Words can be very powerful. They can be easily misunderstood and cause mixed reactions. Just a few days ago for example, President Bush used the phrase "Islamic Facists" to describe Muslim radicals who exploit Islam to serve a violent political vision. Some American Muslims believe that these kinds of phrases contribute to a rising level of hostility toward Islam and to the millions of moderate Muslims in the U.S and around the world. Others say that true Islam cannot be tarnished by such phrases.
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the arrest of 21 British Muslims, charged with plotting to blow up planes while flying to the U.S. President Bush reacted.
"The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are historical reminders that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation," the President said.
President Bush first used the phrase "Islamic fascist" nearly a year ago in a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy. It is one of the terms used in a war of words that is intended to demonize extremist Muslims all over the world.
Dr. Parvez Ahmed, Chair of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), complains that while American Muslims are trying to explain that Islam as a religion rejects violence, some American officials are connecting Islam not only to terrorism but also to fascism. "Unfortunately, President Bush used the term 'Islamic fascists' to describe the perpetrators and that has drawn the ire and a universal condemnation from the American Muslim community," Dr Ahmed says. "Fascism as we know is a racist ideology. So to the Muslim mind, the choice of the words 'Islamic fascism' would imply that fascism is rooted in Islam. And it totally hurts our relationship-building not only with the Muslim community here but also the Muslim community abroad."
Dr. Ahmed points to the outcry in the Arab press perceiving Bush's comment as an insult to Islam.
Kamal Nawash, founder of the Free Muslim Coalition, disagrees and says that Islam will not be tarnished by President Bush's phrase associating Islamist terrorists with fascism. He says Americans already realize that most of the violent acts of terror in today's world are committed by a relatively small number of radical Muslims:
"I think whether we use this term or not, I do not think it is going to make it any worse. I mean the fact is people see that it is Muslims that are doing this, so whether you call it 'Muslim Fascist' or anything else, the fact that remains is it was 21 Muslims who have done this," he says. "People are going to make that conclusion themselves, so if you call them fascists, it is actually better because you are saying that some Muslims are bad people and we call them fascists."
Mr. Nawash says American Muslims have to acknowledge that extremists in the Muslim world are the ones who are giving Islam a bad name.
Dr. Yvonne Haddad is a Professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. She is conducting research on President Bush's speeches and believes that while he uses terms like "Islamofascist" to demonize the enemy in the war on terrorism, such phrases are a double-edged sword:
"I am calling it 'double hear,' and I am looking at what he is trying to say to the American people and what at that moment Muslims hear," she says, adding the message they hear is anti-Muslim. "This is why Muslims throughout the world think that we are waging a war against Islam and not against terrorism."
This image goes back to the first days after the September 11th attacks, when President Bush spoke of a 'crusade' on terrorism. Professor Haddad says such words and phrases cast a political situation in a religious light: a conflict between good and evil. As the war on terror escalates, a parallel escalation in the war of words seems likely to follow.