January 5, 2004
Linguistic Terrorists

First off, this is not some right-wing reference to Noam Chomsky.

Rather, consider this a well-meaning notice to pundits and politicos that it may be time to refrain from your excessively liberal usage of the loaded lexicon of "terrorism" and its popular siblings, "terror" and "terrorist".

In last year's State of the Union address, for instance, President Bush made use of this "terror trilogy" a striking 21 times, according to the LA Weekly.

And last month, researchers at Syracuse University pored through Justice Department records to better examine Attorney General John Ashcroft's braggadocio-inducing, supposedly "successful" prosecution of the War on Terror™, I mean, "Terror". Their results may be considered surprising, at least if you're the sort of overworked and under-relaxed American who occasionally watches CNN when not flipping through the 11PM local newscasts or 6PM Moesha reruns.

"TRAC data shows that convictions in cases the Justice Department says are related to international terrorism jumped 7 1/2 times compared with the two years before the attacks - from 24 to 184 - but the number of individuals who received sentences of five or more years actually dropped, from six in the two years before the attacks to three in the two years that followed.

When crimes the Justice Department said were related to domestic terrorism are included, convictions jump from 96 before the attacks to 341 after. Despite that dramatic increase, the number of those individuals who received sentences of five or more years dropped from 24 to 16.

...In what authorities describe as a strategy of prevention, potential or suspected terrorists are being charged since the 2001 attacks with minor nonterrorism crimes to get them off the street or out of the country.

...Federal authorities in New Jersey initially included attempts by 65 Middle Eastern men to cheat on an English-language entrance exam among their "terrorism-related" cases, briefly boosting terrorism prosecutions in that state from two to 67. The categorization was changed after it was reported in the media."

And then there's this verbal gadfly from today's Arizona Republic, in what very well may be the straw that broke the terrorist's back:

"Family members of slain soldier Lori Piestewa lashed out at the media Wednesday for practicing 'domestic terrorism' by televising a tape of the badly wounded Piestewa in an Iraqi hospital bed shortly before her death.

'This terrorism was not from any foreign group wishing to harm the United States but from our own people wanting to make a quick buck off the misfortune of two young women,' a prepared statement from the Piestewa family said of NBC's decision to air the tape on their Nightly NewsTuesday. Several cable channels picked it up, but local affilliate, Channel 12 (KPNX) decided not to air the footage."

As early as October 2001, Nation columnist Bruce Shapiro foresaw these sorts of problems arising when he discussed a bill pending before the House and Senate--one which had not yet come to be known as Ashcroft's original PATRIOT Act.

"The point is simply that terrorism is a term of politics rather than legal precision. But in Ashcroft's vision, it appears to be a label to be applied indiscriminately. Ashcroft's initial bill defined terrorism as any violent crime in which financial gain is not the principal motivation. The House adds more precise language: To qualify, crimes or conspiracies must be "calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion or to retaliate against government conduct." Yet even this definition is big enough to drive a parade wagon through. An unruly blockade of the World Trade Organization could bring down the full force of antiterrorism law as easily as could a bombing."

Orange Alert be damned. Let's try some of that compassionate conservativism and lay off the liberal usage of "terrorism" for a while.

Posted in a Grave fashion.

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