Libya has been identified as a priority country for this work given the unstable security situation and the extensive fragmentation in the country in the years since the overthrow of Gaddafi, all of which has been shown to play out in a burgeoning online environment.
As of December 2017, 54.1 percent of Libya’s population were Facebook users while the mobile phone penetration rate is over 100 percent, with many people having more than one mobile subscription.
Primary Words and Phrases That Are Offensive and Inflammatory
The following list is organized from most inflammatory and prevalent to least inflammatory and prevalent as indicated by participants in the survey and focus groups. Although this ranking is based on the consensus formed from this input, it is subjective and should not be taken as a definitive hierarchy.
1. دواعش / Dwaesh
Other spellings and related references: اصولي (English translation: radical); انتحاري / intihari (English translation: suicidal); براهما / brahma (English translation: bird / chicken) / chicken legs (reference to short pants that show ankles, worn as men’s religious attire); مدخلي / Madkhali; وهابي / Wahhabi; قاتل / qatil (English translation: killer); تكفيري / takfiri; متطرف / mutatarif (English translation: terrorist / extremist); جماعة افغنستان / jamaat Afghanistan (English meaning: refers to the Libyan fighters who came from Afghanistan when they joined al Qaeda); جماعة اللحي / jamaat illahy (English translation: group with beards—referring to the practice of growing a beard for religious purpose); خوارج / khawarij
Terms Targeting Religiously Conservative Women (tangentially linked to, but not synonymous with ‘Daeshi’): خيمة / khima (English translation: tent); khimar (ninja) / batman (reference to attire covering everything except for the eyes)
Definition: This word means “a member of ISIL,” for which the Arabic acronym is Daesh. The context in which it is used is key to understanding how this term is applied as inflammatory speech. Used dispassionately, it can simply describe someone who is actually a member of the extremist group; however, in sensitive contexts in Libya, it is often used to describe anyone who is seen as politically or religiously radical or extremist in comparison to the speaker’s own views.
As one respondent in Benghazi stated, “Any person that fights freedom in general is called a Daeshi.” It is an accusation that is not necessarily based on the accused person’s actions or role in an extremist organization; rather, it may be based on the accused person’s appearance (e.g., dressing conservatively) or political opinion. It is used as both an insult and provocation that may lead to violence.
Widespread use of “Daeshi” in Libya began sometime between 2013 and 2015, when the Islamic State began carrying out operations in the country. In its current usage, it is often employed against anyone who opposes General Haftar and the LNA, falsely conflating any opponents with Islamist extremists.
Why it’s offensive and inflammatory: “Daeshi” is inflammatory because it is used in certain contexts to accuse individuals of belonging to ISIL or to associate them with the related extremist ideology and its extreme actions, thus justifying violence against the accused.
According to a focus group participant in Kufra, “This term creates incitement. It is used to criminalize anyone who is intellectually or politically different. Like, if you have a different view on something, people can label you this term even when of course you do not support them [ISIL].” It is reportedly used frequently in political disagreements, around elections and in everyday disputes, associating political opponents with terrorist actors.
In relation to the term’s connection with violence, one focus group participant in Benghazi said, in what appeared to be a joking manner, “If I heard that the person next to me is an ISIS member, it may lead me to kill him!”
This term was extensively politicized after the civil war in 2014 and, as mentioned above, it is often used to describe political opponents. For example, if someone lives in the east and is vocal against the LNA, people might describe them as “Daeshi,” stigmatizing them and putting them under the potential threat of being killed or imprisoned.
Even if a person is not a member of any Islamist groups, if they are not explicit in their rejection of Islamists, others may label them as “Daeshi.” This puts those targeted potentially under threat from the security forces and from family members of people killed by Islamists who may be seeking revenge.
Non-offensive alternative terms: اصولي (English translation: fanatic); جماعة اصولية / jamaa usulia (English translation: fundamentalist / reformist group)
2. خوارج / Khawarij
Other spellings and related references: خارجي / khariji (singular); النار كلاب / kalaab alnaar (English translation: fire / hell dogs); دواعش / Daeshi; إرهابي / irhabi (English translation: terrorist); الكلاب الضالة / kalaab dallah (English translation: stray dogs); مرتد / murtad (English translation: apostate)
Definition: This term has its origins in the first century of Islam as the name of an early fundamentalist sect that revolted against the caliph in power at the time 24 and parted ways from the dominant Islamic practice.
The term experienced a resurgence during the 2011 revolution in Libya and the other Arab Spring uprisings and continues to be used in the present-day Libyan context.
It has evolved to describe someone who misuses Islam by participating in an extremist or radical group. Some respondents described this term as equivalent to the term “terrorist” and essentially interchangeable with this word and the term “Daeshi.”
A narrower explanation from the focus groups defines “khawarij” as any armed group or members of an armed group that doesn’t obey the state leader or person in power.
Some respondents reported that it is used more broadly to disparage anyone who is viewed as incorrectly following Islam; several noted that it is often used in this way by Madkhali-Salafi adherents, a conservative Sunni (Salafi) Muslim group that has been gaining influence throughout Libya in recent years.
