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by Daniel Pipes



For the past year, there's been a concerted push within the U.S. government to ban frank talk about the nature of the Islamist enemy. It began with the Department of Homeland Security[1], then moved to the National Counter Terrorism Center and the departments of State and Defense. Already in May 2008, I heard an excellent analysis of the enemy by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas Mahnken in which he bizarrely never once mentioned Islam or jihad.

I've been wondering how this change in vocabulary actually occurs: is it a spontaneous mood shift, a group decision, or a directive from on high?

The answer just arrived, in the shape of a leaked memo dated March 2 from Jennifer Janin[2], head of the Urdu service at the Voice of America. The directive can be found in its entirety at "Urdu Language Style & Guidelines #3."[3] Addressed to the Urdu radio, television, and web teams, as well as to the director and program manager of VOA's South Asia Division, her diktat insists on no connection being drawn from Islam to politics. In gist:

Islamic terrorists: DO NOT USE. Instead use simply: terrorist.
Islamic Fundamentalism / Muslim Fundamentalists: AVOID.
Muslim Extremists: NOT NECESSARY. Extremist serves well.

Urdu is a dialect of Hindustani written in Arabic script found mainly in Pakistan and India and spoken almost exclusively by Muslims; it is mother tongue to about 70 million people. One can understand why euphemisms appeal in so far as VOA competes for market share with other news outlets and wishes not to insult or alienate Muslims. But VOA is not a commercial station with a bottom line and shareholders.

Founded in 1942 as part of the Office of War Information, it is funded by the American taxpayer and speaks on behalf of the U.S. government. It must not pander to increase its ratings at the expense of its integrity. Urdu-speakers need to know the real American discourse on Islam, not Janin's bowdlerized version.

In her defense, Janin might argue that she is merely picking up on Barack Obama's emphasis on "respect" for Muslims,[4] but there is no public indication that "respect" means pretending that Islam is not a central public issue facing Americans. Indeed, on occasion, Obama has been very clear that it is. A pungent example came one year ago in Philadelphia, on March 18, 2008 when, in the course of a major speech, Obama repudiated as "profoundly distorted" the "view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

"Perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam"? It does not get much stronger than that. One wonders how might Janin's new regimen translate this — probably as the "perverse and hateful ideologies of radical extremism," which is both inaccurate and unworthy of a credible news service.


(1) Janin, sadly, is hardly alone at VOA in coddling radical Islam. For another case, look no further than Spozhmai Maiwandi,[5] copied by name on Janin's memo. Nicknamed "Kandahar Rose," Maiwandi is the director of VOA's South Asia Division and acquired some notoriety for filing pro-Taliban reports and conducting an interview sympathetic to Mullah Omar,[6] the Taliban chief, ten days after 9/11.

(2) This latest directive from VOA fits a pattern of U.S. government-funded programming to the Middle East posing problems. Two earlier cases that come to mind: a 1991 scandal concerning the pro-Saddam tilt of VOA's reports from Baghdad and the 2007 resignation of Larry Register[7] from Al-Hurra television for promoting anti-American and anti-Israeli views. Could someone instruct the Voice of America staff, once and for all, that its mission is not to flatter its audience nor to pursue ratings for their own sake but honestly to convey American mainstream views to the outside world?

(3) And while we're at it, could someone remind VOA employees that there's a lively debate in the United States about radical Islam; for a change, how about VOA covering this rather than smothering it under the Islamist line? In 2006, Meredith Buel of VOA robotically took a Council on American-Islamic Relations press release and rewrote it as a VOA news item; for the gory details, see my weblog entry, "Voice of America — CAIR's Shill."[8] And the DHS document that started the whole euphemizing campaign, "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims,"[9] relied on an unidentified "broad range of Muslim American community leaders and scholars" that has the hallmarks of CAIR & Co. Hey, VOA, repeat after me: "We work for the American people, we are not a subsidiary of CAIR."

Mar. 6, 2009 update: A reply to this article from Joan Mower of the Voice of America can be found at My response to her includes more information about the Maiwandi interview with Mullah Omar.


