Terror’s in the name

By Вen Li

“Ruthless rebels who dream of an Islamic empire”

The Telegraph’s headline from September 5 tells it all, or something.

We appear to have gone back in time three years, again using Islamic this, Islamic that, to refer to anyone blowing stuff up who happens to be associated with Islam. How quickly we have forgotten that nothing, no conflict, no issue, no action is that simple.

When we simply characterize the terrorists who attacked a school recently, we forget the fact that the people of Chechnya have been oppressed for a century or more by other Russians for political and economic reasons, as well as for their faith. We forget that rebels previously targeted apartment blocks, a theatre, and now a school–none of which are particularly pro- or anti-Islamic. We also forget that the U.S. had Afghani, not Islamic, allies against the U.S.S.R. thirty years ago. In all these instances, religion was at most a secondary consideration.

These present rebels have an Islamic component to their identity, and therefore, some would have us believe that they and their cause can only be defined by that characteristic.

But imagine the outcry that would ensue if CNN started calling members of the Israeli Defence Forces “Jewish terrorists”, or if one of the one of the Arab networks referred to the U.S. forces in Iraq as “Christian terrorists”. (Both these forces seek political change through the systematic use of violence and intimidation, and are therefore terrorists by Oxford’s definition.) But such designations are unthinkable because Fox News, the Telegraph, and others have no need to arouse connotations of al Qaeda when mentioning forces who use violence for political objectives on behalf of U.S. allies.

This is a shame.

The world can no longer be defined in terms of unidimensional groups with finite memberships or borders. To classify everything only in terms of something else denies the complexities of modern conflicts and does great injustice to our understanding of the world. For us to resolve conflicts and mitigate future terrorist actions, we must acknowledge that our view of the world is limited by our desire to simplify our adversities.

Correctly naming our companions on this world would be a good start.

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