Today, it appears that politics has once more touched the hallowed halls of Language Log Plaza. Unfortunately, while one post was good, the other was devoted to criticising what looks like an eminently sensible - if unlikely to be followed - EU recommendation that, among other things, the term "Islamic terrorism" be replaced in EU discourse by "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam", and the term "jihad" not be used in reference to terrorist acts. This should be an absolute no-brainer. The likes of Al-Qaeda wrongly describe their own terrorist acts as jihad in order to make them appear legitimate to other Muslims; for Western governments to publicly accept this characterisation is about as sensible as it would be for Muslim critics of Bush to start losing no opportunity to call him a true American patriot, or a stalwart defender of democracy and freedom.
Bill Poser seeks to justify the term "Islamic terrorism" by saying that "Dozens of terrorists have explicitly said that they are Muslims and that their motivation was Islam. Moreover, there is clearly widespread support among Muslims for terrorism." He then lists a table of responses across selected Muslim countries to the question of whether "suicide bombings against civilians are sometimes or often justified". Slightly expanding that table might have modified his conclusion. In the US, it turns out, "only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."". The loonier fringes of the blogosphere are rife with the sorts of idiots who would be happy to describe themselves as patriots motivated by patriotism and who support the mass killing of Muslim civilians. So by Bill Poser's reasoning, Americans' killings of Muslim or Muslim-looking civilians ought to be termed "patriotic terrorism" (626 ghits.) Of course, such a term is extremely unlikely to be used, because, given the sensible general view that such crimes are unpatriotic, the term's only function would be either to attack the whole notion of US patriotism by tarring it with the "terrorism" brush, or to promote the idea of terrorism by wrapping it in the flag. Calling the terrorism of groups like al-Qaeda "Islamic" fulfills precisely the same two functions - and no government should be in the business of promoting either of the resulting noxious ideologies.
Update: Bulbul, whose blog is always worth reading, has put up a good response to this issue.