The Language of War


When reporting on a conflict one can aim for neutrality, but it is considered very difficult to remain completely unbiased as we all know that one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist. In the case of Libya it has long been decided who the goodies and who the baddies are, but I have been wondering why the people opposing Qadafi are being referred to as ‘rebels’ in the UK media. Yes, they could be considered rebels as they are rebelling against Qadafi’s rule. But they are also opposing his rule. Why are they not called ‘the opposition forces’? Or ‘the guerrilla forces’, as they are an irregular armed force fighting a stronger force? Freedom fighters would have been an option as, I think most of use will agree, these forces are fighting tyranny and for freedom and democracy. Who has decided that these forces are to be called ‘rebels’ and why does the UK media seem to unanimously agree on this term?  We could make an attempt to fit this into the orientalist, ethnocentric, imperialist discourse. That these men – where are the women?- are men of the desert, proud, strong, wild and disorganised. To give them the term opposition forces would make them appear too organised, to clean-cut. There is far less romanticism linked to it. Guerrillas are found in the rainforests of South America or deep into sub Saharan Africa. And the term freedom fighter reveals perhaps too much bias. The IRA and ETA – although perhaps currently inactive- are listed as terrorist organisation, but I believe they’ve never been called guerrilla forces while they completely fit the definition. Maybe it is because despite these organisations using/ having used terror they operate on the ‘enlightened continent’ of Europe.

I don’t know what the score is. Why certain words in the/ certain media are being used for certain factions and no one seems to question this. Despite a lot of talk not an awful lot is being done (yet?) by either the EU, the UN nor NATO. It’s complicated. The mess has been created almost a century ago and they kept on digging, messing it up and putting oil on the fire with shocking ignorance. And now they want to fix it, but don’t know how. Whatever they do, embargo, no-fly zone, sending weapons, sending troops, sending humanitarian aid, do nothing it will either be insufficient or another form of imperialism. And in the mean time the opposition forces, as I like to call them, are being crushed by Qadafi’s far more organised military and we go back to where we started. Opposition force goes back to being the repressed people, Qadafi remains the strong man and it’s business as usual, including trade deals and perhaps democracy is not that good for North-Africa after all.

war and language


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