September 27, 2004

the frighteners

I've been thinking a lot about the words "terrorist" and "terrorism". It seems to have become such a heavily used term, and has almost become a blanket term for the enemy of the US, whoever and wherever that is. Now, what I mean by this is that I've been hearing it a lot in the US media (both mainstream and more thoughtful), but I've never really heard any analysis of the term itself. And I think that's the key. It's really become a very useful word to apply to anyone who is providing active opposition to the US at the moment. And the reason that's so important, and I think that it's become such a used word is that:

a) It's unequivocal - once someone has been identified as a terrorist, there's really no way that anyone can try to understand their motives, let alone sympathize with them.
b) It can encompass so many different movements (insurgents in Iraq, the Taliban and it's supporters in Afghanistan, and, of course Al Qaeda and all of its offshoots)
c) By encompassing so many groups, it can mask the differences between them, and allows them to appear as all being part of the same group.

Anyway, so I looked up terror, and here's what I got:

1. Intense, overpowering fear. See Synonyms at fear.
2. One that instills intense fear: a rabid dog that became the terror of the neighborhood.
3. The ability to instill intense fear: the terror of jackboots pounding down the street.
4. Violence committed or threatened by a group to intimidate or coerce a population, as for military or political purposes.
5. Informal. An annoying or intolerable pest: that little terror of a child.

[Middle English terrour, from Old French terreur, from Latin terror, from terrere, to frighten.]

So really, terrorists are people who frighten.

I think that's the problem. It's just such a wide description, and can mean so many things, that it's just become meaningless to me. I hear it, and I'm like - what the hell does that mean any more?

Posted by mthaddon at September 27, 2004 03:44 PM