Thursday, February 12, 2009

TERRORIST: The Dehumanizing Power of a Word

Being a student of literature (and therefore language), I'm fascinated (and horrified) by the way that war/conflict is perpetrated and encapsulated in the way that we speak and write. In the way that we use words. Perhaps the most powerful contemporary example of this practice is our use of the term "terrorist." I've commented on this fact (or at least hinted at the idea) in a few of my different postings (Belfast Murals, Domestic Violence, Iraqi Deaths).

What's so deeply disturbing about the label "terrorist" is that it robs a human being of all legitimacy (whether of action, cause, or ideal). Sometimes this is done innocently enough (someone commits a "terrorist" act and is labeled accordingly), but I think it is always a harmful practice. After all, what truly separates a terrorist group from a militia? You may say, "killing innocent civilians," but that's rhetoric, not truth. In this war on Gaza, where one side was so clearly labeled a legitimate force, and the other was a "terrorist" army, it was the Israelis who killed hundreds of civilians. Likewise, when Israel attacks Lebanon (which it seems to do periodically), they are waging a legitimate war, sanctioned by our government, even though the casualties are civilians and the Lebanese government is not even involved. However, when Hezbollah attacks Israel, regardless of the status of the casualties (whether soldier or civilian), Hezbollah is not waging a war, but engaging in terrorist action.

Anyway, what sparked this rant was the Christianity Today article about Philip Rizk's detainment. In that article, Rizk mentions that he was accused of working for Hamas, and that another university activist, currently being held without trial, has similarly been labeled a terrorist. Because, obviously, if they're terrorists they have no rights, no need for a trial, and no legitimacy on the world stage (America has effectively proved that point). They have been silenced, irrevocably, by a label.

No comments: