Friday, March 15, 2013

The Lexicon Wars, the Meaning of Jihad

By Tammy Swofford

If you own the language you control the dialogue. If you control the dialogue you have the ability to censor thought. If you censor thought you can infiltrate culture. Freedom of expression remains the breastplate of our American freedom. There are many who do not understand this dynamic. They speak against the very guarantee of our liberty. For me the issue is quite simple. Freedom of expression is a process and not an outcome.

There is a war going on. It is being waged within the political trenches of our nations. This is a war birthed within a digital age. Lexicon War. It is important that there be no real winner. And it is equally important that there is no real defeat. Because when it comes to freedom of expression, the process is extremely important. But the process is always open-ended and continuing. The outcome is never fully determined.

Let’s look at the latest American cast of characters. In the first Lexicon War we have CAIR v Pamela Geller. The Chicago branch of CAIR decided to run a series of advertisements as part of a bus campaign to raise the awareness of jihad as a personal and internal struggle. One ad says, “My jihad is to stay fit despite my busy schedule. What’s yours?” Not one to take it lying down, Geller mounted her own campaign in her usual trailblazing style. Her ads are all on the scale of: “Reloading, firing again, reloading, firing again, while screaming Allahu Akbar — victim of Major Nidal Hassan, Fort Hood jihad mass murderer. That’s My Jihad, what’s yours?”

You say struggle. I say kill. You say jihad of the tongue. Mine is of the pen.

The second case involves CPAC v Robert Spencer. The Conservative Political Action Conference is one of those ‘see and be seen’ events, kind of like the National Prayer Breakfast. No sane person really attends the prayer breakfast to pray. It is a time to bite the ankles of your nearest enemy and shove a thumb in the eye of the person who hates you. It provides the encapsulated moment to pander to the individual who has the influence to advance political agenda. The tables are bloated with perils of predilection.

In their infancy, these gatherings are attended by mavericks. But mavericks must be owned and cordoned. The powerful Beltway vortex acquires a new target. Within a few years, all such gatherings are reduced to attendance by career political mules. Swofford doesn’t talk to mules.

Robert Spencer? There is no middle ground on opinion about this man. He runs what is essentially a clearinghouse of information for jihad-of-the-nasty-kind. If a Muslim kills a Copt in Egypt, it will make the page. If a Muslim woman is the victim of an honour killing, it finds full bloom on his site. You get the point. Recently, his blog took the CPAC people’s choice award by an impressive voting margin. But when the topic came up regarding his right to freedom of expression at the CPAC event, the right to address his perceptions, he quickly became persona non grata. CPAC will now present his award in absentia. Ghost award.

Everyone hates the truth. The more visible jihad of recent decades falls in the category of mass murder, chaos, and anarchy. Anyone remember how many times the flight recorder for United Airlines 93 picked up the phrase Allahu Akbar as Muslim men terrorised their captives? 23. One score and three. XXIII. But the Lexicon War continues to rage between those who want intellectual ownership of the word jihad. On the one side are Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, a dynamic duo who wish to remind us that jihad means killing fields. On the other side, those who wish to scrub any and all violent connotation of jihad and neutralize the word to be one with less emotional impact. My files present the shadow of both camps.

Let me quote a bit from a forum thread populated by Lal Masjid loyalists. This is your backyard. This discussion has a time stamp of September 2008 and is a three-page posting by a senior member. The topic begins with a discussion of infiltration of existing political systems, veers into a discussion about members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in Jordan and finally lands on the topic of Jihad fi sabilillah (Jihad in the path of Allah). The remarks conclude with this paragraph:

“Because confusion usually surrounds what is meant by Jihad whether it is the Jihad al nafs or Jihad of the sword I do not exclusively mean one or the other and I do not exclude one or the other. What I mean by Jihad here is not just picking up a gun and fighting. Jihad is broader than that. What is meant by Jihad in this context is a total effort by the Ummah to fight and defeat its enemy. Rasulullah says: Fight the disbelievers with your self, your wealth and your tongues. It is what Clausewitz would refer to as ‘total war’ but with the Islamic rules of engagement. It is a battle in the battlefield and a battle for the hearts and minds of the people.”

Last week I pulled up a Facebook page of a photographer in Nablus. Men were lining up for venipuncture. They took the syringe with their blood and jihad of the pen was released onto a white banner. The images are very powerful. Words written in blood. Liquid anguish expressed for an injustice.

CAIR has a right to their bus campaign. Pamela Geller has the legal liberty to put the hard edges around their soft approach. Robert Spencer has the freedom to speak. And conservative enclaves with a propensity for group thought can police their demographic. Today I have enjoined my own freedom of expression as process and not outcome.


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