Friday, November 23, 2007

What should we call the people who want to kill us...

"... Islamofascists? Islamists? Jihadists? Or just plain murderers?" begins Timothy Garton-Ash in a comment piece in yesterday's Guardian. I know what I'd like to call urban 4x4 drivers doing 50mph in a 30mph zone next to my kids' school, but the swearing filter would kick in.

Aside from the fairly provocative use of inclusive pronouns to start the piece (Who are "we" and "us"?) which, to be fair, he attempts to clarify later on, it's a considered reflection on the importance of language labels in identifying "the enemy".

As he goes on to explain, "You might say it doesn't matter that much; the point is to stop them. But finding the right words is part of stopping them. It means we've correctly identified our real enemies. It also means we don't unnecessarily create new enemies by making all Muslims feel that they're being treated as terrorists".

In the topic of Language & Representation we're studying in AS at the moment, the debate over the importance of labels is central. Whether it be ethnic groups, the opposite sex, people of different sexuality, people with disabilities, members of different social classes, subcultures or age groups, labels are part of the way we define others and ourselves. As Garton-Ash points out, if we choose the wrong label we run the risk of alienating a particular group, or choosing the wrong way to deal with them - you can presumably negotiate with a freedom fighter but not a terrorist - but beyond that, the human need to label and to work with stereotypes is worth thinking about in more detail.

Do these labels affect the way we view different people? Do the words actually exert some influence on the way we think, or are the labels just a reflection of our views about the people being labelled? And why do we tend to be so quick to use stereotypes when dealing with members of different social groups?

More questions than answers...

Useful for:
ENA1 - Language and Representation

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