My weblog entry, "Calling Islamism the Enemy,"[10] documents the increasing readiness of Westerners to call the enemy by its name, but a contrary current, that of disassociating Islam from the problem, or pooh-poohing radical Islam as a threat, should not be ignored. Here follow some prominent examples, in reverse chronological order

Obama Administration: There appears to be a new name for the global war on terror.

This new name, Overseas Contingency Operation", appears to have become official with a memo e-mailed from the Defense Department's office of security review stating that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT.] Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation'." The memo attributed this change to OMB. But OMB spokesman Kenneth Baer denies the change: "There was no memo, no guidance. This is the opinion of a career civil servant." (Scott Wilson and Al Kamen, "'Global War On Terror' Is Given New Name,"[11] The Washington Post, March 25, 2009)

Janet Napolitano, the just-appointed secretary of Homeland Security, in an interview:

Spiegel: Madame Secretary, in your first testimony to the US Congress as Homeland Security Secretary you never mentioned the word "terrorism." Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

Napolitano: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

("Interview with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano,"[12] Der Spiegel, March 16, 2009)

Barack Obama, U.S. president: Asked in an interview about his using the term war on terror[13] only once, he replied:

I think it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations. But that those organizations aren't representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community. .I think we have to — you know, words matter in this situation because one of the ways we're going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds.

Asked, "So that's not a term you're going to be using much in the future?" Obama replied:

You know, what I want to do is make sure that I'm constantly talking about al Qaeda and other affiliated organizations because we, I believe, can win over moderate Muslims to recognize that that kind of destruction and nihilism ultimately leads to a dead end, and that we should be working together to make sure that everybody has got a better life.
(Anderson Cooper, "360 Degrees," Cable News Network, February 3, 2009)

Parker Griffith, a Democratic state senator running for Congress[14] from the 5th District of Alabama, told the Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association in September: "We have nothing to fear from radical Islam." When called on this statement by Wayne Parker, his Republican opponent, Griffith compounded his error with the following explanation: "I don't think anyone in the room misunderstood what I was saying. I was in a room full of Baptist ministers, and we were talking about religion, not matters of national security. The point I was making was that if we are strong in our Christian beliefs, that is stronger than any Islamic threat." (October 25, 2008)

UK Home Office: Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced "£12.5m allocated to prevent extremism,"[15] with nary a word about the nature of the extremism. Here's an excerpt from the press release:

The new funding and information will help local authorities, schools, community groups and police tackle violent extremism. The funds will be targeted at institutions working to counter terrorism, and at those most vulnerable to radicalisation. Part of the government's 'Prevent' strategy, the funds are designed to prevent the spread of extremism.

New guidelines released with the funding (new window) offer advice on how agencies and organisations can work to prevent the spread of radicalisation, support mainstream voices and help communities resist violent extremists.

The new approach will include:

U.S. Department of State: The State Department[16] has approved the NCTC memo described below for diplomatic use; a version of it will be distributed to all U.S. embassies. The NCTC memo, the Associated Press notes, has apparently had an impact, at least at the top level of the State Department. "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who once frequently referred to 'jihad' in her public remarks, does not appear to have used the word, except when talking about the name of a specific terrorist group, since last September." (April 24, 2008)

U.S. National Counter Terrorism Center: A non-binding "official use only" memorandum prepared by the "Extremist Messaging Branch" at the National Counter Terrorism Center draws on the DHS study noted below. NCTC's "Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication"[17] offers advice not for policy papers, research analysis, and scholarly writing but for conversations with the public. Some excerpts, retaining the original spelling and punctuation:

U.S. Department of Homeland Security: The DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties argues that "The language that senior government officials use can help to rally Americans to vigilance" but it does just the opposite by discouraging vocabulary about Islam and jihad. Titled "Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims,"[18] the 3,600-word study draws on "a broad range of Muslim American community leaders and scholars" to offer a "strategic terminology." The bulk of it gives advice, in the form of nine "expert recommendations," about words to avoid and to use.