25 Several focus group participants noted that the term has been used to justify violent actions against opponents. For example, one participant in the Tripoli focus group stated that the term “was used in the war in the east of Libya; groups were labeled as that [khawarij] regardless, whether they are or not, and many groups were executed by the LNA.”
Why it’s offensive and inflammatory: The term “khawarij” is used to imply or indicate that someone has deviated from the Islamic path by acting against the state or by disobeying a leader. As a result, those identified as “khawarij” are no longer considered a part of Muslim society because they have acted against the whole.
The use of this term is particularly dangerous because, according to some doctrine in Islam, it is justifiable to kill an apostate (someone who has renounced a religious belief or principle). The word is used in an inflammatory manner when it is used to call for violent action against those accused of being “khawarij.”
The term may be used to signal that the person labeled as such is an extremist and therefore an acceptable target for violence. Particularly in LNA-controlled areas, calling someone a “khariji” (singular form of “khawarij”) could potentially threaten that person’s safety.
The term was used extensively in the civil war in Benghazi in 2014 when Haftar launched “Operation Dignity.” It was used not only to describe Islamists, but also people who were sympathizers, relatives, or members of the MB or Ansar al Sharia.
For this reason, many people who left Benghazi due to fears of “Operation Dignity” are now referred to as “khawarij” in the east of Libya; there is graffiti of the term on the walls of some of the abandoned houses.
Non-offensive alternative terms: مصلحين / muslihin (English translation: reformers / reformists); الجماعات الأوصولية / jamaat usulia (English translation: fundamentalists / reformists group); الثوار / althuwwar (English translation: revolutionaries); المعارضين / almuarideen (English translation: opponents / objectors); جماعة الإصلاح والتغيير (English translation: reform and change group)
3. إخوان / Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood)
Other spellings and related references: الإخوان المسلمين / al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (full, official name of Muslim Brotherhood); اخواني / ikhwani (adjective of ikhwan); سارق / sariq (English translation: thief); masmoom (English meaning: poisonous / a malicious person with no principles); أتراك (English translation: Turks); كلاب البنا / kilab albana (English translation: dogs of al-Banna [founder of the Muslim Brotherhood]); كلاب المرشد / kilab almurshid (English translation: dogs of the guide/leader of the Muslim Brotherhood)
Definition: The word “ikhwan” translates literally to “brothers,” but in the Libya context and many others throughout the Middle East, it is predominantly used to refer to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) as it is shorthand for the full title: al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen.
As discussed in the context of the conflict, the MB is a Sunni Islamist organization with an associated political party, the JCP, in Libya. Similar to how the term “Daeshi” has come to be used to apply to more than actual members of ISIL, “ikhwan” has largely moved away from a merely descriptive definition referring to a member of the MB and is often used to imply various negative characteristics.
According to focus group discussions, it indicates that the target of the term is connected to a foreign agenda, that they are self-interested, and that they act against the police and military forces in Libya.
Focus group discussants stated that the term was often used against people viewed as having more closed-minded political beliefs or, according to respondents in Kufra, anyone who is opposed to the LNA or “Operation Dignity.”
One participant said that, “Anyone who is bearded, backwards in religion, opinionated is Muslim Brotherhood.” Another participant stated that this term had been used against her due to her more conservative style of dress.
There appeared to be an assumption across the focus group conversations that the MB—and the term “ikhwan”—is widely viewed negatively throughout the country.
One participant stated, “Everyone has the right to believe in whatever he wants as long as it’s not harming other people, but this group [the MB] – in order to get what they want – they have a history of hurting people. Everyone knows they only work for their own benefit.”
Why it’s offensive and inflammatory: From the discussions held in the focus groups, there is a strong bias from many groups in Libya against the MB and the term “ikhwan” has come to be used as an accusation and insult, particularly in the eastern region of the country.
Even while discussing the use of the term as hate speech, many of the participants indicated their own bias towards the MB with some stating that they are “very dangerous,” that “they are literally worse than devils,” and that “all of Libya’s problems are because of Muslim Brotherhood.”
While some of the conversations recognized that “ikhwan” is used as hate speech against MB members or individuals perceived as having related political goals and beliefs, some of the statements made in the focus groups would themselves qualify as hate speech. For example, one participant said that, “they should be killed!”
Furthermore, use of the term goes beyond bias and hatred against actual members of the MB, as many respondents indicated that the term may also be employed against people who call for reforms of the military or government or who otherwise express opposing political views (particularly those opposed to the LNA).
As indicated by several of the participant comments, many Libyans now attribute many of the country’s problems to the MB and accuse them of trying to take power and control people.
The use of “ikhwan” has been seen to lead to the social seclusion of those labeled as such. Often, “ikhwan,” “Daeshi,” and “khawarij” are used interchangeably, with many people not differentiating between the political MB and the radical groups Ansar al Sharia or ISIL. Therefore, the term can be just as inflammatory as “Daeshi” and “khawarij.”
The use of “ikhwan” as hate speech may increase given the decision of the HoR on May 14, 2019, to classify the MB as a terrorist organization.
Non-offensive alternative terms: الداعون لإسلام يتبع أحكام الشريعة الإسلامية (English translation: those calling for Islam under the rule of Sharia law)