I've always communicated to my children my belief that attitudes are more important than the words used to express those attitudes. I'm concerned if you have a lack of respect for another person. Whether you express that disrespect by calling that person a "stupid idiot" or a "f***ing a**hole" is irrelevant to me (I can hear my kids saying, "He never told us THAT!").
The reason I've been thinking about this lately is that both Arabs and Westerners are using new vocabulary to avoid offending the other. The State Department has instructed diplomats to no longer call jihadis jihadis. "Moderate Muslims" apparently informed the Department that "Extremist Muslim" was a more appropriate term.
Last night on Arabic TV two Muslim clerics pointed out that the expressions "al-muslim al-mu'tadil" (moderate Muslim) and "al-muslim al-mutatarrif" (extremist Muslim) do not even exist in Islamic theology but are Western inventions. The Quran and the sunna use no such terms. If you want to classify Muslims according to Islamic thinking, I am aware of two possibilities. The first is to make a distinction between the first Muslims in Mecca (where Islam was weak and propagated by preaching), and the Muslims in Medina (where Islam became strong and spread by jihad). The second is to classify Muslims by how carefully they follow Islamic teachings. Arabic calls these "multizim" (committed) or "ghayr multizim" (non-committed). It is similar to the Western concept of someone being a practicing or non-practicing Christian or an observant or non-observant Jew.
This is a lot more challenging and demands more serious study then merely using Western standards to arbitrarily decide whether a Muslim is moderate or extremist. How many US government or law enforcement officials could prove from the texts of Islam that Usama Bin Ladin is not a good Muslim committed to the teachings of Muhammad? What about Yusuf Al-Qaradawi who uses Islamic history and Quranic texts to justify Palestinian suicide bombings? On what basis do we call them extreme?
Americans are not the only ones changing their vocabulary; Muslims in the Middle East are also doing the same. I've noticed a few recent examples in the Arab media and there are probably dozens more. Saudi anthropologist Sa'd Al-Suwayan has suggested the Saudi government remove the swords from their flag because people might associate them with violence. I heard another cleric say that Muslims should not use the Quranic expression "the house of war and the house of submission" to describe humanity because it can give a bad impression. He prefers "the Muslim world and the non-Muslim world". Even Dr. Al-Qaradawi has gotten into the act. He explained recently that he prefers the more neutral term "non-Muslim" to the Quranic words "kafir" and "dhimmi".
The problem is that merely changing vocabulary does not indicate a corresp0nding change of belief. I'm not talking so much about the Americans who have no idea what jihad is as described in the Quran and the hadith, but about the other side. Sa'd Al-Suwayan might want to remove the swords from the Saudi flag, but is he willing to excise the famous "sword verses" from the Quran? Does the cleric who prefers "non-Muslim world" to "house of war" renounce any attempts to ever replace Western freedoms and democracy with Islam and Islamic law? And what does Dr. Al-Qaradawi really think about the kafir? He certainly knows the Quran well enough to realize that almost every reference to them in the Holy Book is negative.