The National Association of Muslim Police
Issues with Counter Terrorism Terminology
This document has been written by the National Association of Muslim Police (NAMP) and represents the views held by the NAMP Executive Committee and its members. It addresses concerns about the use of certain Counter Terrorism (CT) terminology and it proposes a solution and recommendations.
NAMP made a submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee in October 2019 (Ref: HCL0062). This was written evidence for the Islamophobia inquiry and part of the submission covered the issues with the CT terminology used to describe “self-defined Muslims” with extremist terrorist ideologies.
Concerns with CT Terminology
The main CT terminology in question is Islamism, Islamist, Jihadism and Jihadist. To understand the issue, one needs to understand the use and meaning of the root words Islam and Jihad.
Islam is the religion which Muslims follow. The term “Islam” in Arabic is a word which refers to the submission to God. This derives from the word “salaam” which means “peace”. The concept being that peace can be found through submission to God. It is widely accepted by Muslim scholars that Islam is a religion of peace. This same idea is also utilised by other world religions.
“Jihad” is a foundational concept within Islam that translates in Arabic to mean “struggle”. It derives from the word “Juhud”, which means “hard work”. There are five pillars of Islam, which form the basic practice within the religion. These are: testimony of faith, prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage. Some groups within Islam see Jihad as a sixth pillar and others see it intrinsically linked to all five.
Within Islam, Jihad can take on different forms depending on the context. The Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) regarded the greater Jihad as our internal struggle, which relates to our personal belief, patience and improvement of oneself. This is followed by the practice of ones faith in everyday life, for example the maintenance of the five pillars. As this becomes more externalised the next part could be classified as “social jihad”. This involves doing good deeds in society and helping others in the wider community. This can be seen regularly by the amount of support Muslim individuals and organisations provide locally and nationally to charitable causes. Even NAMP itself as an organisation was established to support and help Police officers and staff who could fall into this category.
The last part is what is regarded as the lesser Jihad, yet this is where most emphasis seems to be within the media narrative. This relates to a physical struggle, which often leads to Jihad being referred to incorrectly as “holy war”. This is a common misconception as there are very specific conditions for this, which do not include terrorism and the killing of innocent lives and is meant for the purpose of self-defence only.
In the UK there is the Equality Act 2010 which promotes religious freedom and gives individuals and communities the opportunity to practice their faith freely. Therefore it is illogical to use the word Jihad in relation to any terrorism or extremism here in the UK.
The use of the word “Jihad” to describe terrorism can be seen to validate terrorist claims of Islam and Muslims being under threat. This provides extremists with a platform which is the opposite of what should be done. The use of this term creates polarisation and just reinforces their position.
Terms using “Ist” and “Ism”
The suffix on the end of words using “Ist” describes a person involved in a certain mindset. The suffix “Ism” means a following in a certain ideology. So for example the term “Spiritualist” is used to describe a follower of “Spiritualism” a belief based on spiritual practices. Also a “Feminist” is a person following the ideology of “Feminism”, which advocates for women’s rights. Neither of these terms are seen to mean anything negative as they just relate to the root word. The word “Nazism” however, does have negative connotations due to the root word Nazi and being associated with extreme far right ideology.
If compared to examples above, words such as Islamist and Islamism should therefore mean someone who practices Islam and follows that ideology, essentially anyone who is Muslim and / or someone who supports Muslim rights. However, the current use of these words (whether intentional or not) infers that ideology rooted in Islam is inherently negative and extreme. The same can be said about the word “Jihad” and all it’s derivatives. This does not only upset many members of the Muslim community, it also reinforces negative perceptions and stereotypes of all Muslims. This subsequently leads to further issues of discrimination, adding to the growing concern of Islamophobia. The Far Right then use this narrative to promote their agenda which leads to radicalisation and in extreme circumstances ends with situations like the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch in 2019.
In Arabic the word “Munaafiq” literally translates as “hypocrite” but is used to define someone who is a “false Muslim”. This describes those that profess to be Muslim but in reality are undermining the Muslim community. This is where most of the Muslim community and Muslim scholars would categorise those individuals that partake in acts of terrorism under the guise of Islam. International figures provided by Statista consistently show that the majority of casualties at the hands of “so called Islamic State (IS)” are actually Muslim. The top three countries, suffering most terrorist attacks in 2018 are Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. All of these countries are predominantly Muslim and have been targeted by IS and other similar groups. IS and other terrorist groups try to rationalise terrorist attacks by labelling it as “Jihad”, however this goes against the very principles and parameters set within Islam. Ironically these terrorist attacks are claimed by many other Muslim groups to be the exact parameters of “Jihad” (in the context of physical struggle) against groups such as IS due to the disruption and deaths caused within the Muslim community.
There is no way to legitimise terrorism within Islam and by continuing to support the use of words such as “Jihadist” and “Islamist” just reinforces the standing of extremist groups.
