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Demonizing Your Enemy, Exhibit 1: Mainstream Media

(To read the rest of our posts on language and war--our “Getting Orwellian” series--please click here.)   

In our ongoing quest to “Get Orwellian” on the uses of language in war, for the next few weeks, we’re writing about hate speech. Since we try to limit the length of posts, consider this post “Exhibit 1” of using language to dehumanize one’s enemy.

In this short post, we provide examples of mainstream ] sources demonizing the Islamic world and Muslims:

“I think that the Islamists, whether elected or not, whether violent or not, Islamists of any sort whatsoever are barbarians, are totalitarians, are far worse than dictators.”

- Daniel Pipes, Intelligence Squared US, “Better elected Islamists than dictators

“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

- Pamela Geller and American Freedom Defense Initiative’s subway ad

“To meet these guys in these remote Pashtun villages only made the conundrum more difficult. Because right here we’re talking about Primitive with a big P. Adobe huts made out of sun-dried clay bricks with dirt floors and awful smell of urine and mule dung. downstairs they have goats and chickens living in the house. And yet here, in these caveman conditions, they planned and then carried out the most shocking atrocity on a twenty-first-century city.”

- Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson

“What people are not dealing with is the fact that we’re going up against a culture that finds it acceptable to do things that the rest of the world left behind with the barbarians in the 6th century. I’m a little tired of people worrying about being polite. We are fighting in the face of fascists.”

- Frank Miller, Los Angeles Times interview.

“Like Alexandria, like Bamiyan, Timbuktu's priceless manuscript heritage destroyed by Islamic barbarians.”

- Richard Dawkins, via Twitter

“To all the Operators here today I give you this charge: Rid the world of those savages.  I’ll say it again, RID THE WORLD OF THOSE SAVAGES!”

- Dorothy Woods, originally quoted on Blackfive.

“It’s hard to keep track of all the barbaric behavior emanating from that part of the world.”

- Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit.com (H/T Glenn Greenwald)

“The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers soldier was killed whilst off duty near Woolwich Barracks in South-East London in May. Islamist barbarians, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo, are accused of the 25-year-old’s murder.”

- Andrew Sullivan


I’m really excited for the series of posts Eric C has on this. Basically, in current conflicts we love to throw around terms like barbarians, then in hindsight we look foolish. We expect controversy, by the way.


My sentiments exactly.

Individuals belonging to civilized and educated societies should presumably possess the cognitive ability, if desired, to logically criticize the behavior of terrorists and/or insurgents without resorting to such classless notions. Obviously, the “barbarian” and “savage” vernacular are inadvertently employed as a result of the lack of capable vocabulary; when used, these incendiary inclinations unfortunately reflect poorly on the respective societies.

In regard to Luttrell’s commentary, one cannot automatically discredit a former serviceman for employing the aforementioned vilification method when he has been psychologically conditioned to dehumanize the enemy combatant. Enable the capacity for killing and all that.

The foul language during a hot conflict is to be expected and appears to be ‘natural’.

The foul language prior to a hot conflict (supporting warmongers) or after a hot conflict (sabotaging reconciliation and generally the relaxation of tensions) is the real problem in my opinion.
I discussed the continued use of First World War propaganda term “hun” for Germans by the British in Oct 2010, for example. The use during wartime didn’t matter much, but it should have stopped in 1919.

Islam and the US have been at war since the foundation of our Republic starting with the Barbary pirates; the very tenants of Islam are in direct opposition to the principles behind our Constitution. e.g., In Islam, the Religion is the State and there is no freedom to worship other religions without paying a tax to do so (and only in a limited way that is defined by the State).

As a former Infantryman and contractor with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, I have to say that rocket, mortar, and small arms fire becomes *very* personal and animosity towards that group is a natural outcome.

Nonsense. The Barbary coast pirates happened to be Muslims, but it’s idiotic to claim that this means the US had been at war with Islam for two centuries.

The catholic church claimed to reside above the secular rulers for more than a thousand years, only Napoleon started the idea that a monarch could be monarch without being crowned by a cleric in the name of god.
And just as Western countries have shed the concept of primacy of the spiritual, so did Muslim countries. Turkey’s Atatürk even killed off the caliphate, for example. And the current Egyptian, Tunisian, Qatari, Indonesian, Pakistani, Turkish and other Muslim countries’ governments do not agree that “Islam is the State” at all.

