Wednesday, June 02, 2004

"Terrorists" vanish and I'm a pain in the rear

Good news! "Terrorists" are disappearing. At least, the word "terrorist" is disappearing from the major media coverage. The al Qaida killers who slaughtered 22 people over the weekend in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, were described throughout the AP stories merely as "militants."

These are the criminals who, at one point, broke into an Iraqi-American Muslim's room and had a debate, in front of him, about whether to kill him or not. They decided not to (because he was Muslim), and then gave him a lecture about the excellence of Islam -- all while the Swedish man they had perforated with bullets lay bleeding to death on the floor nearby.

Suits my definition of terrorist as one who uses ruthless violence specifically against non-combatants, and seeks maximum exposure of his brutality, in the interest of some political purpose.

Apparently "terrorist" has become too hot and jugmental for the scribes at the Associated Press. Reuters has been studiously avoiding the word for some time. Surely it's an overused word. People in politics throw it at one another all the time. Just like "Nazi" or "anti-Semite" or "racist." But like these words, it does have a meaning, and a journalist, whose business is half in words, half in facts, ought to be able to know when a word fits the facts, and use the right word, rather than banishing a useful term from the vocabulary just because some people get sloppy with it.

Sunday, after reading these stories in the proofs of the paper, I was in the mood to be a pain in the ass and asked, aloud, how come the guys who did 9-11 were terrorists, and these guys are only "militants?"

I don't think a single one of the other five copy editors sitting around the desk had noticed this. Even more amazing, my boss actually had an answer, after he ran it through his head for a second (any longer and he tends to forget the question). It's the kind of answer you might concoct if you thought about it for one tick of the clock. In effect, he said it was because the terr -- I mean "militants" -- were acting in their own country (he somehow knows they were Saudis; that wasn't in the story). That makes them militants, see. When they do it in someone else's country, they're terrorists.

Somehow, though, I don't think that was the AP's reasoning. At least, I don't remember seeing Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad described in AP articles as "American militants."