One of the lesser-commented-on fronts in the War On Terror is the battle over language. The very terms used to describe our enemies in Iraq are a constant source of strife, and it appears that the Bush administration are losing.
The Bush administration calls them “terrorists,” but the most commonly used term is “insurgents.” A close runner-up is “rebels.”
Now, maybe I’m being ignorant (I can’t find a dictionary to back me up), but I’ve always thought of “rebels” and “insurgents” as having a native component. It was the people who had to live under the rule of the force they were rebelling or insurging against that ruling body could properly claim the name. And they would be most interested in striking against that oppressive government or occupying force to achieve their ends.
But in Iraq, that doesn’t seem to be the case. The “insurgents” have killed about 1700 Americans and Allied forces in the two years since the invasion of Iraq, but (according to figures released last week) have killed over 12,000 Iraqis in the last year alone. They can’t all have been collaborators and such; in fact, lately the favorite target has been Shiite mosques.
Secondly, another report out last week said that less than 10% of all the suicide bombers in Iraq are actually Iraqi. Over 90% of them have come from other nations, half of them from Saudi Arabia. At least by this yardstick, there is a very small native element to the “insurgency.”
But perhaps the New York Times (and the rest of the media) means the term “insurgent” to mean “any resister to an occupation, whether domestic or foreign.” By that meaning, then, the Allies are not occupying Afghanistan. After all, at the time of the occupation, the United Nations did not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, but the Northern Alliance, and they invited the US and our allies to come in.
I think it’s the notion of the “underdog” that helps the Times decide who is an insurgent or not. The idea of rooting for the little guy against the big guy is a long-standing tradition in the press, and it’s easy to see which is the big guy and which is the little guy in the struggle.
But someone ought to remind the Times that smaller isn’t always better, and sometimes the big guy is right. It’s the little guy who goes around videotaping the beheading of innocents while screaming “God is Great!” It’s the little guy that is blowing up mosques and markets. It’s the little guy that’s killed thousands of innocents. Would it kill the Times to admit that? To call these people “terrorists?”
Here’s a pretty good definition of “terrorism:”
“the calculated use of violence (or threat of violence) against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature; this is done through intimindation or coercion or instilling fear.”
Yup, seems to fit them pretty much like a glove.
Update: Ed wanted my source for the numbers above. My apologies, Ed, I should have included this reference.