Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Secret Word

Daniel Pipes rounds up the various media euphemisms for the terrorists who slaughtered the children in Russia:

  • Assailants - National Public Radio.
  • Attackers – the Economist.
  • Bombers – the Guardian.
  • Captors – the Associated Press.
  • Commandos – Agence France-Presse refers to the terrorists both as "membres du commando" and "commando."
  • Criminals - the Times (London).
  • Extremists – United Press International.
  • Fighters – the Washington Post.
  • Group – the Australian.
  • Guerrillas: in a New York Post editorial.
  • Gunmen – Reuters.
  • Hostage-takers - the Los Angeles Times.
  • Insurgents – in a New York Times headline.
  • Kidnappers – the Observer (London).
  • Militants – the Chicago Tribune.
  • Perpetrators – the New York Times.
  • Radicals – the BBC.
  • Rebels – in a Sydney Morning Herald headline.
  • Separatists – the Christian Science Monitor.

    And my favorite:

  • Activists – the Pakistan Times.

Now sometimes a reporter needs more than one word for something, to avoid repeating the same word over and over in a lengthy piece. You call it a "fire" in one place and a "blaze" in another, and in the next sentence you write about "the flames." I don't think the "Times" of London or the New York "Post" have been shy about using "terrorist" when warranted. But what's depressing to me is the number of these media sources that I've checked that simply would not use "terrorist" at all.

The Washington Post studiously avoids it:

The classroom where Tatyana Dulayeva had taught history of civilization was still smoking a bit. "It's just a horror," she said as she surveyed the scene of so many lessons over the last 13 years. Dulayeva, 49, escaped capture only because she was 10 minutes late for school when the guerrillas took over the building. Now she had nothing but memories of so many of the children she taught. "The kids grew up together with us," she said.

In this, one of the most gripping descriptions of the terror ('We Need to See This,' Teacher Says, by Peter Baker) they are guerrillas throughout.

Pipes has a theory as to where and how this began:

The origins of this unwillingness to name terrorists seems to lie in the Arab-Israeli conflict, prompted by an odd combination of sympathy in the press for the Palestinian Arabs and intimidation by them. The sympathy is well known; the intimidation less so. Reuters' Nidal al-Mughrabi made the latter explicit in advice for fellow reporters in Gaza to avoid trouble on the Web site, where one tip reads: "Never use the word terrorist or terrorism in describing Palestinian gunmen and militants; people consider them heroes of the conflict."

None in the Western media has yet reached the depths of Islamist scholar Tariq Ramadan, who was hired as a lecturer at the University of Notre Dame but couldn't get a visa, who publicly refers to the Islamist atrocities of Sept. 11, Bali, and Madrid as "interventions." But don't be surprised if you live to see it.