Thursday, April 11, 2013

Terrorists and patriots

When half of Britain’s North American colonies rebelled against the Empire in the 18th Century, the king and his minions classified the rebels as terrorists; those in each colony who did not rebel were called patriots and loyalists. The rebels themselves had things the other way round.

The same thing happened in Ireland in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Those who fought against imperial rule were terrorists in the Empire’s books, and patriots among themselves. To the British king of the day, those who did not rebel were patriots and loyalists; to the rebels, the occupiers were terrorists and scum.

Sigh. It’s the same today in the Middle East. Most Western governments support the US in its imperial role and adopt the Empire’s labels. There is the same divided perception as there is in all military conflicts. “We” are always the good guys: “they” are always the bad.

 Guantanamo and Bagram contain what the Empire calls “the worst of the worst” – so blatantly bad and ugly that their abductors don’t see any need to gather evidence against them. Yet from the perspective of the prisoners’ home communities, it is the prison guards who are the worst of the worst – dehumanised brutes who torture for the fun of it.

We who speak English don’t usually know what the words for terrorism, patriotism or imperialism are, in foreign languages. But we presume they use words that are culturally equivalent to ours. Invaders who kill villagers from the air will always be terrorists in the language of the victims. Members of the local resistance will always be patriots and war heroes. The French Resistance in World War II thought of themselves as patriots and war heroes; the German occupiers classed them as terrorists.

“My country, right or wrong” is no more or less powerful a message for us in the West than it is for the primitive tribal villages our militaries destroy.

A predictable side-effect of blind patriotism is that it damages the integrity of our language. Weasel-words corrupt it. “Enhanced interrogation” (torture), “collateral damage” (civilian victims), and even “defence” (protecting military aggression) – all of those corrupt the English language.

Even everyday terms are dangerous. “He was in Iraq serving his country”... But how was he serving it, exactly? Was he raping and murdering women and children in their homes, or standing by watching, and lying to investigators? Or was he living a blameless life working in the regimental kitchen? Service can mean so many things, in the killing fields.

In Orwell’s “1984”, the Ministry of Peace was responsible for maintaining a permanent state of war. In the book, war was peace, in that it kept the populace from rebelling. By that measure, invasions and occupations are defence, in that they keep the populace united against the created enemy.

“1984” also had a Ministry of Love, that required the citizenry to accept its enslavement. If necessary, individuals would be tortured until they were convinced that loving Big Brother was good for society. Our Big Brother is not yet as fully developed as Orwell’s, but they’re working on it. So far, the torture camps are only for Moslems and foreigners. However, domestic dissidents are next in line. They aren’t called dissidents, of course; the public isn’t ready for that yet. Instead they’re called “domestic terrorists”.

Evil, filthy, nasty, savage, treacherous, anti-social, domestic terrorists! So evil, we can’t tell you how evil! No, really, we can’t tell you, so don’t ask. Whose side are you on, anyway? Frown.