Between the name and the reality.
You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.
Yesterday I read an excellent article
about the role language has played in the “War On Terror” and our lives post 9/11. Everyone of us, the authors of this site included, has come to use a new lexicon, and to wield words as they have not been used for some time. The very concept of sites such as this, and the name they have been given is a new construct based almost entirely on language, and much of it on the new language.
A few tidbits from the referenced article:
Immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Department of Defense designated the military response as "Operation Infinite Justice." Muslim groups protested, saying that Islam teaches that Allah alone can provide "infinite justice." The military campaign was quickly renamed "Operation Enduring Freedom." Similarly, when Bush described the war on terrorism as "a crusade," he came under criticism because of the evocation of medieval wars between Christendom and the Islamic world. He dropped the term.
And there are the changing names for the enemy in Iraq. U.S. military spokesmen first referred to them as "dead-enders" or "Baathist holdouts." When the insurgency turned out to be undeniably widespread and well organized, its members were "former regime loyalists." Then, when it was pointed out that "loyalty" generally has a positive connotation, the term mutated to "former regime elements."
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks there were no words to describe what had happened. Then came the comparisons to Pearl Harbor, and the talk of “war.” Phrases like “nothing will ever be the same” crept into our collective conscience. Language was used simultaneously to define the enemy not as Islam but as “terror”, and to call for tolerance at home for those who shared a religion with our attackers. The President used words like “evil” and “crusade” and was resoundingly chastised since crusade implies religion- even though we are facing an enemy who has declared holy war on us.
I have long been opposed to the phrase “War on Terror” itself. Designed to be non-offensive to the public in general and Muslims in particular it is an incredibly vague construct. “Terror” is not the enemy, it is the tactic. We have, more or less, declared war on a feeling in order to spare the feelings of a certain demographic and avoid the PC issues inherent in naming a readily identifiable enemy. We can’t even argue that we are at war against terrorists- we are not, after all, pursuing the Basque separatists, or Chechnyan rebels. As was argued on this site back in November, if we are at war with anyone it is the islamo-fscists. We need to clearly articulate who the enemy is, and then define how we will defeat that enemy, thereby identifying an endpoint in the “war”. (I have similar feelings about the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Poverty”).
We try to use the language of economics to explain where terrorists come from (“the poor, the disadvantaged”), rather than point to the language of hate preached in the madras’s and schools from which the 19 Sept. 11th killers emerged. Once and for all, poverty does not cause young men and women to grow up to be terrorists- hate filled rhetoric from men bent on evil does.
Muslim and Arab groups in America and other Western countries make every effort to steer the language back towards conciliation, or speak of the “hijacking” of Islam, branding the terrorists as usurpers of religion and language as well as murderers. More recently, in his taped message just before the election, OBL sounded like a clip from a Michael Moore film as he embarked on a pre-emptive bashing of the President. All the players have adapted their language for the new stage.
As the President delivers his speech at the inauguration tomorrow, and as we enter the final countdown for the election in Iraq, we must be sure to say what we mean, and mean what we say. This administration has been accused of oversimplifying matters when it comes to global relations and foreign policy. I accuse the MSM, the apologists and the anti-America crowd of obfuscating what are simple truths: there is an enemy, the enemy can be named and must be defeated. Islamo-fascism is our “bird”- but you can call call this flock what you wish, the name is not important. We have all seen them at work. We all recognize them when presented with their deeds. We all know what they want- nothing short of the death of the West. We all know the difference between the name of this war and the reality. The time has come to stop mincing words.
Since I opened with a quote, here is an ending one as well:
Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking- John Maynard Keynes