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.