January 21, 2005

A Matter of Words 

You may have noticed that media dispatches from Israel/The Territories and Iraq most of the time uses terms like militant, activists gunmen, insurgents, rebels; more rarely fighters or guerrillas. The word terrorists, on the other hand, is almost never used.

I am I bit puzzled by these editorial choices, so I looked up some of these words, trying to understand their use.
While militant apparently has quite a warrying meaning (although its common use is different), activist has a markedly different connotation - of someone maybe not totally peaceful, but not intent on waging a shooting war. Not to mention gunman, that refers much more to common criminals than to politically-motivated fighters.

So, of the terms described above, activists and gunmen look to me way off target, while all the rest are quite accurate. Terrorists is banned because considered an exceedingly loaded and judgemental term. But for me, terrorists are those who adhere to the military doctrine of terrorism - and guerrillas adhere to the doctrine of guerrilla.
Instead, terrorists is too often used as an epiteth to indicate "very bad guys who kill civilians". This is not an useful definition.
Thus it happened that a terrorist is seen as morally worse than a rebel, insurgent or a generic fighter, while it may not necessarily be the same - or better, the real distinction lies more in the objectives than in the doctrine employed. With some limits, of course: we in the West righteously tend to minimize collateral damage no matter what.

But the real reason for Reuters et al. not to use "loaded" words is not to upset some parties, mainly the same fighters (let's go with this term, for now) mentioned in the article. This happens because many of these news outlets rely heavily on local sources (partly for ideological similarities, partly for mere convenience - the whole thing is rather complex), and upsetting them would mean the end of a situation that is good for both the media and the fighters: the media have an endless stream of news, often very spectacular and emotionally-loaded, while the fighters get the acritic and widespread propaganda they want and need. Not to mention physical risk for some reporters.

The situation is complicated by the fact that those fighters do different things at the same time: thee are rebelling against the Iraqi government, they are engaged in both terrorism and guerrilla, and other things.

So what's the correct term? I propose jihadis.
Because that's what they are doing: fighting jihad, the Holy War against the Infidels mandated by the Quran (or at least by the mainstream interpretations of this book) and preached as a duty for any "good" muslim. Any available means, doctrine and strategies are considered legitimate to fight the jihad, and jihadis have a thing for beheadings and other gruesome forms of killing - which in this age of fast information are abundantly displayed in pictures and videos for propaganda use.

And maybe this term would not even upset the jihadis so much, because they are proud of fighting jihad...


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