Besides; off topic.


I think you may be a little behind the times. The strongly secular parties have been losing in Turkey lately, a patently Islamic state has just been established and the motto of the Pakistan Army (the actual governing body of Pakistan) goes something like “Faith, Piety and Struggle in the way of God.”

So what?
Read what’s printed on a U.S.Dollar.

And Erdogan isn’t even close to claim an official religious function.


To equate the mores of the men who founded the country and came up with “In God We Trust” and that which drives the Pak Army seems a bit of a stretch to me. But you gotta call ‘em like you see ‘em. It is a bit curious to me that you have seen Muslim countries throwing off the primacy of the spiritual. Some maybe, but certainly not all.

By the way, it is polite to capitalize the c’s in Catholic Church.

Don’t complain. I merely stepped down to your level of evidence.
You brought forward a motto as an argument.


I don’t complain about discourteousness. I merely point it out for the benefit of those for whom it may have been an oversight. Complaining is mostly not remunerative. Pointing out an oversight is often productive for all concerned though. Sometimes…sometimes not.

These statements hinder the Global War on Terrorism if such a war is even possible.

I don’t see what the objection is to some of these quotes. The word “Islamist” has come to mean or is coming to mean those people who I otherwise refer to as takfiri killers. For me, the word Islamist means those for whom the fulfillment of their religious belief means that mine must be eliminated or changed or I will be.

With that in mind the comments of Mr. Pipes and Mr. Sullivan are simple statements of fact. All the rest of the statements except Mr. Luttrell’s and Ms. Geller’s are pretty much in the same ballpark. Blowing up the Buddha and destroying manuscripts are barbaric acts and the murder by cutting of Mr. Rigby was simple savagery.

There is rather a great difference between Islamists or takfiri killers and Malaysian Muslim shopkeepers or ex-Turkish fighter pilots of past acquaintance. And believe it or not, us flyover people can tell the difference.

Carl, I agree that ‘there is rather a great difference between Islamists or takfiri killers and Malaysian Muslim shopkeepers or ex-Turkish fighter pilots of past acquaintance,’ but there is also a great difference between Islamists and takfiris.

Islamists are Muslims who want to combine Islam with politics as many American and European Christians want to do with Christianity and politics and as Israelis have done with Judaism and politics. All America’s Muslim allies in the Middle East, from Saudi Arabia to Turkey, count as Islamist whether extreme or moderate. If your Malay and Turkish friends support their governments, they too are likely Islamists, just moderate ones.

Takfiris are Muslims who excommunicate other Muslims for apostasy. Most Muslims, Islamists in particular, dislike or even hate takfiris for choosing whom to excommunicate when, according to most Muslims, only God knows who is correct and whom to correct. Takfiris founded terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taliban, which thousands of Islamists have helped America fight. I encourage you to research the definitions of takfir and takfiri before using such sensitive words to describe such a sensitive subject.

Austin Michael Bodetti:

I know exactly what takfiri means. It is a very powerful word and the phrase “takfiri killer” is even more so. That is why I use them. I mean to convey plainly what we are facing. It not a matter of being “sensitive”, it is a matter of being fully aware of the nature of the enemy.

As far as the word “Islamist” goes, I am using it with the meaning it appears to have acquired in mainstream media, pretty much synonymous with takfiri killers. That is how the people quoted above seem to understand and use it. I would prefer everybody use takfiri killers but that is probably too plain spoken for media sensibilities.

Carl, I have never seen takfiri killer used outside Hezbollah-, Iranian-, and Syrian-sponsored propaganda. This propaganda blames ‘takfiris’ alongside ‘Crusaders’ and ‘Zionists’ for most problems faced by the Axis of Resistance: Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Iran, the Special Groups (Iraqi Shia paramilitaries), and Syria. Excluding Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—which prove exceptions to many regional rules—all the countries and paramilitaries in that list are Shia; Alawis control most of the Syrian government, but they face problems similar to Shias. Some Sunnis have called Alawis and Shias ‘apostates,’ causing Alawis and Shias to call these Sunnis ‘takfiris’ or, as you say and as of late, ‘takfiri killers.’

If you know the definitions of takfir and takfiri plus their historical and political context, why would you use them? Takfiri is a word abhorred by many Muslims, Shia and Sunni. Using it in crude phrases such as takfiri killer is no way to win the War on Terror. Many use words such Islamist, Islamofascist, jihadi, Salafi, Wahhabi and of course takfiri without understanding these words’ meanings.

