July 1, 2007  

Fighting words

J. Michael Waller’s “Fighting the War of Ideas Like a Real War” is on target [“Word’s worth,” Book Review, May]. To borrow some recent advice in fighting insurgencies, cultural knowledge is a vital combat multiplier. If we take the pains to understand our enemy, the enemy will tell us what to do.

In the current fight against “Islamic” insurgencies, there is an argument (portrayed by Waller and others) that to win the information operations battle, you need to remove legitimacy granted by the lexicon used. Specifically, the terms of reference used by our leaders must not grant religious legitimacy to the enemy. In an effort to describe Islamic extremism, Arabic terms that have been brought into English imply a righteous struggle for the cause of Islam. For example, the terms “jihad,” “jihadist” and “mujahidin” offer the enemy legitimacy in a religious Islamic struggle. However, using “unholy war,” “terrorist” and “evildoers” steers Arabic translations toward derogatory terms of “hirabah,” “irhabist” and “mufsidoon.”

Islamic extremists at odds with the West were founded only as a reaction to Western secular values. Attacks on Islam by Western scholars inflame anti-Western stances in the Muslim world. Conflict and violence will continue as long as policymakers and pundits maintain their secular orientation.

An ill-informed strategic communications effort impedes mutual understanding by proliferation of “biased and obtuse” Islamic terminology. Conflict resolution can be achieved through meaningful dialogue gained by a thorough understanding of indigenous perspectives. Western policymakers must understand that misinformation is happening. From there, they must make good-faith decisions to mollify differences and misconceptions through knowledge.

Former Capt. John DeRosa, Army

Waynesboro, Pa.