Categorisation of Terrorism
Categorisation of arrests and ideologies can be found in a UK Government document named: “Operation of police powers under the Terrorism Act 2000: quarterly update to December 2018: annual data tables”. On tab A-A.13 of this document, terrorism related arrests made between December 2002 and 2018 are identified. The categories used are Domestic (Extremism), Northern Ireland Related, International (Terrorism) and Not Classified.
International terrorism includes groups such as IS and Al-Quaida. The description is as follows:
“Refers to activity by an individual or a group of individuals (regardless of nationality) linked to or motivated by any terrorist group that is based outside the UK which operates in and from third countries.”
This does not have any inferences towards Islam, however implies the threat from such groups just comes from abroad.
Issues were raised with this terminology in the document titled “2017 Terrorist Attacks M15 and CTP reviews Implementation Stock-Take” by Lord Anderson.
In this report on page 31 section 8.4, Lord Anderson says that the labels used are “manifestly deficient” and states: “Islamist terrorism is often home-grown, just as right-wing terrorism can be international.” Lord Anderson goes on to explain the issue of using the term extremism: “To describe even the most threatening non-Islamist activity as “extremism” may be read as signalling that it is taken less seriously than Islamist “terrorism”.”
Section 8.7 of the same report covers decisions made following a workshop in December 2018 and states: “All departments agreed to stop using the terms “Domestic Extremism”, “Domestic Extremist Terrorism” and “International Counter-Terrorism”.” and “All departments agreed to move to using “terrorism” with the motivating ideology as a prefix.”
Despite these recommendations it appears as though the government has retained this categorisation as shown in the documents titled Operation of police powers document previously mentioned. In addition to tab A-A.13 in this document, tab A-P.01 also identifies persons in custody for terrorist related offences, categorised by ideology. Three categories are used for data between December 2013 and 2018. These are Islamist Extremist, Extreme Right Wing and Other.
NAMP support the agreed recommendation of using the word “terrorism” to capture all forms, however the prefix is still a contentious point and there doesn’t appear to be a standardised agreed list of these prefixes.
Far Right Terrorism
“Islamist” terrorism currently captures those that claim their ideologies are rooted in Islam and Far Right terrorism captures several ideologies. These are rooted in different aspects such as extreme Nationalism, neo-Nazism, neo-Fascism, Homophobia, Islamophobia and Racism.
One particular aspect of interest is terrorism motivated by “Christian” ideology. There are many Far Right terrorists that are inspired by events such as the crusades which are intrinsically linked with Christian heritage.
In 2011 Anders Breivik was responsible for the Norwegian massacre of 77 people. He wrote a manifesto and released a video referring to the “Knight Templar” which is attributed to the Crusades. Breivik utilised Christian symbolism and described himself as Christian in a Facebook page attributed to him. He has inspired many Far Right extremists since, the most recent significant Far Right terrorist attack being in 2019 carried out by Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch killing 51 people in 2 mosques.
Crusaders, the cross and various other Christian symbols are regularly utilised by many groups and individuals within the Far Right, yet terms such as “Christianist” or Crusaderist” are not used to describe them. The rationale often provided is that Far Right terrorism is more nuanced and there are other factors at play. However the same could be said for those that claim to use Islam to promote their extremist views, yet they are given the label “Islamist”, which reinforces Islamophobia and discrimination towards Muslims.
NAMP proposes a change in culture by moving away from using terms which have a direct link to Islam and Jihad. These are not conducive and do not help community relations and public confidence. NAMP recommend more appropriate terminology should be adopted. There are several potential options and any terminology that is proposed should go through consultation with various Muslim community groups and organisations.
Below is an example of a proposed suggestion by NAMP that could be used to replace these terms.
The word in Arabic “Irhabi” translates as “terrorist”. This is widely used word amongst Arab speakers to describe various terrorist groups such as IS.
This word is an all-encompassing word and could be used as a replacement for words such as “Jihadist” and “Islamist”. Like Irhabi, both these words derive from Arabic. However, with Jihad and Islam both relate to the Muslim faith and not to terrorism.
In London 2005 a “Cyber-jihadist” by the name of Younis Tsouli was arrested under terrorism changes. Tsouli browsed the web for extremist material and was also active in radicalising others and attack planning. The user name that he used was “Irhabi 007”.
Irhabi is commonly recognised to mean terrorist within the Middle East and could be used to describe people that hold extremist ideologies. By adopting the term Irhabi (or anglicised versions of the word) for categorisation, the issue of association with Islam will no longer exist.
- UK Government agencies, including CT Policing and Security Services should refer to all forms of terrorism as terrorism and not extremism as recommended by Lord Anderson.
- Agree a suitable prefix for each forms of terrorism that is used consistently throughout all UK agencies.
- Consult with representatives from the Muslim community and Muslim organisations on what would be the most appropriate wording to replace Islam and Jihad related terminology.
- Remove the use of Islam and Jihad words (including derivatives) from CT publications.
NAMP Home Affairs Selection Committee Submission:
Explanation of Jihad:
Countries by Terrorist Attack in 2018:
UK Government Documents:
Anders Breivik Articles:
Brenton Tarrant Articles:
Younis Tsouli Article: