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Dictators Can’t Use Our Word! Getting Orwellian on Fake “Terrorists”

You might have two thoughts after reading the title to this post. First, if you’re a truly dedicated On V disciple, you might be thinking, “Didn’t you already debunk this word three years ago in "Getting Orwellian: Contractors, Mercenaries, Private Security and Terrorists’?” Second, you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with the word ‘terrorist’?”   

To the first question, I (Eric C) didn’t remember writing about it. And that post was about the American media applying the word “terrorist” to every combatant in an active war zone. (In short, a soldier/insurgent probably isn’t a terrorist in an active war zone. Especially a civil war.)

To the second question, there’s nothing wrong with using the word “terrorist”, if you’re describing the actions of terrorists. A terrorist is someone who uses extreme acts of violence to achieve political, religious or ideological goals, usually targeting civilians. It’s someone who, outside of warzones, engages in ideological violence. Simple, right?

Except, in a two week span, I saw three anti-democratic world leaders use the word “terrorist” to delegitimize legitimate political opponents.

First, Egypt:

“Egypt is set to put 20 journalists, including four foreigners, on trial Thursday on terror-related charges in a case with ominous implications for freedom of expression under the military-backed interim government.”

The interim cabinet in Egypt labeled journalists--who weren’t using violence--as terrorists. Is the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization? I mean, yes, at times. They were also the ruling government of Egypt before a military coup, which throws the whole thing on it’s head. I mean, a government wouldn’t use terrorism against itself, right? What would that even look like?

Next up, Ukraine:

On January 22nd protesters hungry for action and tired of empty talk from both the government and the opposition clashed with the police, lobbing Molotov cocktails...Russian state television portrayed the protesters as Western-sponsored radicals and terrorists…

“... Sergei Glazyev, an adviser to Mr Putin on Ukraine, openly called on Mr Yanukovych to use force against “terrorists” to prevent chaos.

Again, anti-government protesters, some of which were violent, were labelled as terrorists, both by the Kremlin and eventually by the ousted president. But the vast majority of the protesters were peaceful. And ethnic Russians, protesting Kiev, eventually used violence themselves. Why didn’t Russia label them as terrorists?

Finally, Syria. As CBS wrote it up in their interview with Bashar al Assad, “Instead of civil war, Assad said, Syria is facing ‘terrorism through proxies,’ referring to foreign backing of the rebellion against his regime.” And that’s completely wrong--wait, no, that may be completely accurate. Islamic extremists associated with terror groups are fighting in Syria. And many of them are backed by Saudi Arabian donors. Then again, some fighters opposing Assad are legitimate freedom fighters engaged in a civil war.

(The amazing thing about the rise of ISIS is how so many of the things we thought we knew about the world since 9/11 had to be reversed. If America had intervened against Assad, we’d have been fighting alongside Sunni extremists (terrorists) who saw fit in the last few weeks to chop off the heads of journalists held hostage. Also, when does a terrorist group become a nation state? Do nation states count as terror groups?)

What matters isn’t that world leaders have misused the word “terrorist”; it’s why. Like every other Kanye album, 9/11 changed the game. Terrorism became America’s first concern, especially internationally. Because America cared so much, and because we hold so much sway, terrorism--instead of larger, economic global progress--became the number one concern of the rest of the world as well. We made it matter.

And now that word is being used against us. We only have ourselves to blame.

four comments

What do you think of state terrorism, Eric and Michael, and how would you define it?

“We have only ourselves to blame.”!

Geesh, do you think the people who seek to score propaganda points agin’ us keep a tally sheet and will only use pejoratives that we have used and misused before?

They use whatever works or whatever they think will work. It doesn’t matter what anybody has used before.

Fair enough, Carl, but little can replace the value of moral consistency.

This name game reminds me of the term “Banden” (gangs), which was applied to German counterguerrilla/counterpartisan warfare in the Eastern and Southeastern Europe, 1942-1944.

Those Banden/gangs certainly did a lot to deserve the name, but they were also freedom fighters more or less. Dictatorships and occupying aggressors easily call their enemies names, and it’s perfectly normal to expect them to call their enemies “terrorists” now, just as it was perfectly normal for them to call them “communists” or “counter-revolutionaries” back during the Cold War.

I noticed “fascists” is now quite popular again, too (Russians call various pro-Ukrainian militias and Ukrainian parties such). “Extremist islamists” or similar seems to work as a derogatory label used by some support-seeking governments as well.

In the end, one should discourage the labelling by our media and seek info / think for oneself on a case-by-case basis.