You Keep Using That Word: Fundamentalist, Radical, Terrorism

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ~ Inigo Montoya

Dr. David Tretler is the Dean of Faculty at the National War College in Washington D.C and a former USAF Colonel. He’s an expert on the Middle East – its history, politics, culture and religion.

Dr. David Tretler - Dean of Faculty, National War College
Dr. David Tretler – Dean of Faculty, National War College

My children attend the school where Tretler’s sister is the headmaster. She invited him to come teach her students about terrorism and Islam.

Kids have a lot of questions about both. But, like the rest of us, they’re getting most of their answers from non-experts like friends, television and the internet.

When the information we have is incomplete or incorrect, the conclusions we reach and the decisions we make will be too. So the headmaster teaches students to find credible sources of information and to correctly understand what key words really mean.

Parents were also invited to the assembly because, well, don’t grownups need credible sources and correct definitions too?

I left the assembly wanting to share Dr. Tretler’s wisdom with every American. But I’ll share them with my tens of readers here instead. Here’s some of what Dr. Tretler taught us.

Fundamentalism: Fundamentalism is the desire to return to an older and, presumably, purer form of a particular religion. Fundamentalism is found within all world religions. Fundamentalists wish to retrieve something essential to their faith that they believe has been lost over time. Fundamentalism is not inherently or even usually violent.

Radicalism: Radicalism is the use of violence to achieve fundamentalist goals. Radicalism is practiced by a small number of fundamentalists within all major world religions. There have been and still are radical fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews and Muslims.

Terrorism: Targeting civilians with violence (or threats of violence) in order to bring about political or cultural change.

All Muslims are not fundamentalists. All fundamentalists are not radicals. All radicals are not terrorists. All terrorists are not Muslims.

ISIS is a radical fundamentalist Islamic terrorist group. ISIS recruiters often target young Muslims who feel misunderstood and marginalized by society…by us.

Dr. Tretler warned that lumping all Muslims together with radical fundamentalist Islam can create or, at the very least, add credence to those feelings of misunderstanding and marginalization, and make recruitment easier for groups like ISIS..

So there you go. Definitions from a credible source.

Now we can think critically and make better decisions…and better informed Facebook status updates, I pray.