Sunday, December 28, 2008

Daniel Pipes, MJ Akbar and the T-word

Still Asleep After Mumbai :: Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes is a known expert on the Middle East and the Islamic world. In this piece he has chillingly assessed the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage.

This piece caught my attention. (Please read the full piece though, it is as informative as it is alarming).
Nomenclature lays bare this denial. When a sole jihadist strikes, politicians, law enforcement, and media join forces to deny even the fact of terrorism; and when all must concede the terrorist nature of an attack, as in Mumbai, a pedantic establishment twists itself into knots to avoid blaming terrorists.

I documented this avoidance by listing the twenty (!) euphemisms the press unearthed to describe Islamists who attacked a school in Beslan in 2004: activists, assailants, attackers, bombers, captors, commandos, criminals, extremists, fighters, group, guerrillas, gunmen, hostage-takers, insurgents, kidnappers, militants, perpetrators, radicals, rebels, and separatists – anything but terrorists.

The following is exactly what MJ Akbar, the premier journalist, says on his blog ( in a piece called "Biting the BBC bullet". These are the words he wrote to the BBC when they did not use the T-word.
"I am appalled, astonished, livid at your inability to describe the events in Mumbai as the work of terrorists. You have called them 'gunmen', as if they were hired security guards on a night out. When Britain finds a group of men plotting in a home laboratory your government has no hesitation in creating an international storm, and the BBC has no hesitation in calling them terrorists. When nearly two hundred Indian lives are lost, you cannot find a word in your dictionary more persuasive than 'gunmen'. You are not only pathetic, but you have become utterly biased in your reporting…Shame on you and your kind."
Kudos to Akbar for his forthright expression of indignation.

My feeling about the T-word is the same. (My thoughts on this from 2005 can be found here and I have not changed my stance). International pressure builds on the direct and indirect perpetrators of such acts when strong words are used. Pussy-footing is what our government had done earlier by using words like "militants" and "miscreants" to refer to terrorists in Kashmir.

The Indian government has worked itself into a corner. If it refers to certain acts as terrorism, it assumes that it is accusing the minority community. This is basically insinuating that all the minorities in India are anti-national and hence sponsors of terrorism. Minority leaders should actually take exception at the government's not referring to the killers by the T-word.

In the present world, the importance of media presence cannot be over-emphasized. It will do the government a lot of good if it can use its media handlers more effectively to convey the gravity of the situation.

As the acts have become increasingly heinous, the Indian media has finally started using the T-word. Oh wait, not yet. This link from this leftist TV channel still uses the word militant. Militant does give a more harmless connotation and that is why we need to use the strongest possible words to describe the killers. When Pipes takes the international media to task for using "militant", here are our guys - still stuck with militant.

HonestReporting had this to say when castigating AP's treatment of Hamas - militant or terrorist, while commending NY Times for using the right word. And this was in 2006.
The Associated Press actually used the words "terror network." What is surprising is that they use the phrase to label Al-Qaida, while referring to Hamas as a more neutral "militant group".
Can I hope that our media folks will look at such subtle but important distinctions while reporting? MJ Akbar, it looks like nobody from NDTV has looked at your blog or that of Pipes or HonestReporting. Or is it something else with these people?

Concluding this post, I wonder if our esteemed PM Dr. Manmohan Singh gets enough sleep at the thought of poverty in the Indian Muslim community. A recent post by MJ Akbar reports that a whopping zero percent of the money allotted to minority development was spent in Maharashtra. Rather than be too sensitive about perceived slights that a community might take offense to or not, it would be far more useful to uplift and educate minorities and bring them to the national mainstream. But then, who would re-elect these politicians?

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