War on Words: How Not To Win the War On Terror
By Abigail R. Esman
World Defense Review columnist
Next month, the European Union will review a proposal for a new "lexicon for discussing radicalization," to be adopted by individual governments, the EU Commission, and the European Parliament. With it will come a ban on the term "Islamic terrorist," which is to be replaced with the phrase "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam." Also under threat: the words "Islamist," "fundamentalist," and "jihad." The reason? According to the Christian Science Monitor, one EU official told Reuters, " This is an attempt ... to be aware of the sensitivities implied by the use of a certain language."
Now, maybe I have this wrong, but it seems to me that replacing the term "Muslim terrorist" with "terrorist abusively invoking Islam" suggests that these terrorists aren't Muslims – a rather audacious take, I would say, since they certainly think of themselves as Muslims. Isn't that a bit insensitive? Or do we have the authority to decide that for them?
And if this is to be the new rule, then in the interest of fairness and equality, shouldn't we now refer to Basque terrorists as "terrorists abusively invoking Basque" and Irish terrorists as "terrorists abusively invoking Ireland?" Are Palestinian terrorists "terrorists abusively invoking Palestine?" If not, why not? And what about that word "abuse," anyway?
Where does it end? [And what's the point? A rose by any other name, as we all know by now, remains a rose. Okay, bad analogy: these guys don't exactly bring to mind the springtime scent of roses. But I didn't invent the phrase. Take it up with Shakespeare.]
But more disturbing – most disturbing – is this new effort to curtail free speech – one of the most sacred hallmarks of democracy. First we saw the censorship of the Danish cartoons. Now this. Some time ago, I noted in this very space that Theo van Gogh used words. So, too, of Steven Vincent. So too, of Danny Pearl. Their killers didn't.
And now those we look to protect us, to defend all that our journalists, our soldiers, our artists have died for, start to steal the words away, until we too are left with only weapons of violence, of death. Do they convince us to lay those down, too?
Castration by Islam.
When political correctness becomes popular suicide.
Because every time we bend, they win.
And the truth is, this doesn't even address the problem. This doesn't, in fact, do anything. We only capitulate. We whisper. We concern ourselves with "sensitivity" and readjust the language – every language – to accommodate, to consider the tender feelings of every Muslim who is not a terrorist, even if we never do these things for anybody else. But we do not do things like enlighten, like reach out, like help. We rarely extend our efforts to the Communities That Are Muslim to offer alternatives to Saudi propaganda, or to the recruiters who come increasingly not just from abroad, but from the West. We simply bend. And if we do not bend, we break down: in a grossly un-democratic fashion, we remove every semblance of compassion and simply punish, even the innocent, instead.
I am waiting to see action. I am waiting for what motivational speakers call "pro-activity." Has the West run out of imagination?
Instead, I'd rather see more people like a professor I met recently at the University of Leiden who is working to create a program to teach classic Western literature to both Dutch and Muslim youth. I would prefer to see more role models like the Turkish-Dutch Senay Ozdemir, whose magazine for Muslim women addresses questions about honor killings and domestic violence and radical interpretations of the Koran in Western, enlightened terms.
In Holland and elsewhere in Europe, Muslim students often threaten teachers who offer lessons on the Holocaust; so the lessons stop. Instead of playing with the "sensitivities" involved, I suggest we make lessons about the Holocaust mandatory, and a student who threatens someone for teaching it be sent to juvenile prison. (This, too, of course, has become yet another way they've ruined our free speech: We don't insist on teaching the classes anyway, but stay silent. They do not learn. We do not speak. No one bothers to tell these kids anything about Jews that would even make them care to listen in the first place- - nothing about Jewish achievement, or the gifts Jews have brought to their daily lives. Jews are the people they see killing Palestinians on satellite TV. Of course they don't care about the Holocaust.)
So we adjust our education systems and restructure our lexicons, and allow women to be beaten, to be killed, but we do not say "enough." We do not change in ways that could change them. We do not offer them the hope, the insights, that could bring them to our vision of the world. We tiptoe. We let ourselves be terrorized. We surrender.
And so, in far too many ways, we lose.