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January 12, 2020 / Congau

Terrorist Rhetoric

The bad guys are always terrorists, and that makes it more convenient to fight them. One doesn’t have to get into complicated explanations as to why they are bad; call them terrorists and everyone understands that they must be hunted and killed mercilessly.

This is an old rhetorical trick with lethal consequences: Avoid defining your words clearly and you can tag anything you want to defame. That way the skeptics are disarmed, and you can freely fight your enemies without being troubled by bothersome counterarguments.

The great power of the West always follows this rhetorical strategy (especially since 9/11) at that has allowed it to pursue its various economic and political interests facing less criticism than would otherwise have been the case. After all, everyone is against terrorism.

It’s just a pity that all those other powers are also picking up this effective rhetoric. China can oppress the Uighurs citing the necessity of fighting terrorism and Turkey is allowed to bully the Kurds, just to mention two examples.

It would have been so much more honest if we could restrict the use of the word “terrorist” to a simple definition we could all agree on, but of course no one voluntarily gives away powers, and the power of vagueness is one of them.

Nevertheless, I think we have an underlying minimum definition already that everyone, even the terrorists themselves, would agree on. Whoever kills people indiscriminately in order to create general fear, is a terrorist.

Extending the definition beyond that minimum is usually done to discredit rather than giving an accurate description. Anyone fighting a war for a bad cause, will also kill for a bad cause and so we throw the label “terrorist” at them. The problem is that the other side easily throws it back since they have a different opinion about whose cause is bad. The result is a war of words that leads to war.



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