You mentioned ‘the nature of the enemy.’ What is the enemy, and what is its nature? Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Taliban may count as takfiris, but they account for few of America’s enemies, even among Muslims. Many Iraqi insurgents if not most were nationalists and secularists, supporters of the Ba’ath Party who allied with al-Qaeda to fight a common enemy. You argued that ‘it is not a matter of being “sensitive,” ’ but I would argue that such insensitive language creates more enemies than it kills, fueling ‘the enemy’ with religious and rhetorical firepower.


I don’t care if many Muslims abhor the phrase. It is an accurate phrase. They should more properly abhor the takfiri killers. Like I said, I don’t care if they don’t like the words. I use the words because they accurately describe the people and the actions. It is quite important that we…repeat…we understand what we are facing. If my use of an accurate phrase is going to push somebody over the edge, he was already overbalanced anyway.

The enemy we are discussing are the takfiri killers. When a flock of landsers comes out of the time machine and commences a counterattack, then we’ll talk about time travelling landsers.

When you are facing takfiri killers, the cut throats, the dismembered bodies, the murdered prisoners, the severed heads not to mention the standard old bullets in the brain, there isn’t really a ‘sensitive’ phrase to use. They are takfiri killers. THAT, is the true face of this enemy.


Perhaps I should explain how I came to use the word takfiri and the phrase takfiri killers.

Years ago when the Iraq conflict was going great guns I read and read about it and couldn’t come up with a satisfactory word or phrase to describe the AQ types. Then I read an article written by a guy who was at one of the big detention facilities. He said he saw a group of Iraqi detainees over by the wire and they were whaling on another Iraqi, an AQ type it turned out. While they were thumping him they were irately bellowing “Takfiri! Takfiri!” at him. That was when I decided that was the word I was looking for.

It also taught me that there were a lot of Iraqis, even guys who shot at us, who really hated the takfiri killers and didn’t mind a bit screaming that in their faces while they beat them up. I don’t figure those kinds of guys would be in slightest offended by the use of an accurate word and phrase.

Carl, your argument confuses me. You started by saying, ‘It is quite important that we […] understand what we are facing [i.e. ‘takfiris killers],’ then finished by saying, ‘There were a lot of Iraqis, even guys who shot at us, who really hated the takfiri killers and didn’t mind a bit screaming that in their faces while they beat them up.’ Again, who are you facing if your definition of takfiri killers excludes ‘even guys who shot at’ you?

I know almost a dozen paramilitaries that fought Americans in the Iraq War, including the Army of the Men of the Naqshbandi Order, part of the Supreme Command for Jihad and Liberation; the Badr Brigade (Liwa ab-Badr); the Islamic Army in Iraq (Jaish al-Islamia); the Mahdi Army (Jaish am-Mahdi), which became the Promised Day’s Brigade (Youm am-Mawud), the Party of God’s Brigade (Kataib Hezbollah), and the Righteous’ League (Asaib Ahl al-Haq); al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which became the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI); the Sunni Ansar Assembly (Jaish as-Sunna), which became Islamic Ansar (Ansar al-Islam); and the 1920 Revolution’s Brigade (Kotaib Thawra), part of which became Hamas of Iraq (Hamas al-Iraq). Muslims only consider two of these paramilitaries, AQI/ISI and Ansar as-Sunna/Ansar al-Islam, takfiris. Many other paramilitaries later supported American soldiers as the National Council for the Salvation of Iraq.

You deny an insurgency its complexity by considering only ‘the takfiri killers,’ a minority of Sunni insurgents, rather than the thousands of Shias and Sunnis who opposed American soldiers because of not only Islamism but also nationalism and sectarianism. Calling your enemies ‘takfiris’ or ‘takfiri killers‘—as a non-Muslim—achieves no more than your enemies calling you ‘Crusaders.’ Most Iraqi insurgents opposed American soldiers because they were foreign invaders, not because they were Christians and because the Iraqi insurgents were ‘takfiri killers.’

I will admit that takfiri is a common word, but takfiri killers seems according to grammar a name for insurgents who kill takfiris, not insurgents who are takfiris. I have only seen takfiri killers in propaganda sponsored by Hezbollah, Iran, and Syria, which have challenged America with anti-Jewish and -Western propaganda at least as much as al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, the Taliban, and the rest of ‘the takfiri killers.’


