Written on 02 Mar 2015

"Terrorist" is a bad word.

I don't mean a bad word as in we should say it in hushed tones around children. I mean it is truly a poorly interpreted and even more poorly used word.

It is emotional. It is evocative. It has become a legal justification for almost anything. It is a political attack on the highest order, though it means different things to different people and, in the end, means nothing consequential.

"Terrorist" is an overloaded word that runs roughshod over the decency of democratic debate. It hardly describes the motivations, philosophies, or grievances behind a person or a group's actions. It does not accurately illustrate the methods by which these people use to achieve their political ends. It is overused in a way that is meant to rile us up as readers, to provoke violent responses to violent actions.

The fact that the word means so little and yet is used with such vitriol is exactly the issue.

"Terrorist" has a definition that can only be applied by the beholder. It is likely that King George considered the heretics of the American Revolution and the Boston Tea party "terrorists". We fully fund and arm “terrorists” as long as they are on our side, at least for long enough to take the briefcase full of cash.

Recent history is replete with examples of the US giving militants arms and support, only to have those guns aimed back at us a few years later: funding the mujaheddin (that would ultimately become Al-Qaeda) against the Soviets, the Iraqis against the Iranians only to fight Saddam a few years later (and then a few years after that), the (red-line crossing) Assad regime against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Given all this, can we please agree that "terrorist" is a bad word that does nothing to further the debate about how we handle the very real national security challenges and foreign policy situations that we find ourselves in and will continue to find ourselves in?

Perhaps we won't be able to get it all into a single word to be regurgitated constantly by the "news" media. That is OK. Political extremism and militantism is a complex issue that deserves a more nuanced debate. I won't be upset if we will have to use full sentences to describe suicide bombers in Mosul.

After all, would we not be better served if our news talked about these complex issues in reasonably complex terms? I applaud Tarik Kafala, the head of BBC Arabic, for refusing to called the Charlie Hebdo attackers "terrorists."

"We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine'. That's enough, we know what that means and what it is." -Tarik Kafala, sourced from The Independent

I hope we can all begin to do the same.