Tuesday, June 27, 2006
The Camel in the Room: Prefixes, Suffixes, Qualifiers and Euphemisms
The ‘camel’ in the room is Islam.
The ‘room’ is the public conversation about the problem of terrorism.
Since 911, the public conversation has avoided the camel in the room. This avoidance takes a variety of forms and methods. The particular form I’m referring to in today’s post is descriptive language.
There are two principal ways to tackle head-on and rationally the problem which the West—and the Rest (of the World)—faces in our era:
1) radically, by seeing Islam itself as the problem, and concluding with a politico-philosophical condemnation of Islam;
2) tentatively, by seeing Islam at least as a significant and major source of the problem.
Even the tentative attempt of #2 is avoided in our public conversation, as our public conversation is dominated by PC multiculturalism and its various strains of anti-Occidentalism.
Our public conversation has seen, since 911 (and for decades prior to 911), a lexicon unfold exhibiting a veritable parade of prefixes, suffixes, qualifers and euphemisms (or "cacophemisms")—all with the intent, and result, of surgically detaching any manifestations of the problem from an Islam that thereby remains blameless and pure.
Instead of critically examining Islam, then, we erect any one or all of the following:
a fundamentalism or a fundamentalist version of Islam or fundamentalist Muslims
or, a variant on the above, conservative Islam and conservative Muslims
a radical version of Islam or radical Muslims
an extremist version of Islam or extremist Muslims
and, of course, one of the more popular: Islamists.
Then we have the process whereby the problem is linguistically delimited as Al Qaeda or the Taliban, and a source for these eruptions of major disorder are groped around for, locating the following:
When Wahhabism is seen to be a little too circumscribed to sufficiently explain the problem, it is widened out slightly to Salafism (or at a perpendicular tangent, to Deobandism). These terms provide the advantage, to the avoider of the camel in the room, of being historically recent movements, and so they can be chalked up to modern afflictions (usually caused by evil Western Colonialism and/or Post-Colonialist Western Crypto-Colonialism) which Islam has only recently suffered—thereby, once again, sparing Islam itself from any blame or role in the problem. And, of course, they are further padded and softened with that nearly ubiquitous suffix, the “-ism”.
So far, I am aware of no wider term to denote the source of the problem than Salafism—and even that term is rarely used, so timid are the PC multiculturalists in venturing their little toe into the waters of speculative, rational analysis of the problem. Of course, we are increasingly seeing that the problem cannot be delimited to Al Qaeda, and that the pullulation of jihadists around the world far exceeds the capacities of one specific organization like that.
The above list is likely incomplete, and I will add to it whenever I find other examples.
It should be noted that the first three terms listed rarely are employed with simply Islam or Muslim, but are usually buttressed (i.e., further obfuscated) by Islamism and Islamist.
Another category of linguistically avoiding the camel in the room is the euphemism: the males and asians who perpetrate urban jihad in Great Britain, who are never identified as Muslims; similarly the youths in France and other European countries (recently making an appearance in London), and less commonly the foreign immigrants.
A closely related category is the various words used to describe Muslim terrorists in the war in Iraq (and elsewhere where there is actual jihad guerilla warfare): we have insurgents, rebels, warlords, and the truly euphemistic freedom fighters.
We also have seen various ways to try to connote the Extremist by using terms like conservative and hardliner. About the former, Robert Spencer has often noted the irony that when Muslims pursue their anti-liberal "extremism" they are conservatives; and when Western non-Muslims oppose this extremism, they too are conservatives.
Meanwhile, a pertinent criticism of the use of terrorist—even if it were qualified (though it almost never is) with Muslim—has been defended at Jihad Watch by, among others, one of its principal writers, Hugh Fitzgerald. The criticism notes that a more accurate term would be jihadist. I agree with the substution of the latter for the former, but only insofar as the latter is qualified as referring specifically to the Muslims actively pursuing jihad on the front line, as distinguished from the multitudes of other Muslims who more or less are passively enabling the same global jihad various ways. However, see my update on this: Another asymptotic cacophemism to add to the "-ist" list.
(A while back as reported at Jihad Watch, there emerged reportage about a prominent American think tank that endeavored to educate the defense and military establishment, coming out with a major paper by which they call for the term hirabah to replace jihad (as though the latter were being significantly used anyway, but that’s another matter)—the former term from a word in the Islamic lexicon which is supposedly distinguished from the holy war denoted by jihad by referring to specifically “sinful” or forbidden war. The analysts at Jihad Watch, both Robert Spencer and Hugh Fitzgerald, have with their usual skill and luminosity sufficiently destroyed that silly proposal by the National Defense University.)
There’s a camel in the room. And it’s causing major problems. The ideal rational terminology to use is, of course, Islam and Muslim, without qualification unless merited by sufficient facts—i.e., presuming guilt until innocence is proven. But even if one must continue to use the silly prefixes, suffixes, qualifers and euphemisms, then at least let us also, at the same time, pursue the following questions:
Is Islam itself a significant source for the various acts of violence and intolerance perpetrated by Muslims with increasing frequency around the globe which are being seen by the West—and the Rest (of the World)?
To what degree, and in what manner, is Islam itself a significant source for these various problems?
Without beginning by at least sincerely and diligently pursuing these questions—instead of interdicting them prejudicially from the start—, we will continue to willfully or naively eliminate or tamper with rational interpretations by which to analyze the mountain of disturbing data emanating from the Islamic world, and from the interpenetration of that world in the other worlds that make up our one World.