According to Tarik Kafala, head of BBC Arabic, the word ‘terrorist’ is too ‘loaded’ and ‘value-laden’. Why not just say “two men killed 12 people” and leave it at that?
I agree wholeheartedly.
The English language has grown way too big for its own good. All this innate English pedantry has led to uncountable concepts fractured into numerous sub-concepts, each demanding its own word.
This creates all sorts of problems. For one thing, our educational systems simply can’t cope with such lexical cornucopia. As a result, pupils jettisoned into the world of work know only about 1,000 words, and even those they can neither read fluently nor spell.
How do you suppose it makes them feel when all around them they hear English words that to them might as well be Nepali? It makes them feel dejected and rejected, that’s how.
The inferiority complex descends faster than you can say socio-economically disadvantaged.
For those who don’t understand polysyllabic words, inferiority complex means a richly justified realisation that one is indeed inferior. Yet such feelings have no place in our progressive world. The word ‘inferior’ isn’t just laden with values; it positively bursts with it.
No one is inferior or superior to anyone. We are all equal in every respect, and if it appears that some standards are too high for some people, then the standards must be lowered.
Applied to the task at hand, this approach means that the word ‘man’ must be made to work overtime, to convey all sorts of meanings hitherto assigned to more precise words. Simple, isn’t it?
Everyone knows the word, so no problem there, especially if ‘man’ is followed by ‘their’, as in “every man must do their duty”.
Thus it isn’t an engineer who designs bridges, but a man. Not a footballer who scores a goal, but a man. No scientists, bus drivers, geologists, social workers, state officials, musicians, vicars – there are only men and/or women and/or other.
That way no one has to rack his – their!!! – brain trying to remember the difference between, say, a paediatrician and a paedophile.
One man/woman/other treats children, another man/woman/other has sex with them. Sancta simplicitas. No linguistic difficulties, no pedantic nit-picking with definitions, no one feels inferior and therefore offended.
Now just imagine the offence that a word like ‘terrorist’ can cause. The kind people who have put together BBC guidelines clearly can’t imagine it, or rather don’t see why they have to.
One side’s terrorists are the other side’s freedom fighters, we all know that. Using the word ‘terrorist’ automatically puts the speaker on one side and against the other. This presupposes an implicit rejection of moral parity, which is just not on.
In any case, says Mr Kafala, the word is indefinable. “The UN has been struggling to define the word for more than a decade and they can’t.” You mean, even if they haven’t gone through our comprehensive education?
My trusted dictionary defines terrorism as “the unofficial or unauthorised use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” What fault do the UN and Mr Kafala find with this definition? Sounds pretty accurate to me.
The purpose of terrorism is to terrorise, in the words of Vladimir Lenin, a renowned authority on the subject.
The stratagem has been known since at least the Sicarii of biblical times, but the word ‘terrorism’ only appeared in English courtesy of the French Jacobins, Lenin’s acknowledged role models.
So let’s see how tightly the dictionary definition fits the Paris AK wielders. They didn’t act in any officially authorised capacity – tick. They used violence and intimidation – tick. They pursued political objectives – tick.
Sounds like the word fits them to a T, as in terrorism. That, however, isn’t the point at all, according to BBC lexicographers.
They are sensitive not just to the cold-blooded semantics but also to the emotional colouring. Even if the former is spot-on, the latter can still offend.
In this instance the offended parties would be all those millions of BBC viewers and listeners who are on the side of, well, the Paris men. And they have a sacred right not to be offended, bestowed upon them by the God of Diversity.
He is a wrathful and vengeful God – sin against him at your peril. So just say ‘man’ and shut up.
What, ‘man’ is too general for you? Well, if you insist, the BBC will kindly provide other options.
How about ‘attacker’? No values anywhere in sight: you can defend any cause and hence you can attack its foes.
Still too harsh a term? Then how about ‘militant’, asks the BBC. Christians talk about ‘Church Militant’, so what can possibly be wrong with Mosque Militants? Nothing at all. Fair is fair.
If you’re still unhappy, try ‘bomber’, says the BBC. A Lancaster dropping blockbusters on Germany is a bomber, so is a ‘man’ blowing up a school bus. No values, no judgement, the God of Diversity has a grin on his face.
“Our responsibility,” states the BBC guidance, “is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”
All assessments, it hardly needs saying, are equally valid. To you, the Kouachi brothers may be terrorists. To Mr Kafala they are just ‘men’. To the BBC at large they may, at a stretch, be called ‘attackers’ or, at a tighter stretch, ‘militants’.
And in my assessment we should refuse to pay the BBC licence fee. After all, it too is loaded with value. £145.50 of it.