You want to make the simple complex. I am speaking of the takfiri killers. Not about those other guys. And those other guy know exactly who I am talking about. It ain’t them and I’m not commenting upon the Iraq insurgency a whole. I am commenting upon the takfiri killer who beset the world right now and kill people, innocent people. Figure it like this. I ain’t talking about the whole baseball game, just that pitcher who tries to bean batters.

Calling a takfiri killer what he is goes beyond religious affiliation if it is the truth, which it is. We all get to witness the truth of the matter, not just some of us.

If you want to play patty fingers with the semantics of the phrase, you go right ahead. No matter. When I use it as I use it people know exactly what I mean.

Carl, takfiris are Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy. You defined Islamist as ‘those for whom the fulfillment of their religious belief means that mine must be eliminated or changed or I will be‘—which would apply to extremist or terrorist, not Islamist, whose definition is too general, or takfiri, whose definition is too particular. I insist on semantics because you insist on takfiri killer as an accurate phrase even though it has no apparent definition. If lady killer means a man who (metaphorically) kills women with charm, not a killer who happens to be a lady, how does takfiri killer make sense? Which paramilitaries would you label ‘takfiri killers’ and why? What causes them to be more dangerous than America’s other Muslim enemies, many of whom have weapons of mass destruction that ‘takfiri killers’ do not?


I think the phrase has a perfectly obvious definition, takfiris who kill people. Say for example the IS guys who murdered prisoners. Voila! Takfiri killers.

Mr. Bodetti, no matter how you slice it, those guys will slice your throat if they get the chance. They won’t care how sensitive you are to anything. They are takfiris and they are killers. There are two things you do to stop killers. The first is to kill them first. The second is to frighten them into submission. Either will work, but one thing you won’t likely do is talk nice to them and get them to stop. Takfiri killers they are and will be. The phrase is good because there is no confusion about what we are up against.

You worked hard to kill off anything intellectual on this page, but ultimately you didn’t even understand what the blog post was about.

Hardly anybody will object against people being called what they are. The topic here is that large hostile (or perceived hostile) groups of people are getting described with words which are laden with much negative meaning even if said words aren’t an accurate description.

A certain disliked group is bad? Well, why? OK, then call them so. No need to call them more names.
Yet that’s what happens in propaganda – and there’s a huge potential for misuse, for manipulation of the public opinion, in this.

We may tolerate such behaviour, but then we’d be guilty of tolerating a behaviour that may be used to manipulate us to do something against our best interests. We might be manipulated to over(re)act.

Think “Saddam Hussein supports AQ”. It was evil to promote this lie. An accurate description of what he had actually done was enough. In fact, if journalists had been good enough to point out that “yes, he’s a dictator who killed thousands and invaded two innocent countries but no, there’s no noteworthy link between him and AQ”, this might have saved 4,000 Americans their lives, saved the health of ten thousands others and saved trillions of dollars wasted.

Haters who revel in their hate miss this fine line, and do a great disservice to their society.


Who is “you”?

And, what’s a “hater”?

“you” = “carl”


Carl, I agree with SO. You used takfiri killer but never defined it. I defined takfiri while you acknowledged my definition. Which paramilitaries do you consider ‘the enemy’? Why?


So this is how Alice felt.


This is great. I get a personal pronoun all to myself. Mom would be proud. She would have preferred grandchildren I would guess but I’m sure she’d liked this too.

Hmm. That is what hater used to mean. Now in American political lexicon and as it is used here it is a term devoid of precise meaning used often in an attempt to discredit via an emotional connotation, the connotation being that the target is a big meanie and not nice, not being nice being a very bad thing. Basically you use it if the other guy disagrees with you and you want to make him look bad by suggesting he isn’t nice.

Personally, I couldn’t care less about being perceived as not nice. And I’ll call them what they are-takfiri killers.

Let me relate a story I recently heard. I read once that Southerners like to illustrate points by telling stories. I’m not from the South but it’s a good way so here goes.

I was talking to a guy who was in Iraq during the height of the unpleasantness and was there for years. He had occasion to do a lot of up close and personal work there with all kinds of people. He told me about an Iraqi he knew of who was opposed to AQI. They took exception to that and tried to get him but he was good at hiding and they couldn’t. They became frustrated so they went to his house and took it out on his oldest son by beheading him. He was 5 years old.

