- Gentlemen, start your drones: Judge’s ruling opens door for commercial use
- Soldier who hid, bragged about not saluting flag to be punished — in secret
- ‘Maverick’ of the seas: ‘Top Gun’ school for U.S. ship officers to launch
- Putin declares Sochi Paralympics open amid Ukrainian protest
- ‘In Jesus name, we pray’ sparks ire at Ohio council meeting
- Navy’s first laser weapon ready for prime time; drone killer to deploy this summer
- Billionaire backer: Rick Santorum ‘needs to be heard’ in 2016
- Obamacare fallout: 49 percent pessimistic; 45 percent ‘scared’
- DHS accused of holding U.S. citizen at airport, using emails to pry into her sex life
- Seattle socialist: Minimum-wage discussion skewed by ‘right-wing’ GAO analysis
FIELDS: When rhetoric hides the reality
Euphemisms for Islamic terror sharpen public distrust
Between the tragedy over loss of life and limb in Boston and the rejoicing in the certainty that two young men will not strike again, there is a large space for reflection. Emotion clouds reason, which is why we live by the rule of law. The producers of movie Westerns knew how to cultivate the baser instincts. The posse caught the culprit and dragged him to the nearest hanging tree with a minimum of ceremony. Thug justice always stirs the adrenaline and animates the nervous system.
But America has given up frontier justice, and now the law rules. An honest argument emerged after the Boston bombing. Some of us thought Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should hear his Miranda rights at once, and some of us wanted the government to declare him an enemy combatant and question him without a lawyer. He might have further information about unfolding plots. Most people thought they had seen the evidence to convict him, but nobody really knew much in those early hours. Now we know a little more. We can wish him a speedy recovery if only to find out whether he has knowledge to spare us further ill.
We’re told the two suspects acted alone, but Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, asks the right question: “How in the world do we know that?” Where did they get the money to carry out their scheme?
Now the younger brother has heard his Miranda rights and has an attorney. This is a good teaching moment for the children — and for the rest of us as well — about why the rule of law makes the United States an exceptional nation, and to watch how democracy puts into place the mechanisms to render justice.
We’re in an unexplored era of information-gathering, still stumbling about with tools bequeathed through the Internet. They are a decidedly mixed blessing, appealing both to vigilant intelligence and anger-provoked emotion. Photographs of the Brothers Tsarnaev flooded websites, allowing for rapid identification, but the social media further flooded all manner of junk speculation, magnifying animosities and fanning the fires of prejudice, big and small.
How we establish our fact-finding determines what we do about it. One of the glories of our democracy is that we usually move with deliberation through the emotion. How we frame the terrorist potential confronting us matters. Language matters, too. Obfuscation, euphemism and exaggeration disfigure what we see and how we interpret it.
President Obama and his administration erased meaningful metaphors and powerful language describing the “war on terrorism.” Words such as “jihadist” and “radical Islam,” the plain speech of the George W. Bush years, were dropped as if something foul. In 2010, the National Security Strategy formally replaced the term “Islamic terrorism” with “violent extremism,” generalizing the threat and blurring the lens. “Terrorism” at Fort Hood, Texas, was reduced to “workplace violence,” despite evidence that the Muslim major accused of killing 13 and wounding 32 others had been counseled by an al Qaeda mentor.
Playing games with the language was intended to court the Muslim world, but it confuses anyone trying to make sense of the appeal of terrorism and the theology (if theology it is) of radical Islam. We’re entitled to ask why this particular religion at this time so readily becomes a violent vehicle for a young man yearning for moral authority.
When Tamerlan Tsarnaev slipped into the hedonistic life of marijuana, girls and booze, his mother, as mothers will, urged her son to seek his religious roots. He did just that, but what he found in those roots that led him to wholesale violence is something we must find out. We must take care not to hold peaceful and devout Muslims responsible for the evil acts of the radicals who pursue violence, but we must examine what in the religion encourages death and mayhem. It’s neither an academic nor a prejudicial pursuit, but one based on experience.
The U.S. government’s abuse of semantics hasn’t reduced the fear of violence incited by radical Islam. This abuse of language does no favor to devout and peaceful Muslims, either. The Pew Research Center in 2010 found that fewer Americans felt favorably toward Islam than they did five years earlier; more Americans believe Islam encourages violence than they did in the George W. Bush years.
“There is little doubt that the administration’s unwillingness to speak candidly about Islamic terrorism has taken a toll on the American public’s trust in its ability to confront the threat,” Stuart Gottlieb writes in National Interest magazine. When rhetoric understates and obfuscates the threat, distrust rises. Reality is hard to hide.
Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
TWT Video Picks
Taxpayers must pay the freight for over-budget train projects
Get Breaking Alerts
- Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians
- Rand Paul wins 2014 CPAC straw poll, Ted Cruz finishes a distant second
- Bill Clinton cashes in on struggling nonprofit hospital
- Paul takes veiled shot at Cruz, says GOP must focus on growth
- Bill Clinton poses for photo with Bunny Ranch prostitutes
- VIDEO: Emily Miller on Fox Business "The Independents" special "The Gun Show"
- Obama engages in Ukraine diplomacy from Fla. resort as Russia digs in
- Stolen European passports on Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777
- Gates: Obama strategy won't stop Putin
- CPAC 2014 straw poll results
Recent Letters to the Editor
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Time for feckless president to show resolve
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Obama reserves 'Chicago way' for GOP
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Public education would wither in free market
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Turkey not committed to Cyprus peace
- LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Spoiled-kid culture creates greedy adults