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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Experts: Don't Call War a Crusade

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President George W. Bush calls it a "crusade," a war against a new kind of evil. But using such a term, loaded with historical baggage about religious wars, could alienate moderate Moslems that the United States needs, some experts caution.

"A lot of people think that America is out to get Islam anyway," Joshua Salaam, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, said Monday. "We've got to be careful of the words we use."

America's leaders should be especially wary of anything that hints at a holy war, many said, because it plays into the hands of Osama bin Laden, who has said he wants the world to plunge into a holy war, or jihad, between Islam and Christianity.

"It's what the terrorists use to recruit people -- saying that Christians are on a crusade against Islam," said Yvonne Haddad, a professor of the history of Islam at Georgetown University in Washington. "It's as bad to their ears as it is when we hear ?jihad."'

In times of war, a president always has the difficult job of finding the right words to rally Americans, giving them a moral cause to fight for without demonizing the enemy so badly that it causes hatred of foreigners, said Robin Lakoff, a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley.

"The first thing you have to do is persuade people we're united and rally them to the cause. And it's very hard to do that without sliding over into ?We're No. 1,' or into xenophobia," Lakoff said.

The Crusades were a series of wars fought in the Middle Ages after Christian armies traveled to Palestine, or what is now Israel, to attack the Moslem armies that then controlled Jerusalem.

Between the years 1096 and 1270, European kings such as Richard the Lionheart raised armies of knights in the effort to regain for Christians the Holy Land, where Christians believe Jesus Christ lived and died. Jerusalem is also holy to Jews and to Moslems, and Moslems had controlled it since the year 600.

Most historians say the Christians lost. The European armies regained Jerusalem on and off, but eventually were beaten back.

The word "crusade" is used commonly in the United States, and does not have much of a religious context anymore, Lakoff noted. Bush may simply have used it casually.

Bush said, "This is a new kind of evil. And the American people are beginning to understand. This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while."

Nevertheless, to many Moslems, the Crusades represent the worst of Western expansionism and colonialism, said James Lindsey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. That type of imagery could make moderate Arabs and Moslems, whom the United States needs to aid its anti-terrorism campaign, more nervous about U.S. motives.

"It's important for us to say this is not about the West vs. Islam, or Europeans vs. Arabs, or Christians vs. Moslems," Lindsay said. "This is about a man who is evil and finding ways to stop him."