69 million page views

Are they "Terrorists" or "Militants"?

Reader comment on item: Calling a Terrorist a Terrorist

Submitted by Michoel (Israel), Dec 21, 2008 at 06:13

Recently, my Chareidio Global News service was called to task over the use of the word "militant" in place of "terrorist" that appeared in one of our stories on a rocket attack launched from Gaza against the Israeli town of Sderot. Indeed, many consider it a "distortion of words", a mudding of the distinction between good and evil, when the terminology is changed. After all, how can society fight terrorists if we are unable to confront the phenomenon for what it is?

Over the course of the last two decades, as political correctness and moral relativism have grown stronger, the word "terrorist" has undergone significant changes. Everyone agrees on *what* a terrorist is; however, no one seems to agree on *who*, exactly, is a terrorist. In many circles, the word has simply come to mean "our bad guy, that we hate". There are many examples of this, perhaps the most poignant being US President Ronald Reagan's reference to the Islamist Mujahideen terrorists as "freedom fighters" in their vicious and terroristic insurgency fought against the Soviets in the 1980s.

There is no consensus on the bureaucratic definition of terrorism, and there are over one hundred ways that the term is defined. Accordingly, political entities such as the United Nations, European Union, and US Government and other various states and localities have official designations to establish how the various militant organizations will be viewed.

Thus we are left with an uncanny situation in which, for example, members of the group Abu Sayyaf are deemed 'terrorists" according to the United States and the UK, but not by the European Union, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which the European Union grants 'terror' status, is not viewed that way in Great Britain. Even the status of the group Hamas is disputed in Australia.

The blatant ambiguity has the effect of relegating the word "terrorist" to a purely rhetorical plane, and robbing it of its former substance. In addition, the emotional charge to the word brings with it elements of hatred and moral opprobrium which makes use of it difficult in rational discussion, and can be counter-productive because the word's rhetorical dynamic and definitional ambiguity in modern usage distracts and divides rather then helping build consensus.

On the other hand, the word 'militant' simply means, "disposed to warfare or hard-line policies". While application of the term "terrorist" to Palestinian militant organizations goes according to one's political perspective in modern usage, there is no dispute that those launching rockets into southern Israel are militants. It is on this account that governments and international press editors have come to avoid the use of the word "terrorist". Labeling terrorists as "militants" does not mean taking a soft political or military stance.

Under international law, attacks against non-combatants are illegal and can be prosecuted; there are diplomatic angles; the Jewish State has the military means to fight if necessary. But in the war of words, unfortunately, enmity is all that is achieved by this overused and ruined term. On Chareidio, even the grand terrorist of them all, Osama bin Laden, has to be referred to as "arch-terrorist" because the word "terrorist" on it's own conveys such little meaning. Sometimes we refer to terrorists as "perpetrators of acts of terror" because it helps to convey what the word 'terrorist' doesn't anymore, and we also use the word "murder," which fortunately still carries it's own moral weight. The reason for our reticence towards the use of the word "terrorist," therefore, is not because we believe the militants in Gaza aren't terrorists, but rather because the word itself has lost it's luster. -Chareidio

Submitting....

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

Comment on this item

Mark my comment as a response to Are they "Terrorists" or "Militants"? by Michoel

Email me if someone replies to my comment

Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

See recent outstanding comments.

Follow Daniel Pipes

Facebook   Twitter   RSS   Join Mailing List

All materials by Daniel Pipes on this site: © 1968-2022 Daniel Pipes. daniel.pipes@gmail.com and @DanielPipes

Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum.Daniel J. Pipes

(The MEF is a publicly supported, nonprofit organization under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

Contributions are tax deductible to the full extent allowed by law. Tax-ID 23-774-9796, approved Apr. 27, 1998.

For more information, view our IRS letter of determination.)