The terrorist-naming game

On September 11, 2001, George Bush changed the way Americans look at the world and the success with which he accomplished this feat is evident in the fact that his perspective largely remains unchallenged — even among many of his most outspoken critics. Bush’s simplistic for-us-or-against-us formula was transparently emotive yet utterly effective.

For almost a decade, Americans have been told to look at the world through the lens of “terrorism” and while differences of opinion exist about whether the lens has too wide or narrow an angle or about the extent to which it brings things into focus, those of us who say the lens is so deeply flawed that it should be scrapped, remain in a minority.

The Obama administration may now refrain from using the term itself, preferring instead “violent extremists,” but the change is merely cosmetic (as are so many other “changes” in the seamless continuity between the Bush- and post-Bush eras).

A couple of days ago Philip Weiss drew attention to the fact that when former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni described her parents as “freedom fighters,” Deborah Solomon, her interviewer in the New York Times, echoed Livni’s sentiment by saying that the fight for Israel’s independence took place in “a more romantic era.”

As Weiss notes, Livni’s parents belonged to the Irgun, the Zionist group which blew up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on July 22, 1946, killing 91 and injuring 46.

The first public account of what had happened that day was accidentally released in advance of the bombing.

In By Blood and Fire, Thurston Clark writes:

“Jewish terrorists have just blown up the King David Hotel!” This short message was received by the London Bureau of United Press International (UPI) shortly after noon, Palestine time. It was signed by a UPI stringer in Palestine who was also a secret member of the Irgun. The stringer had learned about Operation Chick but did not know it had been postponed for an hour. Hoping to scoop his colleagues, he had filed a report minutes before 11.00. A British censor had routinely stamped his cable without reading it.

The UPI London Bureau chief thought the message too terse. There were not enough details. He decided against putting it on the agency’s wire for radio and press until receiving further confirmation that the hotel had been destroyed.

Despite the efforts of Irgun leaders to restrict knowledge of the target and timing of Operation Chick, there were numerous other leaks. Leaders in both the Haganah and Stern Gang knew about the operation. Friends warned friends. The King David had an extraordinary number of last-minute room cancellations. In the Secretariat [the King David’s south wing that housed the headquarters of the British government in Palestine], more than the usual number of Jewish typists and clerks called in sick.

The next day the British prime minister, Clement Attlee referred to the bombing as an “insane act of terrorism” while a few days later the US president, Harry Truman, wrote “the inhuman crime committed… calls for the strongest action against terrorism…”

That was 64 years ago. From the sheltered perch of the New York Times, that’s apparently far enough back in history that it can now be referred to as a “romantic era.”

It’s hardly surprising then that many observers with an interest in justice for Palestinians take offense at the New York Times’ complicity in papering over the reality of Jewish terrorism. Yet here’s the irony: the effort to promote an unbiased use of the term “terrorism” simply plays into the hands of the Israelis.

The word has only one purpose: to forestall consideration of the political motivation for acts of violence. Invoke the word with the utmost gravity and then you can use your moral indignation and outrage to smother intelligent analysis. Terrorists do what they do because they are in the terrorism business — it’s in their blood.

So, when Tzipi Livni calls her parents freedom fighters, I have no problem with that — she is alluding to what they believed they were fighting for rather than the methods they employed. Moreover, by calling people who planted bombs and blew up civilians in the pursuit of their political goals, “freedom fighters,” Livni makes it clear that she understands that “terrorism” is a subjective term employed for an effect.

When Ehud Barak a few years ago acknowledged that had he been raised a Palestinian he too would have joined one of the so-called terrorist organizations, he was not describing an extraordinary epiphany he had gone through in recognizing the plight of the Palestinians. He was merely being candid about parallels between groups such as the Irgun and Hamas — parallels that many Israelis see but less often voice.

The big issue is not whether the methods employed by Zionist groups such as the Irgun could be justified but whether the political goals these groups were fighting for were legitimate. Zionism would not have acquired more legitimacy if it had simply found non-violent means through which it could accomplish its goal of driving much of the non-Jewish population out of Palestine.

