U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Holland, recently attached an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act that may unintentionally legitimize Al Qaeda and other anti-American forces.
Passed by a vote of 249-180, Hoekstra's amendment says that "none of the funds ... appropriated by this Act may be used to prohibit or discourage the use of the words or phrases 'jihadist,' 'jihad,' 'Islamo-fascism,' 'caliphate,' 'Islamist,' or 'Islamic terrorist' by or within the intelligence community or the Federal Government."
This amendment needs to be removed.
Many experts, including the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, find it misguided, and Hoekstra's arguments for it unsupported.
In January, the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties published a guide called "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims," and in March, the National Counterterrorism Center produced a similar publication called "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication."
According to these recommendations, by using phrases such as "Islamic terrorism," U.S. officials may be "unintentionally portraying terrorists, who lack moral and religious legitimacy, as brave fighters, legitimate soldiers or spokesman (sic) for ordinary Muslims." The report also urges "caution in using terms such as 'jihadist,' 'Islamist,' and 'holy warrior' as grandiose descriptions," to avoid associating acts of violence or terrorism with religious concepts.
On the House floor, Hoekstra bitterly complained that "the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of Homeland Security have issued memos imposing speech codes."
The DHS document actually "outlines recommendations," and the NCTC document says its suggestions are "not binding."
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote a letter to other members of Congress opposing Hoekstra's amendment, saying, "These are precisely the terms that Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders use routinely to describe their actions against the United States. We should not let them define this debate and claim a false mantle of legitimacy."
So this argument is not, as Hoekstra asserts, about creating "speech police" or "the politically correct politicization of our nation's intelligence community." It's about having America's spokespeople and soldiers smartly use language that defines Al Qaeda and other groups as thugs and criminals. This is done not because we worry about offending sensitivities, but because it serves the strategic purpose of isolating extremists and removing the false cloak of religiosity that they use to justify their barbarism.
COREY SAYLOR is national legislative director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties organization. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org