Oxymorons in the News Media


The President and virtually every major U.S. news media persist in using oxymorons: Islamic extremism, Islamic terrorism, and now, in the President’s October 6 address to the National Endowment For Democracy, “Islamo-fascism.”

The President repeated this rhetoric in his address today, October 25, at the Joint Armed Forces Officers’ Wives’ Luncheon.

For anyone with sufficient knowledge of Islam, Islamic extremism, Islamic terrorism, Islamo-fascism, etc. are oxymorons. Islam, as the Quran says, is the middle path. While some Muslims may properly be addressed as terrorists, etc., to define them as “Islamic” is an oxymoron.

Perhaps this is a little difficult for non-Muslims to understand because, unlike other faiths, the faith and the believer have different names: Islam and Muslim respectively.

Leaving aside the definition of terrorism for the moment, Muslim terrorist would be more accurate, but then one should be consistent when referring to Christian, Jewish, or Hindu terrorists.

However, what news media generally do is to refer to non-Muslim terrorists as belonging to a “cult”, thereby, taking care not to smear non-Islamic faiths - Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

Similarly, it would be more accurate to use the term Muslim fundamentalist, rather than Islamic. Hopefully, then the writer has checked out the fact that the person is a Muslim - “fundamentalist” is a conclusion they may draw independent of the Quran and/or Islam.

Ditto for “Islamo-fascism.”

Also, when one uses the term Christian fundamentalist, it is a term so defined by Christian scholars. Respected Muslim scholars have not defined Islamic fundamentalism - in one sense all Muslims are fundamentalists because they believe that the Quran is the Word of God.

When news media use the term “Islamic fundamentalism” they are not stating a fact, but a conclusion about Islam. They should then be prepared to provide the reasoning behind such usage by a scholarly analysis of the Quran that indeed this is what Islam teaches.

Another way to look at it is to consider the terms “terrorism”, “fundamentalist” etc. when applied to persons of other faiths or religions.

Thus one would say Jewish terrorist - not Judaic terrorist. I don’t believe that the phrase “Christianic terrorism” would be acceptable, but this would be the equivalent of saying “Islamic terrorism.” “Christian terrorist” would be the equivalent of saying “Muslim terrorist.”

Yet another way to look at the issue of “Islamic terrorism” - leaving aside for the moment the definition of “terrorism” itself, is to ask: “What is the difference between Islamic terrorism, Christian terrorism, and Jewish terrorism?”

Is the terrorism itself, somehow, different in each case, or is it merely the fact that it is being carried out by a Muslim, Christian, or Jew?

If one cannot define the difference, then isn’t the term “Islamic terrorism” synonymous with Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism? Could a Muslim perpetrate Christian terrorism or Jewish terrorism? Clearly, this leads to absurd statements.

More importantly perhaps, the use of the term Islamic terrorism has a more pernicious effect. It paints an entire faith as suspect, lets governments off the hook too easily by not forcing them to more precisely define the “enemy.”

It also distorts the true nature of the problem, and thus proposed solutions do not receive the scrutiny they deserve, thereby, giving governments the freedom to conduct war or take punitive action for purposes that have little to do with the real threat.

Enver Masud, “Letter on Oxymorons to Ombudsman, The Washington Post,” The Wisdom Fund www.twf.org , October 23, 2005