So what does jihad actually mean? Well, like terrorism, there is no one single definition. The word applies to a number of meanings and is used in a number of different contexts. Jihad is intrinsically linked to Islam; it is therefore incredibly complex and open to various interpretations.

Jihad will be interpreted based on the person who is using it and the justification in which they are seeking for implementing their version of it. For instance, extremist, fundamentalists, scriptural, traditionalist, reformist traditionalists, and secularist Muslims will have their own understanding of the concept which demands a different adherence from each of them based on their personal belief structure.

At one end of the spectrum, extremists will advocate the spreading of Islam by force, as well as the creation of a global caliphate by any violent means necessary. How the Islamic State is going about business is a perfect example of this. On the other end of that continuum, traditionalists may see jihad as something as simple as a struggle for self improvement. This same continuum can have jihad interpreted as anything from a moral journey or moral improvement, to a personal struggle, a spiritual development, or simply as an historical phenomena.

It is not a far stretch of the imagination to see the negative effect that oversimplifying and vilifying the term jihad can have on counter radicalisation strategies. The number of ways it can be interpreted and the number of people who use it simply do not allow for a one-size-fits all application. In fact, the sheer number of interpretations of jihad should not actually be a disadvantage; rather, the openness of it should be cast in an advantageous way because those writing policy and strategy have a large left and right of arc to work within. It would actually be much simpler for the media and government if jihad could only be interpreted as the narrow, ultra-extremist definition that they paint the concept in. If this were the case, then labeling every terrorist attack as the work of jihadis would be accurate and acceptable.

But it’s not. By lumping the work of extremists in the same basket as traditionalists and painting all of those who practice moderate versions of jihad as terrorists, it is marginalizing those who sit at the end of the continuum that we need on our side. If, say, a practicing traditionalist sought moral improvement or spiritual development through committing to something like charitable causes, and he referred to this as his own personal jihad, then the consistent rhetoric surrounding “jihadi terrorists” would no doubt start to evoke certain feelings of resentment. This type of person is the type cast moderate that governments actively target to help them in their fight against radicalism. Why would someone like this want to work with those who tar what they believe is a personal and sacred practice which reflects their own interpretation?

Let us look at this from a different and more familiar perspective. I enjoy recreational shooting. I like shooting with my friends in a variety of different settings and in a variety of different locations. I find the sport to be relaxing, immensely enjoyable, and could easily equate it to the personal development one could expect through the practice of any recreational sport.

If the media and government decided to one day carte blanch replace “recreational shooter” or “hunter” with “killer” or “murderer”, then it would not only be inaccurate but it would be highly offensive. If they lumped all of us responsible members of the public who buy, own, and use firearms for recreational purposes in the same basket as the maniacs who commit mass murder and other various crimes, then I’m sure our resentment toward the media and government would continue to grow with time.

Now, whilst a lot of people may argue that this already happens to some degree, let’s pretend that there was a “War on Gun Crime” declared by the federal government with the fictitious aim of minimizing gun-related violence. Let’s assume that the government adopted strategies similar to those of counter radicalisation where the help of moderates was sought to assist them in their fight against extremists.