On Linda Sarsour and the meaning of 'jihad'

Allahpundit wrote about this story yesterday saying “A culture that regards the use of crosshairs imagery in election advertising as dangerously irresponsible should probably also blanch at loose invocations of ‘jihad’ against a disfavored political regime, no?” But of course, that’s not how it works. In fact, today there is a backlash against the right, complete with a hashtag, for daring to point out that the word “jihad” has a bloody and violent connotation from which it is not easily separated. Hot Air alum Noah Rothman highlighted the absurdity of conservatives being put on the defensive over this point:


If you actually look at the Post story in question, it cites a Breitbart story which states, “The context of Sarsour’s remarks indicate that she meant a jihad using words. However, the term has also been used to describe violent struggle, including terrorism, against non-Muslims or against governments described as enemies.” I’m not sure how this completely accurate description of Sarsour’s words represents “conservative wrath.” [Full disclosure, the author of the Breitbart story is my former boss.]

The best elucidation of the obvious dual meaning of “jihad” and Sarsour’s intentional use of it comes from Tablet’s Lee Smith:

The reality is that the debate over Islamic semantics has already been resolved—not in American newsrooms or the partisan halls of US politics, but on the killing fields of the Middle East. The people who are cutting each other’s heads off on both sides of the sectarian divide across Syria and Iraq, crucifying civilians, making sex slaves of women and children, and indulging in other inhuman depredations, have justified the murder of their co-religionists and others according to the logic of jihad. By all means, feel free to challenge that particular interpretation of the word, but at least have the decency to acknowledge your intervention comes in the context of nearly half a million dead.

And that’s the issue, less the word itself but the context, which is the source of the rhetoric used to justify the mass murder of other Arabs, as well as Americans and Israelis and, across Europe and Asia and elsewhere, Jews and Christians and Hindus, etc. Is it possible that Linda Sarsour really didn’t understand the particular resonances of the word employed in the context of American politics? Of course she knew. She could’ve delivered a standard Trump-hating speech about immigration and Islamophobia. But comparing an American president to the Middle Eastern tyrants and oppressors like Bashar al-Assad who murder children from the sky is what distinguished her.

We are still fighting wars against violent jihadists in several countries today. Those same enemies use the word to call for the murder of American civilians routinely. How can it possibly be unreasonable or unfair to point out this current and relevant context? Why is the mainstream media rushing to defend Sarsour rather than simply acknowledging she has chosen to use a word which, like it or not, has a lot of negative, violent baggage associated with it?