Letter: When there's no mistaking a war cry

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The Independent Online
Sir: With reference to Ihab el- Sakkout's clarification (letter, 14 July) of the word jihad, it should be remembered that the origin of words often has little to do with their actual utilisation and function in daily life.

As Mr el-Sakkout is no doubt aware, language is a dynamic, ever-evolving means of communication and in such a context words mean only what people actually make them to mean.

I have had numerous discussions with Arabs from all walks of life both in the West Bank and in Israel and whenever the topic of jihad cropped up they all openly expressed and admitted to one understanding of the word - that of a holy war. Oddly enough when I had tried to make the very distinction Mr el-Sakkout does, pointing out the actual meaning of the word, I was invariably met with an allowing smile and a remark to the effect that I was living in the past.

Presumably, when Saddam Hussein repeatedly invoked jihad as the final endeavour to destroy Israel, or when he laboured to build his giant guns and nuclear capability as a means of achieving jihad, he was striving, as Mr el-Sakkout explains, to 'advance the cause of God'.

Yasser Arafat in his turn, is a notable master of speech and language usage, both of Arabic and of his rather poorer English, and is well aware of the daily usage and the meaning that his people attribute to jihad. His subsequent attempt to redress the impression made by his South African speech seems clumsy and long-stretched. So does Mr el-Sakkout's.

Yours sincerely,


Binfield, Berkshire

14 July