A short al Qaeda test for copy desks and other editors

Please pause for a moment for a short test to use with the copy desk in your newsroom (or the newsroom nearest you). (a) What is the name that al Qaeda leaders most frequently use to describe the enemies that their movement seeks to destroy?

(b) Name at least two synonyms that often accompany this term in the actual texts released by radical Islamists.

(c) Does this term include non-Americans? Arabs? Muslims? Define your terms.

(d) When was the last time that the answers to these questions graced the pages of your newspaper?

Anyone seeking answers to these and other questions can seek out the writings of a friend of this blog whose name is Dr. Paul Marshall.

In a recent Weekly Standard piece, the Freedom House scholar notes that his own name recently pulled him uncomfortably close to a major story about this very topic.

The headline: "War Against the Infidels: The message behind the beheadings."

The news hook: The full name of the American recently beheaded by terrorists in Saudi Arabia was Paul Marshall Johnson. In the early hours after his kidnapping, some journalists referred to the victim as "Paul Marshall (Johnson)." It was logical to assume that this Paul Marshall might be the same Paul Marshall who has done so much work researching terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and was, in fact, poised to make yet another research trip to the Middle East.

So a few journalists started calling Freedom House, to see if Paul Marshall was gone and soon to be dead. It was a strange twist for a man used to being a media source -- but not quite like that. I'll let Marshall pick up the story at that point:

Then on Friday, June 18, al Qaeda announced Johnson's death with the words, "In answer to what we promised . . . to kill the hostage Paul Marshall (Johnson) . . . the infidel got his fair treatment," prompting more calls from friends and reporters.

Happily, of course, I could reassure them. But the episode underlined the fact that all of us are potential targets -- and not just as Americans.

Once again, the terrorists used their signature word to describe the victim -- "infidel" (in Arabic "kufr"). In an early statement, the same group had spoken of its determination to "repel the crusader forces." Here is how these terms show up, in the context of actual interviews and statements, drawing on an interview with another Saudi terrorist published on the al Qaeda-linked website Sawt Al-Jihad. The full text was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

We tied the infidel [a Briton] by one leg [behind the car]. . . . Everyone watched the infidel being dragged. . . . The infidel's clothing was torn to shreds, and he was naked in the street. The street was full of people, as this was during work hours, and everyone watched the infidel being dragged, praise and gratitude be to Allah. . . .

We entered one of the companies' [offices], and found there an American infidel who looked like a director of one of the companies. I went into his office and called him. When he turned to me, I shot him in the head, and his head exploded. We entered another office and found one infidel from South Africa, and our brother Hussein slit his throat. We asked Allah to accept [these acts of devotion] from us, and from him. . . .

At the same time, we found a Swedish infidel. Brother Nimr cut off his head, and put it at the gate so that it would be seen by all those entering and exiting. We continued in the search for the infidels, and we slit the throats of those we found among them. . . .

We found Filipino Christians. We cut their throats and dedicated them to our brothers the Mujahideen in the Philippines. [Likewise], we found Hindu engineers and we cut their throats too, Allah be praised. That same day, we purged Muhammad's land of many Christians and polytheists. . . .

Note the word "polytheists." Along with "crusaders," this is a word the American press needs to grasp. The term "Jew" shows up to, but that is easier to understand. The term "infidel" also includes progressive or modernist Muslims.

The key here: This is a religious term being used to describe religious motivations. Anyone -- journalists note -- who think this is merely about politics and economics must recognize this.

Consistently, these Wahhabis describe their enemies, whatever their country or race or politics, as "infidels" or "polytheists." They are particularly joyful at the killing of an Italian, a Briton, and, on June 22, the South Korean Kim Sun-il, whose countries are participants in the coalition in Iraq. But they also kill a Swede and a South African, whose countries took no part in the invasion, and their greatest frisson seems to come from killing Hindus, who, as purported polytheists, are even further down al Qaeda's religious scale than "people of the book" such as Christians and Jews.

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