At the end of 2006, the British government announced that it was banning the term "war on terrorism." I wish President Bush would resolve to follow that example in 2007 and refer to a struggle or campaign, not a "war."
Tony Blair's government banned the term not because of the logical problems associated with declaring war on a technique, but because the term has proven to be counter-productive. After interrogating arrested terrorists, British officials discovered that the words played into the radicals' narrative of Islam under attack, and glorified their recruits as holy warriors. Al Qaeda pays great attention to communications, and has used the war narrative to increase its soft power in the Muslim world. Judged by the radicals' success in increasing their number of recruits, we are losing the "war on terrorism."
The prospects of President Bush making this his new year's resolution look slim. He is a stubborn man. A little over a year ago, State Department officials sent a memo to the White House suggesting a shift in vocabulary. The president vetoed the change. More recently, when British reporters asked the State Department spokesman about American reaction to the British decision to drop the words, they were told "it's the President's phrase and that's good enough for us."
But a phrase that was helpful in rallying popular support in the first phase of a struggle, and may serve a president's political interests, is not good enough for the generational struggle to win hearts and minds of mainstream Muslims and hinder Al Qaeda's recruiting. It is time for the president to adapt the old adage his mother should have taught him: "sticks and stones can break our bones, and his words can really hurt us!" Happy New Year.
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