Daniel Pipes- Contributor
Pipes is director of the Middle
East Forum, a member of the
presidentially-appointed board of the U.S.
Institute of Peace,
and a prize-winning columnist for the New York Sun and The
Jerusalem Post. His most recent book, Miniatures:
Views of Islamic and Middle Eastern Politics (Transaction
Publishers) appeared in late 2003. His website, DanielPipes.org,
the single most accessed source of information specifically
the Middle East and Islam, offers an archive and a chance
to sign-up to receive his new materials as they appear. [go
to Pipes index]
Terrorists - Not Activists
[Daniel Pipes] 9/9/04
"I know it when I see it" was the famous response by a U.S.
Supreme Court justice to the vexed problem of defining pornography.
Terrorism may be no less difficult to define, but the wanton
killing of schoolchildren, of mourners at a funeral, or workers
at their desks in skyscrapers surely fits the know-it-when-I-see-it
The press, however, generally shies away from the word terrorist,
preferring euphemisms. Take the assault that led to the deaths
of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia,
on September 3. Journalists have delved deep into their thesauruses,
finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists:
* Assailants - National
* Attackers – the Economist.
* Bombers – the Guardian.
* Captors – the Associated
* Commandos – Agence
France-Presse refers to the terrorists
both as "membres du commando" and "commando."
* Criminals - the Times (London).
* Extremists – United
* Fighters – the Washington
* Group – the Australian.
* Guerrillas: in a New
York Post editorial.
* Gunmen – Reuters.
* Hostage-takers - the Los
* 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
my favorite: Activists – the Pakistan
of this unwillingness to name terrorists seems to lie in the
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
www.newssafety.com, where one tip reads: "Never use the
word terrorist or terrorism in describing Palestinian gunmen
and militants; people consider them heroes of the conflict."
to call terrorists by their rightful name can reach absurd
of inaccuracy and apologetics. For example,
National Public Radio's Morning Edition announced on April 1,
2004, that "Israeli troops have arrested 12 men they say
were wanted militants." But CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy
in Middle East Reporting in America, pointed
out the inaccuracy
here and NPR issued an on-air correction on April 26: "Israeli
military officials were quoted as saying they had arrested 12
men who were ‘wanted militants.' But the actual phrase
used by the Israeli military was ‘wanted terrorists.'"
NPR corrected itself. When the Los Angeles Times made
the same error, writing
that "Israel staged a series of
raids in the West Bank that the army described as hunts for wanted
Palestinian militants," its editors refused CAMERA's request for a correction on the grounds that its change in terminology
did not occur in a direct quotation.)
Dutch paper, ran a picture on May 3, 2004, of two gloved hands
to a person taking fingerprints off a dead terrorist.
The caption read: "An Israeli police officer takes fingerprints
of a dead Palestinian. He is one of the victims (slachtoffers)
who fell in the Gaza strip yesterday." One of the victims!
Euphemistic usage then spread from the Arab-Israeli conflict
to other theaters. As terrorism picked up in Saudi Arabia such
press outlets as The Times (London) and the Associated
Press began routinely using militants in reference to Saudi terrorists.
Reuters uses it with reference to Kashmir and Algeria.
Thus has militants become the press's default term for terrorists.
These self-imposed language limitations sometimes cause journalists
to tie themselves into knots. In reporting the murder of one
of its own cameraman, the BBC, which normally avoids the word
terrorist, found itself using that term. In another instance,
engine on the BBC website includes the word terrorist
but the page
linked to has had that word expurgated.
Politically-correct news organizations undermine their credibility
with such subterfuges. How can one trust what one reads, hears,
or sees when the self-evident fact of terrorism is being semi-denied?
Worse, the multiple euphemisms for terrorist obstruct a clear
understanding of the violent threats confronting the civilized
world. It is bad enough that only one of five articles discussing
the Beslan atrocity mentions its Islamist origins; worse is the
miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism. CRO
first appeared in The New York Sun
2004 Daniel Pipes