Axver (axver) wrote,

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The worthlessness of the "War on Terror" label

Has the UK abandoned the "War on Terror" label? I'd dearly like some confirmation or denial on the matter, because I think such a move would be rather significant, and in a most positive manner.

You see, someone posted a thread on Interference with the news that the British government has officially ceased to use the "War on Terror" label, but I must admit to receiving this news with skepticism. Their source is this article from yesterday, citing an announcement apparently made by the UK's Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, on the 27th of this month. Now, I don't know much about, except that people who post there fairly regularly appear in the Fundies/Racists/Conspiracy Theorists Say The Darndest Things admission moderation queue, and the URL is an indication that this is a place probably slanted in certain directions (which you can take how you will). So, rightly or wrongly, I went into it with the intention of scrutinising things a bit more closely than I might've if this had been from some other news source. And what do I spot first? The source is the Daily Mail. The fucking Daily Mail! One of the most pathetic excuses for journalism on the planet. The odds of the Daily Mail printing the facts are worse than me winning the Melbourne Cup next year - and I am neither a horse nor do I own one!

So I did a bit of Googling, and to what amounted to a bit less than surprise, I failed to find any reports substantiating the article. I expected an announcement like this to be big news, but unless my Google powers are truly woeful, there are no other outlets carrying this as a story. However, this does seem to be based on some truth - some old news from January this year. An article from The Guardian and one from the BBC report that Macdonald challenged the British government's use of "War on Terror" rhetoric around 23 January 2007. This was his own personal view, not an official policy change, and displays some welcome common sense. What's quite noteworthy in getting to the bottom of the article is that the phrasing in the Guardian and BBC articles is essentially identical. Compare. Quoth Macdonald in the Guardian: "London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this." Purportedly quoth Macdonald on London is not a battlefield, he said. "The people who were murdered on July 7 were not the victims of war. The men who killed them were not soldiers," Macdonald said. "They were fantasists, narcissists, murderers and criminals and need to be responded to in that way." In both instances, Macdonald is also quoted as stating the terrorists belong to a "death cult". Now, politicians have been known to reuse phrases, but the similarities are striking and I would certainly appreciate some reports from other sources before I drop my skepticism towards's report.

This is one of those items of news that I would dearly love to be true. The language used to frame an issue in the public perception is absolutely crucial. Can you imagine the pro-choice movement having any success if it were known as anti-life? This sort of stuff matters and a simple word choice can make a massive difference. A "War on Terror" is analytically dangerous, as it overlooks nuances and demonises the other side; one is little concerned with the context or claims of the "other" in a war. After all, they're your enemy, and you need to beat them; you don't simply need to take them to court and follow due legal process, as you need to destroy them and achieve victory. They are not simply a criminal threat who can strike at civilians within the state, but an enemy of you, your neighbour, and your entire country. A "War on Terror" is politically dangerous, at least for ordinary citizens, as it is a war that can never be won. Terrorists do not constitute a regular army, they do not share aims, they do not share methods; they share precious little, and even what constitutes terrorism is open to extensive academic and popular debate. A "War on Terror" can, in the wrong hands, gain disturbingly Orwellian overtones. A "War on Terror" fundamentally fails to counter the threat it aims to counter, as it tries to fight fire with fire rather than throwing water on the root cause to extinguish it. A "War on Terror" is a ridiculous over-reaction to a minor threat; in 2001, over fourteen times the amount of people who died in the 11 September attacks were killed on US roads, but I sure don't see Bush waging a "War on Bad Driving". You are more likely to die from falling down the stairs in your house than you are from a terrorist attack.

"War on Terror", at the end of the day, is a useless label that serves to arouse patriotic and even nationalistic tendencies in the aim of political opportunism; it obscures the nuances, it is not helpful in meaningfully eradicating terrorism's root causes, and it should be discarded as soon as possible. Macdonald is dead right; these people are common criminals and should be treated as such.
Tags: language, media, politics, terrorism, war on terrorism

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