In the news we often see certain phrases used vehemently to describe a particular circumstance, phenomena or action. These words saturate our brains until they often lose any meaning. I think this may in part be deliberate to encourage audiences to challenge these ideas less and just accept them at face value. In fact, I would go as far as to say that they breed ignorance and social appeasement.
Below I will begin to define and call into question some of the more popular buzzwords to encourage readers to perhaps question what they read and see a little more thoroughly. I will also define some appropriate but often deliberately avoided terms. Today we will mainly be focusing on the “War on Terror”.
This can be treated as an exercise, and you will need a pen and paper. Cheating is not encouraged but we are on an honour system here.
Please write down all the words below, for each of them, think about where you have heard them, in what context and what they are intended to mean in each case. What do you think they mean? Then write next to them what you think they mean. If you do not know, guess, because the way we think about words is just as important as definitions that we are sure of but are in fact incorrect.
Now definitions without context are somewhat useless, so here is the some text from one of the most important speeches of the 21st century; President Bush in his congressional address following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York in September 2001. As you read, whenever you come across a highlighted word, think about the definitions you have written down, think about what President Bush means, what he is implying. Transcript courtesy of the Washington Post.
“On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.
Americans have known surprise attacks, but never before on thousands of civilians.
All of this was brought upon us in a single day, and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.
Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, “Who attacked our country?”
The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are some of the murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and responsible for bombing the USS Cole.
Al Qaeda is to terror what the Mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money, its goal is remaking the world and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics; a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.
The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans and make no distinctions among military and civilians, including women and children.
This group and its leader, a person named Osama bin Laden, are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.
There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries.
They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.
The leadership of Al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan we see Al Qaeda’s vision for the world. Afghanistan’s people have been brutalized, many are starving and many have fled.”
Here is second passage.
“Americans are asking, “How will we fight and win this war?”
We will direct every resource at our command–every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war–to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network.
Now, this war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes visible on TV and covert operations secret even in success.
We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place until there is no refuge or no rest.
And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.”
Notice throughout, the President and by proxy the speech writer define many of these words for us. Do the definitions they imply match your answers? Do you feel that your definitions were reinforced or changed? Below is a list of definitions provided by www.thefreedictionary.com
Terrorism – The use of fear as a weapon, often to coerce another group politically or achieve some other goal.
Terrorist – Someone who uses fear to coerce others or achieve some other goal.
Bombing – To attack, damage, or destroy with or as if with bombs.
War – A state of open, armed, often prolonged conflict carried on between nations, states, or parties.
Extremism – an ideology or political act far outside the perceived political centre of a society; or otherwise claimed to violate common moral standards.
How do these definitions match up to what you thought about and had written. If you like, go back and re-read the passages above. Do they make you feel scared of terrorists? Do you feel reassured that President Bush was going to war with them? Do you think President Bush could be considered a terrorist by encouraging the US populous to fear a particular group? Do you think the words are being used appropriately?
Hopefully this exercise has planted a seed of doubt in your mind about your preconceptions about certain words and will perhaps make you slightly more wary of some of the buzzwords used in the media. This is the first part in what will probably end up being a very long series. Hopefully I have intrigued you enough to want to come back. As always please subscribe/follow so you don’t miss any new updates.