Obama bans terms Jihad, Islam

US to alter security strategy document as part of outreach to Islam.

President Barack Obama (photo credit: AP)
President Barack Obama
(photo credit: AP)
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama's advisers will remove religious terms such as "Islamic extremism" from the central document outlining the US national security strategy and will use the rewritten document to emphasize that the United States does not view Muslim nations through the lens of terror, counterterrorism officials said.
The change is a significant shift in the National Security Strategy, a document that previously outlined the Bush Doctrine of preventative war and currently states: "The struggle against militant Islamic radicalism is the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century."
The officials described the changes on condition of anonymity because the document was still being written, and the White House would not discuss it. But rewriting the strategy document will be the latest example of Obama putting his stamp on US foreign policy, like his promises to dismantle nuclear weapons and limit the situations in which they can be used.
The revisions are part of a larger effort about which the White House talks openly, one that seeks to change not just how the United States talks to Muslim nations, but also what it talks to them about, from health care and science to business startups and education.
That shift away from terrorism has been building for a year, since Obama went to Cairo, Egypt, and promised a "new beginning" in the relationship between the United States and the Muslim world. The White House believes the previous administration based that relationship entirely on fighting terror and winning the war of ideas.
"You take a country where the overwhelming majority are not going tobecome terrorists, and you go in and say, 'We're building you ahospital so you don't become terrorists.' That doesn't make muchsense," said National Security Council staffer Pradeep Ramamurthy.
Ramamurthyruns the administration's Global Engagement Directorate, a four-personNational Security Council team that Obama launched last May with littlefanfare and a vague mission to use diplomacy and outreach "in pursuitof a host of national security objectives." Since then, the divisionhas not only helped change the vocabulary of fighting terror but alsohas shaped the way the country invests in Muslim businesses, studiesglobal warming, supports scientific research and combats polio.
Beforediplomats go abroad, they hear from Ramamurthy or his deputy, JennyUrizar. When officials from the National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration returned from Indonesia, the NSC got a rundown aboutresearch opportunities on global warming. Ramamurthy maintains adatabase of interviews conducted by 50 US embassies worldwide. Andbusiness leaders from more than 40 countries head to Washington thismonth for an "entrepreneurship summit" for Muslim businesses.
"Doyou want to think about the US as the nation that fights terrorism orthe nation you want to do business with?" Ramamurthy said.
Todeliver that message, Obama's speechwriters have taken inspiration froman unlikely source: former President Ronald Reagan. Visiting communistChina in 1984, Reagan spoke to Fudan University in Shanghai abouteducation, space exploration and scientific research. He discussedfreedom and liberty. He never mentioned communism or democracy.
LikeReagan in China, Obama in Cairo made only passing references toterrorism. Instead he focused on cooperation. He announced the UnitedStates would team up to fight polio with the Organisation of theIslamic Conference, a multinational body based in Saudi Arabia. TheUnited States and the OIC had worked together before, but never withthat focus.
Polio is endemic in three Muslim countries —Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan — but some Muslim leaders have beensuspicious of vaccination efforts, which they believed to be part of aCIA sterilization campaign. Last year, the OIC and religious scholarsat the International Islamic Fiqh Academy issued a fatwa, or religiousdecree, that parents should have their children vaccinated.
"We'reprobably entering into a whole new level of engagement between the OICand the polio program because of the stimulus coming from the USgovernment," said Michael Galway, who works on polio eradication forthe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Centers for DiseaseControl also began working more closely with local Islamic leaders innorthern Nigeria, a network that had been overlooked for years, saidJohn Fitzsimmons, the deputy director of the CDC's immunizationdivision.
Though health officials are reluctant to assign creditto any one action, new polio cases in Nigeria fell from 83 during thefirst quarter of last year to just one so far this year, Fitzsimmonssaid.
Public opinion polls also showed consistent improvement inUS sentiment within the Muslim world last year, although the viewpointsare still overwhelmingly negative, however.
Obama did not inventMuslim outreach. President George W. Bush gave the White House itsfirst Quran, hosted its first Iftar dinner to celebrate Ramadan, andloudly stated support for Muslim democracies like Turkey.
Butthe Bush administration struggled with its rhetoric. Muslims criticizedhim for describing the war against terror as a "crusade" and labelingthe invasion of Afghanistan "Operation Infinite Justice" — words thatwere seen as religious. He regularly identified America's enemy as"Islamic extremists" and "radical jihadists."
Karen Hughes, aBush confidant who served as his top diplomat to the Muslim world inhis second term, urged the White House to stop.
"I did recommendthat, in my judgment, it's unfortunate because of the way it's heard.We ought to avoid the language of religion," Hughes said. "Wheneverthey hear 'Islamic extremism, Islamic jihad, Islamic fundamentalism,'they perceive it as a sort of an attack on their faith. That's theworld view Osama bin Laden wants them to have."
Hughes and JuanZarate, Bush's former deputy national security adviser, said Obama'sefforts build on groundwork from Bush's second term, when some of therhetoric softened. But by then, Zarate said, it was overshadowed by theGuantanamo Bay detention center, the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and aprolonged Iraq war.
Obama's foreign policy posture is notwithout political risk. Even as Obama steps up airstrikes on terroristsabroad, he has proven vulnerable to Republican criticism on securityissues at home, such as the failed Christmas Day airline bombing andthe announced-then-withdrawn plan to prosecute 9/11 mastermind KhalidSheikh Mohammed in New York.
Peter Feaver, a Duke Universitypolitical scientist and former Bush adviser, is skeptical of Obama'sengagement effort. It "doesn't appear to have created much in the wayof strategic benefit" in the Middle East peace process or innegotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions, he said.
Obama runsthe political risk of seeming to adopt politically correct rhetoricabroad while appearing tone deaf on national security issues at home,Feaver said.
The White House dismisses such criticism. In June,Obama will travel to Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslimcountry, and is expected to revisit many of the themes of his Cairospeech.
"This is the long-range direction we need to go in," Ramamurthy said.