The last line sums up the report's logic, which is to de-emphasize the Muslim-Western aspect in favor of a more general one: "The USG should draw the conflict lines not between Islam and the West; but between a dangerous. cult-like network of terrorists and everyone who is in support of global security and progress." In this spirit, the DHS report discourages the term "moderate Muslim." It counsels "caution in using terms such as, 'jihadist,' 'Islamic terrorist,' 'Islamist,' and 'holy warrior' as grandiose descriptions." Particularly interesting is the reasoning behind the reluctance to use Islamist and Islamism:

The experts we consulted did not criticize this usage based on accuracy; indeed, they acknowledged that academics and commentators, including some in the Arab and Muslim Worlds, regularly use "Islamist" to describe people and movements. Nevertheless, they caution that it may not be strategic for USG officials to use the term because the general public, including overseas audiences, may not appreciate the academic distinction between Islamism and Islam. In the experts' estimation, this may still be true: albeit to a lesser extent, even if government officials add qualifiers, e.g. "violent Islamists" or "radical Islamism."

In place of these words, the report urges use of "death cult," "cult-like," "sectarian cult," and "violent cultists," pointing out explicitly that because "there is no overt reference to Islam; these terms are not as likely to cause offense" to Muslims. Perhaps most astonishing is the idea of renaming the war on terror as "A Global Struggle for Security and Progress."

Comment: This "expert" advice, it bears noting, exactly echoes the wish-list of Islamist organizations. It also tracks the thinking of Jim Guirard of the TrueSpeak Institute ("devoted to truth-in-language and truth-in-history in public discourse"), who argues for the need not to speak of jihad but hiraba, and like terms. It sounds reasonable — until one thinks it through critically, as Robert Spencer definitively does at "Is Al-Qaeda terrorism "jihad martyrdom" or "irhabi" lawlessness?"[19] (January 2008)

May 2, 2008 update: The Investigative Project on Terrorism has asked who the Muslims are behind the report but DHS is not replying:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is refusing to identify the "influential Muslim Americans" and "leading U.S.-based scholars and commentators on Islam" who met with Secretary Michael Chertoff in helping shape a softer approach to government lexicon about terrorists and their ideological motivations. "Our policy is we don't comment on the Secretary's private schedule," spokeswoman Amy Kudwa told the IPT. Nor would she identify any of the participants' organizational affiliation.

George W. Bush, president of the United States: He did not actively deny the Islamist nature in his final State of the Union speech last night, but he did avoid it, notes Andrew Cochran at "So Now President Bush Won't Call It 'Islamic' Terrorism or Extremism?" The contrast with his speeches in prior years is telling. (January 29, 2008)

Jacqui Smith, UK home secretary: In her first major speech on radicalization, Smith repeatedly used the phrase "anti-Islamic" to describe terrorism. One example: "As so many Muslims in the UK and across the world have pointed out, there is nothing Islamic about the wish to terrorise, nothing Islamic about plotting murder, pain and grief. Indeed, if anything, these actions are anti-Islamic." She expressed her intent to enlist the Muslim community to fight against this "anti-Islamic activity." In addition, senior government sources indicated that the terms war on terror and Islamic extremism will no longer be used by top officials. (James Slack, "Government renames Islamic terrorism as 'anti-Islamic activity' to woo Muslims,"[20] Daily Mail, January 17, 2008)

Gordon Brown, prime minister of the United Kingdom: According to an article, he "has banned ministers from using the word 'Muslim' in connection with the terrorism crisis. The Prime Minister has also instructed his team ... that the phrase 'war on ­terror' is to be dropped. The shake-up is part of a fresh attempt to improve community relations and avoid offending Muslims, adopting a more 'consensual' tone than existed under Tony Blair." (Macer Hall, "Brown: Don't Say Terrorists Are Muslims,"[21] Daily Express, July 3, 2007) Feb. 4, 2008 update: The prime minister's ban has now been codified in a new counter-terrorism phrasebook drawn up by the Home Office,[22] reports Alan Travis in the Guardian.

Reflecting the government's decision to abandon the "aggressive rhetoric" of the so-called war on terror, the guide tells civil servants not to use terms such as Islamist extremism or jihadi-fundamentalist but instead to refer to violent extremism and criminal murderers or thugs to avoid any implication that there is an explicit link between Islam and terrorism. It warns those engaged in counter-terrorist work that talk of a struggle for values or a battle of ideas is often heard as a "confrontation/clash between civilisations/cultures". Instead it suggests that talking about the idea of shared values works much more effectively. ...

"This is not intended as a definitive list of what not to say but rather to highlight terms which risk being misunderstood and therefore prevent the effective reception of the message," says the Home Office paper. "This is not about political correctness, but effectiveness — evidence shows that people stop listening if they think you are attacking them."

Jane Harman (Democrat of California), chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment, addressing a hearing on "Assessing and Addressing the Threat: Defining the Role of a National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism": "while it is important for the committee to address the issue of radicalization, we are not talking about one particular ethnic, political or religious group." (Muslim Public Affairs Council, "MPAC Executive Director Testifies Before US House Committee on Homeland Security,"[23] June 14, 2007).

The European Union: "Brussels officials have confirmed the existence of a classified handbook which offers "non-offensive" phrases to use when announcing anti-terrorist operations or dealing with terrorist attacks. Banned terms are said to include 'jihad,' 'Islamic' or 'fundamentalist.' The word 'jihad' is to be avoided altogether, according to some sources, because for Muslims the word can mean a personal struggle to live a moral life. One alternative, suggested publicly last year, is for the term 'Islamic terrorism' to be replaced by 'terrorists who abusively invoke Islam'." (Bruno Waterfield, "Don't confuse terrorism with Islam, says EU,"[24] The Daily Telegraph, March 31, 2007)

Michael Chertoff, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. According to, DHS staff

complain their boss Michael Chertoff is hamstringing counter-terror operations with pro-Islamic political correctness. They say headquarters has cautioned officials not to describe Islamic terrorism as Islamic and to respect Islam as a "religion of peace." "It's constantly drilled into us that Islam is not the enemy, and that the terrorists are merely a minority of 'extremists' distorting Islam," said one official who wished to go unnamed. DHS Secretary Chertoff set the tone in a staffwide memo[25] last year, when he described as "extremists" the two dozen Muslim terrorists who plotted to blow up 10 airliners over the Atlantic. Unlike British authorities, Chertoff did not mention the religious motivation of the terrorists. Nowhere in the one-page memo were the terms "Muslim" or "Islamic" used. ("Chertoff's 'Islam PC' rankles fed officials"[26] February 10, 2007)

British Foreign Office: Not only is the British bureaucracy loath to mention radical Islam, but it has now formally distanced itself from the anodyne and inaccurate "war on terror,"[27] on the grounds that even this is inflammatory vis-à-vis British and other Muslims. A Foreign Office spokesman said dropping the term avoids "reinforcing and giving succour to the terrorists' narrative by using language that, taken out of context, could be counter-productive." Instead, British diplomats and official spokespeople will "emphasise upholding shared values as a means to counter terrorists." The move met with approval from Garry Hindle, a terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London, who noted that "Military terminology is completely counter-productive, merely contributing to isolating communities" and called this change in terminology "a very positive move." (December 10, 2006)

Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School: "When you talk about fighting terrorism, you shouldn't talk about Islamo-anything, because ... 'The minute you say Islam [is] connected to terrorism, you are deepending that division'." ("Anne-Marie Slaughter, U.S. National Security on the 21st Century"[28] October 3, 2006)

Karen Hughes, U.S. undersecretary of state: "It's difficult to know what to call the ideology that we're up against, because it is a perversion of Islam. I use 'violent extremist,' because I think they are extremists, they are violent, they are actually mass murderers who pervert their religion." (Quoted in Anne Gearan, "Hughes: Fixing U.S. Image May Take Years."[29] The Associated Press, September 28, 2006.)

Comment: Despite the impressive leadership of the president in calling Islamism the enemy (documented at length in another weblog entry[30] by that name), State Department types cannot find the backbone to mention the word Islam.

