Politics & Policy

Terror and The English Language

Making use of a chief weapon.

The long, twilight struggle against Islamo-fascism requires Civilization to deploy numerous weapons against this implacable foe. As usual, these will include intelligence, covert operations, and high-tech armaments. But another vital tool is language. How Americans and our allies speak and write about this conflict will influence when and how victory will come.

We now face the most anti-Semitic enemy since Adolf Hitler and Josef Goebbels blew their brains out in Berlin in 1945.

Militant Islam is the most bloodthirsty ideology since the Khmer Rouge exterminated one-third of Cambodia’s people. The big difference, of course, is that Pol Pot had the good manners to keep his killing fields within his own borders, as awful as that was.

Islamo-fascism, in contrast, is a worldwide phenomenon that already has touched this country and many of our allies. And yet Muslim extremists rarely have armies we can see, fighter jets we can knock from the sky, nor an easily identifiable headquarters, such as the Reich’s Chancellery of the 1940s or the Kremlin of the Cold War.

While basketball players and their fans battle each other on TV, actresses suffer wardrobe malfunctions, and rap singers scream sweet nothings in our ears, it’s very easy to forget that Islamic extremists plot daily to end all of that and more by killing as many of us as possible.

Language can lull Americans to sleep in this new war, or it can keep us on the offense and our enemies off balance.

Here are a few ways language can keep Americans alert to the danger Islamic terrorism poses to this country:

‐September 11 was an attack, not just a string of coincidental strokes and heart failures that eliminated thousands of victims at once.

Recall some of the words that soon followed the September 11 atrocity. Kinko’s, for instance, placed in its copy shops some very colorful posters with the Stars and Stripes emblazoned across the lower 48 states. That graphic included this regrettable caption:

“The Kinko’s family extends our condolences and sympathies to all Americans who have been affected by the circumstances in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.”

Circumstances? That word describes an electrical blackout, not terrorist bloodshed.

Similarly, September 11 was tragic, but far more, too. “The September 11 tragedy” misses the point: Tornadoes cause tragedies, but they are not malicious, as America’s enemies were that day, and still are.

‐Victims of terrorism do not “die,” nor are they “lost.” They are killed, murdered, and slaughtered.

Likewise, many say that people “died” in the Twin Towers and at the Pentagon. No, people “die” in hospitals, often surrounded by their loved ones while doctors and nurses offer them aid and comfort.

The innocent people at the World Trade Center, the Defense Department, and that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were killed in a carefully choreographed act of mass murder.

‐Specify the number of human beings who terrorists destroy.

–”3,000″ killed on 9-11 sounds like an amorphous blob. The actual number–2,977–forces people to regard these individuals as men and women with faces, stories, and loved ones who miss them very much.

–The precise figures are 2,749 killed at the World Trade Center, 184 at the Pentagon, and 44 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

–Likewise, the Bali disco bombings killed 202 people, including 88 Australians and 7 Americans.

–The Madrid train bombings killed 191 men, women, and children.

Somehow, a total of 191 people killed by al Qaeda’s Spanish franchisees seems more ominous and concrete than a smoothly rounded “200.”

‐Terrorists do not simply “threaten” us, nor does homeland security merely shield Americans from “future attacks.” These things are true, but it is more persuasive to acknowledge what these people have done and hope to do once more: Wipe us out.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R ., Wis.), said this on the November 28 NBC Nightly News:

“We need to tighten up our drivers license provisions and our immigration laws so that terrorists cannot take advantage of the present system to kill thousands of Americans again.”

That is a perfect sound bite. There is no amorphous talk about “the terrorist threat” or “stopping further attacks.” Sensenbrenner concisely explained exactly what is at risk, and what needs to be thwarted:

No more killing of Americans, by the thousands, again.

‐Quote Islamo-fascist leaders to remind people of their true intentions.

President Bush, Heritage Foundation chief Ed Feulner, or I could explain how deadly militant Islam is and how seriously we should consider this toxic philosophy. Far more impressive, however, is to let these extremists do the talking. And yet their words are nowhere as commonly known as they should be:

–As Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri said in their 1998 declaration of war on the United States:

“The ruling to kill all Americans and their allies–civilian and military–is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

–As the late Iranian dictator, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, stated in 1980:

“Our struggle is not about land or water…It is about bringing, by force if necessary, the whole of mankind onto the right path.”

–Khomeini, ever the comedian, said this in 1986: “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.”

