Wednesday, November 29, 2006

When is a war not a war?

Much media interest recently in the American media's language change in their reporting of the situation in Iraq. Is it an insurgency against a peace-keeping force? A legitimate imposition of democracy on a tryannical regime? The American national broadcasting network, NBC, announced a couple of days ago that its reporting of events in Iraq in future will refer to the violent events in Iraq as a 'civil war'. Here's an extract from the BBC story on this:

The New York Times is the latest publication to take the decision following the NBC network's highly-publicised move on Monday. The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said it is hard to argue that this war does not fit the generally accepted definition of civil war. The Bush administration maintains the term civil war is inappropriate.

'War of semantics'

In Washington, a war of semantics has broken out over whether the conflict in Iraq can be called a civil war. Just what is the definition of a civil war, of course, has been the subject of much debate since NBC's decision to defy White House objections and use the phrase.
President George Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, has said the Iraqi government does not see it in those terms, while the president himself described the latest attacks as part of an ongoing campaign by al-Qaeda militants.

One person's freedom fighter is another person's terrorist; as Norman Fairclough has demonstrated in his work on language and power, the terms we use are not neutral when it comes to social, cultural and political events and concepts. Language is power, and its use is not benign.

This is language change in action. Here's the link to the whole story from the BBC:

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