What does “al Qaeda affiliate” mean?

Foreign Policy magazine has a good article by Lydia Khalil discussing what it means to be an “al Qaeda affiliate.”

Al Qaeda’s Six Degrees of Separation
When it comes to the world’s most infamous terror organization, who decides who’s in, and who’s out?

Bottom line: It is a term tossed about so much it is largely meaningless.

More often than not, Islamist extremists assign the term “al Qaeda affiliate” to themselves — regardless of whether it is true. Upstart terrorist groups, regional insurgents, and radicalized individuals embrace the name to lift their profile and gain cachet in the jihadi community. But it is not a particularly good indicator of their actual relationship to the al Qaeda organization.

Last month Defense Secretary Gates talked about how al Qaeda had formed a “syndicate” of terror groups. This does not mean that al Qaeda engineers all the activities of the individual components.

Journalists should be more careful using phrases such as “al Qaeda affiliate” or “jihadist.” Often these are easy to use but possibly misleading terms. Perhaps it is time for reporters and editors to take a second look at the use of these terms to make sure they really understand what they mean.

Journalism lives and dies by its words and credibility. Making sure we use the right descriptive words helps protect our credibility.

Cross posted to Journalism and the World.

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