It's a much debated word – as I have discussed here, here, and here – but probably everyone can agree that the Department of Justice did not get it quite right in an indictment of Hamid Hayat today. It reads:
As used in this First Superceding Indictment, "jihad" is the Arabic word for "holy war." In this context, jihad refers to the use of violence, including paramilitary action against persons, property or governments deemed to be enemies of a fundamentalist version of Islam.
Comment: This may not be a fully accurate definition, but at least (1) jihad has now officially been defined and (2) the government does not spew that mumbo-jumbo about moral self-improvement or defensive warfare (in contrast to academics, translators, and even wardens). The feds have the basic idea right but need to do some refining. (September 22, 2005)
Nov. 22, 2005 update: Another superseding indictment, another definition of jihad. This one is from the Jose Padilla case:
As used in this Superseding Indictment, the terms "violent jihad" or "jihad" include planning, preparing for, and engaging in, acts of physical violence, including murder, maiming, kidnapping, and hostage-taking.
At a press conference announcing this indictment, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales also offered his own definition of jihad:
The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist with the intention of fighting in "violent jihad"—a short hand term to describe a radical Islamic fundamentalist ideology that advocates using physical force and violence to oppose governments, institutions, and individuals who do not share their view of Islam.
Comment: The first one has the virtue of pointing out the war-quality of jihad. The second gets to the deeply violent core of jihad and does not limit it to fundamentalist versions of Islam. The third is least satisfactory. Maybe the next indictment will get the definition just right.