There has recently been an assault on our civil liberties in the United States. This has not been an external attack, this has not been a covert attack and this has not been an attack of a widely suppressed underground movement within our country. The silent assault has happened right in front of our eyes and has been veiled as political correctness aimed at protecting the masses from vocal misappropriations: In other words, we are being led to dictate thoughts within a strict vocal confine in order to avoid causing offense.
The first decade of the 21st century should be recognised as the decade when the world decided that it was incapable: incapable of making sound decisions; incapable of caring for itself; incapable of understanding a means to an end; incapable of remembering; incapable of fighting for rights; and, incapable of analysing, digesting and scrutinising fact to measure it against opinion. Well, in my opinion it is more offensive to disregard the language one uses to recognise danger in order to cater to the false understandings of those who think that by dictating language we can abate danger.
Speech and activity dictated by the rigid confines of political correctness and government mandate gives way to mutable and static discontent. In prose that almost foreshadow the suggested restrictions of the Obama administration George Orwell, in his novel ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, wrote, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it” (Orwell, 1949). Orwell’s point was that with limited language there is less material with which to construct thought and therefore thoughts also become limited.
In March 2009 the Obama administration’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, announced the revocation of the term ‘terrorism’, offering instead the term ‘man-caused disaster’, as if to imply the possibility of unintentional or non-aggressive destruction. In an interview with der Spiegel, a German-based publication, Napolitano stated: “In my speech, although I did not use the word “terrorism,” I referred to “man-caused” disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur” (Meyer, 2009). Her arrogance and conceit to rename theses events shows a gross irresponsibility on behalf of the government to appropriately identify a movement amongst Islamic extremists of Middle Eastern descent that aims to provoke fear amongst a nation. The people of the United States will not feel less fearful when their office or subway train is blown to pieces by an enemy combatant simply because the event is referred to as a ‘man-caused’ disaster. By neglecting to refer to the event rightfully, the administration is lessening its importance and significance: No attack on American civilians or American soil should ever be viewed as anything other than with the utmost importance and significance.
There is great irony in the fact that the insurrection growing from within the White House seeks to ban a term that originally came to prominence during the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror – a time when terrorism was used by opponents of the Revolution to describe organised, but unsophisticated, activities targeting the government in order to exercise the call for, and rebuke the trends of, an unpopular administration seeking to redefine the structure of that society. Well, today we have an administration in the White House whose popularity figures dropped more quickly within the first year of office than any other administration before it within at least the past 40 years (Schoen & Rasmussen 2009). This unpopularity coupled with the attempt to redefine the boundaries in which we designate our enemy activity only speaks to the administration’s attempt to control our thoughts and our actions. Terrorism has gone full circle: Crafted by a society’s activities to retaliate against a government seeking to repress its people and authoritatively impose ignorance, banning the term is now a wordsmith’s tool to steer the thought processes of a shaky administration’s unwilling constituents.
Terrorism – from the Latin terrere, which means “to frighten” – is defined by the Oxford Concise Dictionary of Politics as a pejorative term that identifies “life threatening actions perpetrated by politically motivated self-appointed sub-state groups” (McLean & McMillan, 2003). However, at its root, the fright imposed upon the American people by a sub-state group aiming to harm civilians, whether in post- or pre-9/11, is quite simply terrorism. An administration within the United States cannot grant itself the authority to dictate the thoughts of a people. American citizens should not have to endure an assault on their civil liberties simply because an administration believes that the restriction of language will give way to the implication that society is safer because the pejorative ‘terrorism’ is banned, or because the effects of terrorism will be diminished by reallocating terms to describe it. Preparation, intelligence and defense of our nation will ensure the safety of our citizens – not an improvisation on the scope of lexicon. When an individual or sub-state group wreaks havoc on citizens, when an individual or sub-state group threatens the lives of the American people, when an individual or sub-state group propagates schisms within our country, it is up to the government to provide education and share knowledge, not provoke ignorance. We should broaden our arsenal of language allowing our people to be capable of communication, not remain docile as unelected members of the administration wage a war on our civil liberties.
Trust, but verify.