the Palestinian National Authority also expired a long time ago. So saying «Palestinian leader Abu-Mazen» is bad for many reasons. It is also like calling Joseph Stalin «Uncle Joe.» Israeli reporters and politicians, as well as their Western counterparts, should send the term to the Never-to-be-Recycled bin.
Islam, Religion of Peace: There is much linguistic and theological distortion here. It is true that the word Islam in Arabic is related to the word Salaam, both words from the root S-L-M, like the Hebrew word Shalom, which comes from the root SH-L-M. However, in Arabic grammar, Islam is actually the fourth verbal form that means to «give oneself» or «to submit» to God’s will. So much for the linguistics.
As for the theology, Islam is a religion that has gone through several phases, but Islam’s formative phase was led by Muhammad, Islam’s prophet and general, who forced non-Muslims to convert or die. Yes, Jews often did better under Islam than under medieval Christendom, but not always. Muhammad changed his conduct towards Jews during his life. At first he courted them, but later, Muhammad slaughtered three Jewish tribes in Arabia. True, Islam officially regards Jews and Christians as ahl al-kitab «people of the book,» but many Islamic leaders have forcibly converted Jews and Christians over the centuries. Anyone who looks at Islamic groups in Sudan, Iran, Nigeria, and even Egypt, sees the harsh face of Islam to non-Muslims. Even when Islamic regimes tolerate Jews and Christians, they also give them a clear second-class status as dhimmi (subject peoples) who often pay a special tax in an Islamic state. Most of the Islamic terrorist groups today use the formative stage of Islam as the inspiration for their movements. They recall Muhammad’s phrase: sabil allah fi-al-seyf — the path of Allah is by the sword.
Intifada: This is a word used by Arabs to describe violent and often terroristic battles with Israel. In Arabic, Intifada means «shaking off,» like the shaking off of dust or water by an animal. Some Western reporters and PLO chief Yasser Arafat wanted to call any violence against Israel «Intifada» so as to give it a certain cachet and not call it violence or terror. Western media types often said Intifada meant «uprising,» but they were wrong. Many Arab commentators and left-wing Israeli pundits tried to suggest that Intifada meant strong spontaneous protest with some rock-throwing but something less than full-scale violence (compare this view to Obama-Clinton use of «political protest»).Thousands of Arabs died in the 1987-89 Intifada, more killed by other Arabs, with guns and knives, than by Israelis.
Yasser Arafat tried to attach the name Intifadat al-Aqsa (The Al-Aqsa Intifada) to his planned war against Israel, launched after Ariel Sharon putatively «defiled» the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Of course, Sharon never went anywhere near the mosque, and if he had, he would have taken off his shoes, out of respect for the Muslim tradition. Today, Arabs talk of a «third Intifada» or «an electronic intifada,» but they are all really expressing a hope for a violent war of attrition or terror campaign against Jews.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, published by Threshold/ Simon and Schuster. He teaches at Bar-Ilan University , was strategic affairs advisor in Israel ’s Ministry of Public Security, and was the Schusterman visiting professor at University of California, Irvine for 2013-14.