–Asked what he would say to the loved ones of the 202 people killed in the October 2002 Bali nightclub explosions, Abu Bakar Bashir, the al-Qaeda-tied leader of Indonesia’s radical Jemaah Islamiyah, replied, “My message to the families is: Please convert to Islam as soon as possible.”

‐The phrase “Weapons of Mass Destruction” has been pounded into meaninglessness. It has been repeated ad infinitum. Fairly or unfairly, the absence of warehouses full of anthrax and nerve gas in Iraq has made the whole idea of “WMD” sound synonymous with “LIE.”

America’s enemies do not plot the “mass destruction” of empty office buildings or abandoned parking structures. Conversely, they want to see packed office buildings ablaze as their inhabitants scream for mercy. That’s why I use the terms “Weapons of Mass Death” and “Weapons of Mass Murder.”

‐When discussing those who are killed by terrorists, be specific, name them, and tell us about them. Humanize these individuals. They are more than just statistics or stick figures.

I have written 18 articles and produced a website, HUSSEINandTERROR.com, to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein did have ties to terrorism.

(By the way, I call him “Saddam Hussein” or “Hussein.” I never call him “Saddam” any more than I call Joseph Stalin “Joseph” or Adolf Hitler “Adolf.” “Saddam” also has a cute, one-name ring to it, like Cher, Gallagher, Liberace, or Sting. Saddam Hussein does not deserve such a term of endearment.)

To demonstrate that Saddam Hussein’s support of terrorism cost American lives, I remind people about the aid and comfort he provided to terror master Abu Nidal.

Among Abu Nidal’s victims in the 1985 bombing of Rome’s airport was John Buonocore, a 20-year-old exchange student from Delaware. Palestinian terrorists fatally shot Buonocore in the back as he checked in for his flight. He was heading home after Christmas to celebrate his father’s 50th birthday.

In another example, those killed by Palestinian homicide bombers subsidized by Saddam Hussein were not all Israeli, which would have been unacceptable enough. Among the 12 or more Americans killed by those Baathist-funded murderers was Abigail Litle, the 14-year-old daughter of a Baptist minister. She was blown away aboard a bus in Haifa on March 5, 2003.

Her killer’s family got a check for $25,000 courtesy of Saddam Hussein as a bonus for their son’s “martyrdom.”

Is all of this designed to press emotional buttons? You bet it is!

Americans must remain committed–intellectually and emotionally–to this struggle. There are many ways to engage the American people.

No one should hesitate to remind Americans that terrorism kills our countrymen–at home and abroad–and that those who militant Islam demolishes include promising young people with bright futures, big smiles, and, now, six feet of soil between them and their dreams.

‐Who are we fighting? Militants? Martyrs? Insurgents?

Melinda Bowman of Brief Hill, Pennsylvania, wrote this in a November 24 letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal:

“And, by the way, what is all this ‘insurgent’ nonsense? These people kidnap, behead, dismember and disembowel. They are terrorists.” Nicely and accurately put, Ms. Bowman.

Is this a war on terror, per se? A war on terrorism? Or is it really a war on Islamo-fascism? It’s really the latter, and Americans should say so.

‐Daniel Pipes of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum believes terror is a tactic, not an enemy.

Calling today’s conflict “a ‘War on Terror’ is like America in 1941, after Pearl Harbor, declaring a ‘War on Surprise Attacks.’ We really are engaged in a war on radical Islam.”

‐Jim Guirard runs the TrueSpeak Institute in Washington, D.C. He has thought long and hard about terror and the English language.

He recently informed me, to my horror, that more than three years into the war on Islamo-fascism, the State Department and the CIA have not produced a glossary of the Arabic-language words that Middle Eastern Islamo-fascists use, as well as the antonyms for those words. Such a “Thesaurus of Terrorism” would help Civilization turn this war’s words upside down.

Why, for instance, do we inadvertently praise our enemies by agreeing that they fight a jihad or “holy war?” Instead, we correctly should describe them as soldiers in a hirabah or “unholy war.”

Guirard has many astute and valuable recommendations in this area. U.S. diplomats and national security officials promptly should implement his common-sense proposals.

America and the rest of Civilization can and must win this showdown against these sadistic cavemen. We can and will crush them–through espionage, high-tech force, statecraft, and public diplomacy. And, here at home, we can and will vanquish them through eternal vigilance.

One of our chief weapons should be something readily available to everyone who reads these words: The English language.

Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Fairfax, Virginia. This article is adapted from a speech delivered at the Heritage Foundation.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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