A Jihadist by Any Other Name Is Still a Killer

By Timothy Furnish Published on April 1, 2024

As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly (Proverbs 26:11).

This perfectly sum ups the latest US government propaganda on Islam. First the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) sent out a newsletter promoting the intelligence virtues of cross-dressing. Now the ODNI has ordered its employees to change how they talk and write about counterterrorism, specifically related to Islam. (There are other rubrics, but I’m focusing on those related to my expertise.)

For instance, they must avoid “problematic phrases” like “jihadist,” “Salafi-Jihadist,” Islamic Extremist,” and “Radical Islamist.” Why? Because those terms are “hurtful to Muslim-Americans.”

Words DO Matter—Especially in Counterterrorism

Why does this matter? Because pretending that Islam has nothing to do with violence committed by Muslims shouting Allahu akbar while killing doesn’t help anyone. It makes the world more dangerous, in fact. How so? Let me count the ways.

Fundamentalist Muslims aren’t vetted for plane flights any more stringently than Methodist grandmothers. We know how that story has already ended: Western countries naively allow in tens (or hundreds) of thousands of Islamic immigrants, treating them as good-hearted Quakers with beards. Then, many of those immigrants later demand that those societies adopt sharia law, polygamy, and female genital mutilation. Welcome to Sweden, France, the UK, Germany, and, soon, America.

More than 80% of the world’s terrorist groups are Islamic. And Muslim terrorists kill far more people than any other type of terrorist. But the Biden administration would rather focus its attention on a false threat — “white supremacy/MAGA Americans” — instead of stopping the potential, and professed, jihadists crossing our southern border.

It’s not just my opinion that Islam promotes violence. Facts mean things. There are 164 Quranic verses supporting the Allah-given right of Muslims to use violence against infidels or others. Besides the Quran, the major pole of authority in Islam are the hadiths. These are considered the sayings of Islam’s founder, Muhammad. Several major collections exist. The most esteemed are those of Bukhari and Muslim. The former lists dozens (at least) of Muhammad’s sayings promoting violent jihad. The latter has a long section on the topic, spelling out the criteria for “holy war” against non-Muslims. There is plenty on violent jihad in other hadith collections, too, like that of al-Nisa’i.

Yes, Virginia, Jihad DOES Mean “Holy War”

Now, Muslims and Islam’s apologists will point out that one meaning of the verb ja-ha-da is “to strive, to struggle.” But all Arabic verbs have multiple forms, each as valid as the others. The third verbal form means “to fight, to wage holy war against the infidels.” The Ottoman Turkish term cihad has as its primary meaning “holy war.”

And as history shows, the Ottomans certainly engaged in many holy wars. (The caliph even had World War I declared as such!) So did other Islamic states. The Abbasids, Umayyads, Fatimids, Mughals, Seljuks, Ghaznavids, Safavids, etc. Muhammad himself led armies in battle. Was Islam the only motivating factor in all these jihads? Of course not. Economics, politics, social pressures, and demographics all played their roles. These should not be ruled out. But neither should religion, which often was the primary motivation.

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The fact that Islam’s founder led holy war proves that ODNI was actually right about something. Terms like “radical Islam” and “Islamic extremism” should be avoided, but not for reasons the thought police would like. No, the problem with those terms is that waging jihad, establishing Islamic law, and bringing back the caliphate are neither “radical” nor “extreme.” All three are, in fact, mainstream goals in Islam.

Likewise, the terms “Islamism” and “Islamist” should be shunned. Not because they hurt Muslims’ feelings, but rather because they set up a false dichotomy between political Islam and regular Islam. Islam is the most political religion on earth. It’s no good pretending that Muslims who want to impose the worship of Allah are somehow fringe Muslims who have “hijacked” the religion. They are, in fact, the best Muslims of all, according to the Quran.

I’ve Seen This Movie Before

I’ve been running up against this inane osculation of Islam for decades. Some time ago I lectured regularly at Joint Special Operations University and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, to Department of Homeland Security folks, on the history of terrorism. Once Obama was elected, I was let go. Why? An order had come down to get rid of anyone who discussed jihad.

More recently I was hired to teach annual seminars on “Jihad, Apocalypse, and Terrorism” at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. That lasted for two cycles. Then I was accused of being “too critical of Islam.”

My (least) favorite example was hearing from the hiring committee at a major Georgia university that my Middle East Quarterly article, “Beheading in the Name of Islam,” was “too conservative” for me to be hired. How so? It pointed out decapitation’s long history in Islam by drawing upon Arabic sources, both the Quran and Islamic scholars. Solid research has now become “conservative,” but only if it produces inconvenient truths.

The “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion” chief at ODNI is an attorney who seemingly knows nothing about Islam. Yours truly has a PhD in Islamic history from Ohio State. Before that, I served in the 101st Airborne Division as an Arabic linguist-interrogator. But the DEI stasi doesn’t care about education or expertise. Or reality, for that matter. Its purpose is “to build a diverse and inclusive workforce and to ensure that equity is a core part of management and policymaking processes.” So preventing hurt feelings among Muslim employees — or, just as likely, anyone wishing to feel offended on their behalf — is more important than intelligence analysts accurately describing, and thus being able to counter, the ideology driving ISIS, al-Qaida, al-Shabab, Boko Haram or any of the other 51 Islamic terrorist groups currently operating.

I’ll give Shakespeare the last word on this. Juliet tells Romeo that, since their families don’t get along, “’tis but thy name that is my enemy” (II, 2). Woke American bureaucrats really think that about Islamic fundamentalists — that you can shape their reality by substituting terms.

Deluded DEI-vas are blinded by ideology, and thus have no idea that, to paraphrase a bit more of that same play, “that which we call a jihadist/By any other name would still kill us.”


Timothy Furnish holds a doctoral degree in Islamic, world and African history from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in theology from Concordia Seminary. He is a former U.S. Army Arabic linguist and civilian consultant to U.S. Special Operations Command. He’s the author of books on the Middle East and Middle-earth, a history professor, and occasional media opiner (as, for example, on Fox News Channel’s War Stories: Fighting ISIS). He currently writes for and consults with The Stream on matters of international security.

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