The Language of War

As we as a country agreed to wage war in Iraq for the third time in 25 years I found myself getting really wound up by the headlines that declared this latest bout of military intervention. It started in Costa when I spotted a Daily Mail headline which announced a  ‘Three Year War to Crush Jihadis.’

I am instinctively anti-war as someone who seeks to follow a spiritual leader who told his disciples to love our enemeies and pray for those who persecute us,  but I understand that something needs to be done to alleviate the unspeakable suffering of minorities in Northern Iraq and Syria. Its not a clear cut situation but I am yet to understand how the Daily Mail, or anyone at all, can be clear that his war will end in three years,  leaving peace and stability in this troubled region.

However this kind of cavalier fortune-telling was not what really wound me up about the headline. The word ‘crush’ as something it is desirable to do to a group of people left me very disturbed. We do not usually want to crush people. We might crush a bug or possibly an abstract occurence like an uprising or a rebellion but not a person. I have never forgotten watching a film way back in 1987 about how the military in America used techniques to dehumanize the enemy in their training camps.No-one can condone the behaviour of IS fighters but they do remain human.

One of my favourite writers, Anthony De Mello, says that we empower the demons we fight. Are we empowering the bits in us that are capable of treating people as less than human in order to fight those we regard as genocidal? Dehumanizing people is the third step of a process in which the seventh is genocide Can we fight a group of people while maintaining our belief in their humanity? .

But the word that actually wound me up the most was the word Jihadi. I assumed that it was only the tabloids that were flinging this word around to mean terrorist, fanatic or extremist. But watching the BBC News later I heard it used by all sorts of people including politicians and clergy as the generally accepted word to describe the IS fighters.

I thought the word ‘Jihad’ carried a sacred meaning with the understanding that the Greater Jihad was the internal struggle for peace and the striving to root out our own violent tendencies whereas the Lesser Jihad is the external struggle for a communal peace – a struggle which could under very particular circumstances  include Holy War. At least one part of the BBC adopts this definition.  While there is not a direct equivalent to this in the Christian faith it seems as though labelling these murderous fighters ‘Jihadis’ might be like labelling those who fought in the crusades as  disciples.

I know how I would feel if my faith was coming under fire with careless words and I do not want my friends and neighbours to feel their religion is being villified.  I have good friends on both sides of the debate on the validity of these air strikes but whatever side you are on, or if like me you are undecided, please choose your language carefully to describe our enemies and perhaps find it in your heart to pray for them as well as for all those who are suffering because of them.

2 thoughts on “The Language of War

  1. Thanks for this reminder about the word jihadi. Also, I agree about the use of the word ‘crush’. A neighbour of mine – not a Christian – said on Thursday how horrified she was to hear people talk of “annihilating” the enemy. On Wednesday, the Stop the War Coalition posted 10 reasons why Parliament should vote no to bombing Iraq.. Although they didn’t convince the majority of MPs, they’re still worth bearing in mind – and can be found at, where there are also details of a demonstration in London next Saturday 4th October.

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