September 18, 2007
What's in a Name? 'Jihad' vs. 'Hiraba'By Patrick Poole
What's in a name? When it comes to identifying what we are fighting against in the war for our civilization, quite a lot. Members of a movement among military and intellectual circles want to avoid asserting that we are fighting against "jihad" because that term is loaded with religious significance in Islam, replacing it with "hiraba", to highlight the criminal nature of Islamic terrorists:
Walid Phares, writing in American Thinker several weeks ago, challenged these advocates. As Phares noted in his article, Preventing the West from Understanding Jihad:
The foremost advocate for this approach has been Jim Guirard of the Truespeak Institute, who has published a series of articles in recent years recommending this shift, citing a number of Muslim scholars in support. But a review of the scholars Guirard cites in support of his new lexicon finds that vast majority are American Muslims. There is no indication that this new linguistic initiative has any actual support from scholars in the Muslim world.
Additionally, as Pentagon Joint Staff analyst Stephen Coughlin recently observed in a unclassified memo (his analysis reprinted by Doug Farah) with reference to the "Truespeak" movement, many of these Muslim scholars cited by Guirard are affiliated with known Muslim Brotherhood front groups in the US -- groups that are advancing the very extremist views that Guirard intends this new lexicon to defeat.
And Coughlin is not the only military analyst to raise serious questions about the jihad-hiraba exchange. William McCants of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point notes several reasons why caution must be used with this approach.
But a more fundamental question has to be raised as to whether Guirard and others recommending this linguistic substitution have carefully read and understood the original sources upon which they have relied.
The earliest proponent of this new Islamic lexicon that I have been able to locate was University of Michigan professor Sherman Jackson, whose article "Domestic Terrorism in the Islamic Legal Tradition" (Muslim World 91, 3/4 [Fall 2001], pp. 293-310) advocates this new terminology of hiraba, rather than jihad. This article is based on a series of lectures Jackson delivered prior to the 9/11 attacks, so his argument is not colored by those events. Many of the articles on this topic published since 9/11 refer back to Jackson's 2001 treatment of the subject, and Guirard specifically cites Jackson in support of his "truespeak".
However, one problem immediately appears when trying to use this analysis: it is confined to "domestic terrorism". In his first endnote, he explains the difficulty from the viewpoint of Islamic law to apply the argument to international terrorism:
Thus, while Jackson's new lexicon might apply to "sudden jihad syndrome" of Muslims living in the West committing spontaneous, limited and "leaderless" acts of terror, applying the label of hiraba to international terrorist activities becomes problematic from the perspective of Islamic jurisprudence. But since Guirard and others are trying to use this terminology with reference to international terror, it is worth hearing Jackson out to see how the exchange of hiraba for jihad is not supported by Islamic law itself.
Secondly, while Jackson states that hiraba fits nicely with the FBI's definition of terrorism, he then issues three qualifications that severely negate its use with reference to al-Qaeda, et al. (I have preserved his alternative spelling, "hirabah"):
So, two paragraphs into Jackson's treatment of hiraba, and we face three seemingly insurmountable hurdles in applying the term to international terrorism on the basis of Islamic law:
These first two points of qualification especially seem to eliminate the possibility of any use of hiraba instead of jihad or terrorism with reference to acts of terror by international organizations.
But further into Jackson's analysis we find that the use of hiraba with reference to even domestic terrorism becomes problematic:
So according to Jackson, domestic terrorist acts do not qualify as hiraba following two stipulations:
In such cases, the use of hiraba does not apply, but are instead legitimate acts of rebellion. This would certainly disqualify the use of hiraba to describe the Muslim Brotherhood's "civilization-jihadist process" for destroying the US from within that Pentagon analysis Stephen Coughlin identifies, since it is both well-planned, extensive, and is coordinated with its self-identified "security apparatus", i.e. military/terror component.
Jackson unwittingly tips us off to another problem with applying hiraba for terrorism, according to traditional Islamic law, with this statement:
That is certainly no description of al-Qaida or affiliated groups, who seek to enforce an Islamic social and political order. There is apparently no justification in Islamic jurisprudence for applying the term and/or punishments of hiraba when the violence is directed at non-Muslim governments, societies or individuals. At least Jackson provides no references along those lines.
At this point, it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how the use of hiraba for jihad or terrorism is warranted in any current contemporary situation relevant to the US. But there are further difficulties with Jackson's analysis. He defines hiraba as follows:
The difficulty here is that there are several Quranic authorizations that call for instilling terror and fear into the heart of the enemy (8:60, et al.). And in his authoritative treatment of jihad, Pakistani Brigadier General S.K. Malik in his book, The Quranic Concept of War, notes the critical element of fear and terror in waging jihad:
Malik explains that the very elements that Jackson wants to attribute to the concept of hiraba, fear and helplessness, are integral to the Islamic doctrine of jihad itself. (LTC Joseph Myers examines Malik's explanation of Islamic war doctrine in his review article published in the Winter 2006-2007 edition of Parameters: The US Army War College Quarterly.)
The effort by Jim Guirard and others in the "truespeak" movement to attempt to use the Islamic lexicon against international Islamic terrorism is certainly commendable. But as we see with Sherman Jackson's own treatment of hiraba, the attempt is wide off the mark. Our enemies are no doubt amused at our attempts to appear informed on matters of Islamic law, but this erroneous exegesis is hardly the tool to strike the fear of eternal damnation into the hearts of Osama bin Laden and his followers, as Guirard has claimed for his "truespeak".
And as Walid Phares and Stephen Coughlin have already revealed, many of the Western Muslim advocates of this new approach are directly tied to known Muslim Brotherhood front groups operating in the US. As Coughlin itemizes, Sherman Jackson is a "trustee" to the North American Islamic Trust, and affiliated with the Islamic Society of North America and the Muslim Student Association, the first two of which were named as unindicted co-conspirators in the current Holy Land Foundation terror financing federal trial underway in Dallas, and the last was the original organizational wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in America. The hiraba-jihad terminology has also been endorsed by the Wahhabist Council for Islamic Education and the extremist mouthpiece Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), also named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial. That is telling in and of itself.
Walid Phares' warning is appropriate:
This new "truespeak" lexicon is not a new tool to engage terrorists groups like Al-Qaeda, but rather as Phares states, an obstacle "preventing the West from understanding jihad". The "truespeak" movement would be much more appropriate for a Madison Avenue advertising campaign, not a Global War on Terror. Given the apparent success "truespeak" and its adherents have had to date with regular briefings to senior military and policy audiences, that alone seems an indicator of a leadership unstudied and unprepared for the nuances of the terrorist doctrines opposing us.
Six years after 9/11, it is long past time for scholars in diplomatic, military, intelligence and academic circles to get a better grip on the threat we are confronting in the West and around the world. Analysts like Phares and Coughlin have already laid out a path for us to follow and the real war of ideas that needs to be waged.