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Fighting terrorism one word at a time

The European Union balks at 'Islamic terrorism' and other phrases. It's working on a lexicon that counters the terrorists' terminology.

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What's in a word? Or in a conjunction of words?

A lot, if the subject is Islam, say the mandarins who run the European Union (EU).

Officials in Brussels have embarked on an unusual exercise, combing their dictionaries to excise words and phrases that could cause offense.

When the review is complete and the rules laid down, you will not, for example, hear EU officials talk any more about "Islamic terrorism."

That sort of shorthand reference to the bombings in Madrid and London, and other outrages committed in the name of Islam, is commonplace today. But EU policymakers worry that it lumps all Muslims into the same category, and angers them.

"There is no justification at all for including all law-abiding Muslim citizens in our messages about terrorism," says Friso Roscam-Abbing, an EU spokesman. "The politically more correct term will be 'terrorism that abusively invokes Islam.' "

"That may be all very long and cumbersome," he acknowledges. "But millions of Muslims live in the EU, and they are simply not terrorists."

Mr. Roscam-Abbing may be prepared to admit to political correctness, but he rejects accusations that the EU is soft-soaping "Islamic radicals" - another phrase that is coming under the microscope.

"We are very tough on combating terrorism," he insists. "We will absolutely continue to detect the bad guys and prevent them from committing terrorist acts. But at the same time we are respectful of citizens' beliefs."

The idea of developing a lexicon for EU officials and politicians to use when discussing Islam and terrorism in the same breath came up late last year, as the EU went through one of its regular reviews of its policy to prevent terrorism.

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