Language as a Tool in the Political-Religious Power Struggle between the Salafi-Jihadists and Their Opponents

Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 484,  December 18, 2008

By: D. Nagy*

One of the characteristics of the Salafi-jihadist discourse is the use of derogatory names to malign and ridicule those considered to be enemies, especially opponents within the Muslim world. This polemic device is used by the Salafi-jihadists to discredit their opponents while reinforcing their own legitimacy. The enemies are presented as possessing negative or humiliating characteristics, or even as infidels who must be fought without compromise. For example, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, which in Arabic is Al-Ittihad Al-Watani Al-Kurdistani, is dubbed "Al-Ittihad Al-Wathani Al-Kurdistani," meaning "the Union of Kurdish Polytheists" – a name which labels this group as a target for uncompromising jihad. It should be mentioned that the use of derogatory names as a political tool has been a characteristic of Arab rhetoric since the pre-Islamic era. It was commonly used, for example, in the rhetorical war between the Nasserites and their rivals in the 1960s.

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