There is a great deal of media coverage regarding the word choices of politicians when talking about ISIS and their dastardly deeds – Terrorists vs Muslim Terrorists?
Similarly, they discuss whether or not our fight against ISIS should be characterized as being “At War With Islam” or “At War With Jihadists” or “At War With Radical Terrorists,” or a few other options.
My initial reaction to this is “Who cares?” but it seems to be of huge concern to onlookers as to how this group of murderers is referenced. This has been an ongoing favorite topic of the media, asking every politician who graces their studio what they think on this subject.
WHAT WOULD MISS MCNABB SAY?
I’m sure my 11th grade English teacher would say that to be grammatically correct we should include the modifier, Muslim, when referencing terrorists who are Muslim – ISIS, for example. When you simply refer to a terrorist you are not providing as much definition as possible.
APPLES OR APPLES
It’s like saying you don’t like Apples vs saying you don’t like a specific variety of Apples.
“I don’t like apples,” provides a very different message than “I don’t like Granny Smith Apples.”
All apples are not the same. All terrorist groups are not the same.
To stay strictly with the grammar angle, however, we also must ask whether, in the case of ISIS, we need the modifier in order to know that this group of terrorists are Muslims. When speaking about an act of terror committed by ISIS, do we actually learn any more by adding the modifier “Muslim?” Probably not!
The late great NBC News Anchorman Edwin Newman, wrote about this very topic in his 1974 book, Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English? He blamed his own profession for adding to the demise of the language.
Several of his examples were about superfluous modifiers. He cited, for example, newscasters referring to Richard Nixon as “Former President Richard M. Nixon.”
He sarcastically queried his readers about whether or not they might actually mix up “Former President Richard M. Nixon” with “Former President Richard Q. Nixon.” He mused about whether or not a TV viewer would be unsure of the subject if Nixon’s middle initial was omitted.
In the real world, the pro and cons of this comes down to pure politics.
THE LIBERAL ARGUMENT
There is a tremendous amount of anti-Muslim sentiment among many of our citizens. Saying Muslim, every time ISIS is mentioned has the tendency to reinforce that sentiment, and perhaps motivate more people to join the ranks of the Muslim haters.
There is more than enough hate in this country.
The position that terrorists who are Muslims are a greater threat than non-Muslim terrorists is untrue and should not be perpetuated.
THE CONSERVATIVE ARGUMENT
First of all, there can never be enough Anti-Muslim sentiments. Secondly they use this to fire up their supporters to encourage them to help out the GOP candidate of their choice.
It is about fear, as is so much of the overall conservative case.
The argument goes like this “The only way to put and end to the existential threat of Islam is to elect a President who says it like it is and admits that Muslims are terrorists.”
This argument based on the false premise that Islam is an existential threat to us – so it needs to be drummed in to our minds as often as possible. It wasn’t always this way though……
Keep in mind that with all the critiques my fellow liberals and I have of George W. Bush, he went out of his way, in the aftermath of 9/11, to stress the point – repeatedly – that we were NOT at war with Islam and that we shouldn’t project the actions of the attackers onto all Muslims
DOES THIS TACTIC WORK?
The best explanation of how this works can be found in the words of fictional President Andrew Sheppard portrayed by Michael Douglas in the 1995 film “The American President.”
In this scene Sheppard is speaking (approx 2:05 into the video) about his re-election opponent Bob Rumson (played by Richard Dreyfus.)
This is the dialogue at about 2:05 into the video
“Whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, [he] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things – and two things only: Making you afraid of it and telling you who is to blame for it.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”
So, what is the correct answer to Terrorists vs Muslim Terrorists? It depends entirely on whether you are interested in spreading the news or spreading the hatred.