We live in an era in which “terrorism” — as a phenomenon to be opposed — has become the primary bulwark through which Zionism defends itself from scrutiny. Keep on playing the terrorist-naming game and the Zionists win.

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6 thoughts on “The terrorist-naming game

  1. Christopher Hoare

    US citizens are very slow learners, at least partly because of the successful policy of all media organs to shield them from the truth. As a schoolboy in England we met an Egyptian radical in about 1954 who harangued us about the illegality of our country’s theft of the Suez Canal from its rightful owners, the Egyptian people. A student teacher, he had been invited to speak to the history class by our form master. In 1956, our country fought an abortive war to try to wrest the canal back from Egypt.
    We were raised on failed colonial wars, where the ‘evil terrorists’ suddenly became the new rulers of the newly independent countries.
    When I went to work in a North African country in 1963 I already had some understanding of the nature of imperialism. Western media had to be compared with all the other news sources in the Middle East to reach some comprehension of reality. Today’s ‘terrorists’ and ‘violent extremists’ are the freedom fighters and heroes of tomorrow’s world.
    Perhaps one would need to have freedom fighters blow up every TV outlet in the US before Americans are allowed to see this reality. Not that I advocate such tactics, of course — I’d rather ridicule them out of existence when the Internet and WiFi bring them to bankruptcy.

  2. delia ruhe

    “Terrorist” is merely one in a long line of language that has been emptied of all meaning, joining several other hollow epithets that pepper contemporary conversations: “fascist!” “racist!” “Hitler!” “antisemite!” “self-hating jew!” and, most recently, “deligitimizer!” Even the sage and sensible Larry Derfner undermines his own arguments by throwing around the “terrorist” epithet. Today, when I hear any of these words hurled at a given target, I know that the target must be doing something right. If I, an ordinary person of ordinary intelligence, fail to take this kind of language seriously, how must the intelligentsia and the well-informed yawn when they hear it.

  3. Renfro

    “If I, an ordinary person of ordinary intelligence, fail to take this kind of language seriously, how must the intelligentsia and the well-informed yawn when they hear it.”

    Unfortunately it is many in the intelligentsia..or I should say what passes for “intelligentsia” these day…which is mainly lipsticked pigs with an agenda …..that supports and encourages the terrorist myth.

    Some days I can’t even bring myself to comment on the intelligentsia scribblings.
    In fact I think it’s dangerous to your health to even read or listen to them…it’s like Orwellian death-rays , it can explode your brain.

    The first symptom of intelligentsia overload and your brain exploding is when all you can reply to their outright lies and propaganda is .Huh?…Huh?..Huh? accompanied by a fit of drooling, spitting, profanities and in the terminal stage, fantasies of becoming an assassin.

  4. Renfro

    Speaking of intelligence…..the real kind.

    If any readers here want the actual factual historical scoop on the ME, Israel, Zionism and why the US even supported Israel to begin with start here:…..expensive but worth the money because these editions containing the official records and documents of the British National Archives give you real time on the ground and official correspondence and events.

    Many titles to choose from on the MR here:

    And these volumes deal with Israel…as it really was, what really happened, not the myths you hear about it today.

    Near & Middle East Titles:
    Zionist Movement And The Foundation Of Israel 1839–1972, The

    And to satisfy yourself that the only reason the US supports Israel is jewish money, influence and their lobby in the US go straight thru the presidential libraries from Truman on up..and read in their own words in their private papers that ‘DOMESTIC POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS” of the Jewish vote and campaign contributions was the overriding and usually sole factor in supporting Israel for most of them. Just as it is now.

    Yea, I didn’t believe it either at first, ..that why I went to extremes of multi dozens sources of non baised official information and hundreds of hours to try and get to the bottom of it and prove to myself it wasn’t so…that our leaders wouldn’t sell us and our country’s reputation out for political office and money…but they did and still do …It’s that simple.

  5. Samuel Nichols

    Excellent work, Paul.

    “The word has only one purpose: to forestall consideration of the political motivation for acts of violence.”

    I like this a lot. I reserve the right to quote you in the future 😉

    Keep up the good analysis.

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