European Union officials, in the process of working on something they call a "non-emotive lexicon for discussing radicalisation" for use by EU officials and politicians when talking in public about terrorism and Islam, are establishing that nothing in Islam justifies the terrorist atrocities on September 11 or in Madrid or London. "Certainly 'Islamic terrorism' is something we will not use ... we talk about 'terrorists who abusively invoke Islam'," an EU official[31] told Reuters. The same official noted that "Jihad is a perfectly positive concept of trying to fight evil within yourself." And EU counter-terrorism chief Gijs de Vries says that terrorism is not inherent to any religion, and he encourages "a choice of language that makes clear that we are talking about a murderous fringe that is abusing a religion and does not represent it." A EU official familiar with the "lexicon" review says

the point of using careful language was not to "fall into the trap" of offending and alienating citizens. "You don't want to use terminology which would aggravate the problem," he said. "This is an attempt ... to be aware of the sensitivities implied by the use of certain language." (David Rennie, "'Islamic terrorism' is too emotive a phrase, says EU," Daily Telegraph, April 12, 2006)

Comment: As so often in this war, sensitivity to feelings trumps the common security and even the effort to win the war.

The Pentagon has renamed what for nearly five years was called the "war on terror" the "long war." The term has not caught on — no surprise there — so the Department of Defense has been trying anew in recent days[32] to get it accepted. ("Pentagon promotes 'long war' strategy as violence threatens withdrawal,"[33] Daily Telegraph, February 25, 2006)

Ray Takeyh and Nikolas K. Gvosdev: "while radical Islam may prove tantalizing to a disillusioned few, it is a fading ideology with a limited and diminishing constituency." ("Radical Islam: The Death of an Ideology?"[34] Middle East Policy, Winter 2004, p. 86)

Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury: He has undertaken a personal campaign "to challenge anyone who talks about Islamic terrorists. I think we have to drop the word Islamic because in so doing we deprive the terrorist of his religious legitimacy. He wants religious justification for his evil deeds, and we shouldn't give it to him. And second, by dropping Islamic before terrorist we are taking a lot of pressure off the average Muslim who simply doesn't want to be portrayed as a fellow murderer. ... We're blaming that tiny, tiny minority of people who are using Islam as a weapon to get their own back against the West and to undermine all we're trying to do." (BBC Radio 4's "Today",[35] September 29, 2004)

Colin Powell, U.S. secretary of state: the 9/11 atrocities "should not be seen as something done by Arabs or Islamics; it is something that was done by terrorists." (Speaking[36] on September 12, 2001)


[1] not-calling-islamism-the-enemy.html#DHS



[4] obama-respect-and-muslims.html

[5] a-2002-07-28-6-From.cfm

a-2002-07-30-41-1.cfm?renderforprint=1&textonly=1&&TEXTMODE= 1&CFID=132874704&CFTOKEN=35590162&jsessionid= 66307a9560a2d18336f7312607c2fbf17f51

[7] embattled_al_hurra_news_direct_1.php

[8] voice-of-america-cairs-shill.html


[10] calling-islamism-the-enemy.html

[11] 2009/03/24/AR2009032402818_pf.html




[15] millions-fight-extremism








[23] committee+to+address+the+issue+of+radicalization,+we+are+not+talking+ about+one+particular+ethnic,+political+or+religious+group%22&hl=en

[24] 2007/03/30/wislam30.xml


[26] printer-friendly.asp?ARTICLE_ID=54164


on_the_21st_century_rush_transcript_federal_news_service.html? breadcrumb=/bios/3350/richard_n_haass


[30] alling-islamism-the-enemy.html



iraq/1511452/Pentagon-promotes-long-war-strategy- as-violence-threatens-withdrawal.html

[34] ai_n21361861/



Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. His bi-weekly column appears regularly in the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers around the globe.

The Parts of this article were published as separate essays.
Part I appeared March 6, 2009 in Front Page Magazine and is archived at
Part II appeared on Daniel Pipes' website


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