The Language of Terror

Language is powerful. The words we use to express ourselves reflect our own view of the world, but they can also serve to reflect the agendas of others if we are not careful in our choice of words.

Consider, for example the country known as Burma or Myanmar. The use of the name Myanmar legitimizes an illegal government that has refused to yield power despite having lost an election in 1990.

In a small way, we legitimize the gang of murderous thugs who call themselves al-Qaida every time we use that name. We need to name them on our terms, not theirs.

Call them something else. They are Killers Of Innocent Civilians. So call them “al-Koic” or “the Koic”–or anything else other than what they named themselves.

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3 Responses to “The Language of Terror”

  1. M. Mortazavi Says:

    Interesting. .. However, I don’t see how the use of any name or label could legitimize any immoral acts. (Illegality is a completely separate matter for discussion.) Acts find their legitimacy in what they are about not in what we may call them to be. So, for example, if we call an act X and another Y, what we have called X does not become more virtuous or more legitimate than what we have called Y, even if the label “X” sounds more virtuous when spoken.

  2. Geoff Arnold Says:

    There is a plausible argument out there (see here) that the name Al Qaida was barely used – and certainly not as we use it today – before US prosecutors sought to use RICO and similar statutes against Bin Laden early in 2001; they needed to identify a criminal organization “by name”.I haven’t seen the documentary mentioned in my blog entry, but friends in England say that it is very persuasive. Unfortunately I doubt it will be shown over here any time soon.As for whether or not to use particular names for particular people, I don’t have much patience with magical thinking. See, for example, Jeff Solof’s Halloween rant.

  3. Hani Suleiman Says:

    This is an utterly ludicrous idea, that seems closely aligned with concepts like ‘thoughtcrimes’ and ‘doublespeak’.
    There are many examples where the language does make a difference and political usage will hugely affect the chosen word. Some examples: terrorist/freedom fighter, preemtive action/unlawful war, pro choice/babykillers.
    So sure, language is hugely powerful. It’s one thing to be on the receiving end of it and have to decipher the actual intent, but it’s quite another to actively seek to obfuscate and disguise names out of a desperate urge to live in some kind of ‘lalalalaIcanthearyou’ approach.
    Al Qaeda’s nefarious purposes and intents can be despicable and sickening to everyone, without changing its name, which after all means nothing more than ‘the base’.

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