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Don't Give Up?

Reader comment on item: I Give Up: There Is No Terrorism, There Are No Terrorists

Submitted by John in Michigan, USA (United States), Jun 2, 2015 at 20:09

Dr. Pipes is correct that there is no precise definition of terrorism, however, in the vernacular, or more precisely, in the non-academic context, the word is still meaningful, useful, and reasonably well-defined. As evidence, consider that any dictionary without a definition for the word would be embarassingly incomplete.

The problem with substituting terms like violent, murderous, Islamist, and jihadi is, it will usually be clear from context that they are being used as substitutes or euphemisms. Those who like to obfuscate and knit-pick will soon adjust their rhetoric in response to the your new terms, and you'll find yourself back in the same definitional uproar, albeit having ceded ground. For example, when one labels someone using the new terms, opponents arguing in bad faith could simply accept the substitution and turn it back on the speaker; "The United States is a bunch of violent, murderous, Zionist crusaders" etc. Or, imagine a headline, "Pipes no longer considers Hamas to be terrorist!"

Perhaps the solution is to draw the line between formal, academic usage and everyday language. I certainly agree that in the former case, the word terrorism generates more heat than light. In the later case, mere substitution (especially of words like murderous and violent, which, like terrorist, have clear definitions but fuzzy boundaries) won't save any grief, and may even be perceived as a sort of retreat.

Submitting....

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