Now, given that and given the kind of men who would do that, your statement “A certain disliked group is bad? Well, why? OK, then call them so. No need to call them more names.” seems ludicrous to me. Delicacy isn’t something that seems appropriate for those who cut the heads off of small boys. Takfiri killers is.

Carl; you seem to be genuinely unintelligent and incapable of understanding what others wrote here. Your irrelevant reply supports this strongly.
Those thoughts of yours are irrelevant to the topic, but you don’t get it.

Besides, you don’t get to define words. Thast’s done by much larger groups, or by respected dictionary publishers. Well, at least there’s no reason to expect others to respect your interpretation or creation of a word.


“respected dictionary publishers”. Now there’s some fellers I’d like to meet.

You can meet them. Start a dictionary.

Hey guys, please keep a civil and respectful tone without personal attacks. Obviously Eric and I love all of your contributions, so please leave any insults out of responses. Thanks and interesting discussion taht we may address in future posts.

Check out paragraph 7 of this article. This is why takfiri killers fits.



Check out this article about the treatment of Yazidi women taken by the takfiri killers of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham. Perhaps words like barbarian and savage are not misplaced when describing these people.


You’re naive if you believe wartime news (~propaganda).

There were also reports about what horrible the Serbs did in Kosovo (except they didn’t) and what the Iraqis did in Kuwait (except they didn’t).


Think so? Well I guess we’ll see. The Yazidis seem to be rather concerned and they are on the spot.

Didn’t in Kuwait? Hmm. They must have faked those photos of the ruined hotels I saw when I stayed at some of them. And the bullet holes in the wall of a building at Ali Al Salem Air Base where they machine gunned some of the workers must have been ricochets from squirrel hunting.


There was a war, of course there was damage done. Bullet holes prove nothing in war.

Carl, no veterans of the First Gulf War and the Iraq War whom I know hate Iraqis or Muslims or call them ‘takfiri killers.’


Why would anybody hate Iraqis or Muslims in general? What did they do? Takfiri killers on the other hand have done a lot to be hated for, though that is really rather a waste of time because it takes away energy better used for killing them or figuring how to do so.

You do understand what I am getting at don’t you? Takfiri killers get to be takfiri killers by murderous actions or advocating murderous actions. It isn’t a synonym for a nationality or an entire religion.

How would you define takfiri killer?


Asked and answered.

You never defined it other than with the confusing sentence, ‘Takfiri killers get to be takfiri killers by murderous actions or advocating murderous actions,’ which sounds more like the definition of murderer and has no relationship with the definition of takfiri.


Check out my reply from 7-29-14. But we will expand. If you are a takfiri and you kill somebody you are a takfiri killer. Now if you do that because the guy cheated at cards you are more a less a killer who happens to be a takfiri too. But if you kill that guy because he doesn’t meet your definition of theological purity or won’t convert or is a Yazidi (remember the 600 they blew up in 2007?) then you are Carl’s takfiri killer. That is how I’m using it. If fits the IS guys and the AQI guys who killed or threatened to kill if cucumbers and tomatoes are in the same salad.

I think if fits quite well all the various throat slitters who are slitting because somebody else’s religious belief doesn’t sit well with them.

I recommend reading this accurate definition. Till then, you calling Islamists ‘takfiris’ is no more relevant than them calling you and other Americans ‘Crusaders.’ Ask yourself a few questions: ‘Were Americans in Iraq on a crusade?’ Of a kind, yes. George Bush even said so. ‘Were those Americans thus Crusaders?’ There are arguments for and against, but calling them ‘Crusaders’ seems no more or less accurate than you calling all Islamist rebels ‘takfiris.’ Some are Islamists while others are not. Some are terrorists while others are not.


That was a good article. The CTC does good work. Thank you for referring me to it.

However, the article was actually about the differing definitions of takfir, those encompassed, that four well known takfiri killers used. For some it included almost everybody so they religiously justified killing anybody they felt like. For others it was a little narrower so they didn’t kill quite so freely. The article was not nor did it pretend to be a final definition of takfir. It was about how other people defined it.

So that gets us back to the IS and AQI and Boko Haram and others being takfiri killers because they decide who they will or won’t kill based on whether they meet their religious standards, which seems pretty takfiri (as used by those Iraqis who were beating the AQI type) to me.