British Cabinet ministers have been told by the Foreign Office to drop the phrase "war on terror" and other terms seen as liable to anger British Muslims and increase tensions more broadly in the Islamic world.
The shift marks a turning point in British political thinking about the strategy against extremism and underlines the growing gulf between the British and US approaches to the continuing problem of radical Islamic militancy. It comes amid increasingly evident disagreements between US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair over policy in the Middle East.
Experts have welcomed the move away from one of the phrases that has most defined the debate on Islamic extremism, but called it "belated."
"It's about time," said Garry Hindle, terrorism expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "Military terminology is completely counterproductive, merely contributing to isolating communities. I think this is a very positive move."
A Foreign Office spokesman said the government wanted to "avoid reinforcing and giving succor to the terrorists' narrative by using language that, taken out of context, could be counterproductive."
The same message has been sent to British diplomats and official spokespeople around the world.
"We tend to emphasize upholding shared values as a means to counter terrorists," the spokesman said.
Many senior British politicians and counter-terrorism specialists have always been uneasy with the term "the war on terror," coined by the White House in the week following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, arguing that the term risked inflaming opinions worldwide.
Other critics said that it was too "military" and did not adequately describe the nature of the diverse efforts made to counter the new threat.
Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of MI5, recently stressed the threat from growing radicalization among young British Muslims. Government officials believe that militants use a sense of crisis and a "clash of civilizations" to recruit supporters, and thus the use of terms such as "war" or "war on terror" can be counterproductive.
No atlantic trend
Though neither Blair nor Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has used the term "war on terror" in a formal speech since June, Bush continues to use the term liberally.
The US leader spoke of how he hoped that Iraq would become "an ally in the war on terror" during a joint press briefing with Blair in Washington on Friday.
A spokesman for the US State Department on Saturday said that there was no question of dropping the term.
"It's the president's phrase, and that's good enough for us," she said.
The White House Web site has a page devoted to explaining the "war on terrorism," the terminology preferred by the Pentagon, and how it will be won. In April this year Bush compared the "war on terror" to the Cold War in a keynote speech.
Not all British government figures are abiding by the advice, issued by the Foreign Office's Engaging with the Islamic World Unit. Writing in the London-based Sun newspaper recently, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown referred to "our police and armed forces in the front line of the war on terror."
"One of the problems will be getting all parts of government to abide [by the new guidelines]," Hindle said. "Whether the Home Office will want to follow remains to be seen. And politicians all have their own agendas."
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