For years, I’ve been bothered whenever I’ve seen mainstream media reporters or anchors use the word “militant” rather than “terrorist.” Boko Haram can massacre thousands of innocent civilians in a single day in Nigeria and be described as a “militant” group on The National because CBC policy apparently forbids using the word “terrorist.”
Canada is a bilingual country and, with our leaders often switching back and forth between French and English, it’s not unusual to hear them use words from one language while speaking the other – particularly when they are speaking their second language.
Case in point is the word “militant.” While an anglophone might understand that it has become a media code word for “terrorist,” to a francophone, a militant is simply an activist. It’s common to hear Quebec politicians – at the federal, provincial and municipal levels – whether speaking in French or in English, describe their party activists as “militants,” or to hear references to “union militants” or “environmental militants.” And, in a country where many francophones work in English-language media, I’ve heard organizations like Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada referred to as “a militant group.”
Yes, in Canada, you can hear the same word used to describe both mass murderers and doctors who want to prevent the many thousands of deaths per year in this country that result from tobacco use.
I’m writing this on January 30, just as this issue of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is about to go to press. Earlier today, as I drank my morning coffee, I read an article, “The language of terrorism,” by Dylan Robertson in the Ottawa Citizen, which discussed how politicians and other policy-makers use terms such as “jihad,” “Islamist” and “war” to manipulate debate around terrorism policy.
In the article, Robertson – a young journalist on a year-long fellowship that has him assigned to the Citizen’s parliamentary bureau for six months before moving on to the Calgary Herald for another six months – offered a description of what Hamas is all about.
“Hamas is a powerful Palestinian political party with a militant wing that Canada and other countries deem a terrorist group,” he explained.
It sounds so benign to see Hamas described as “a political party with a militant wing.”
But it’s not benign at all, and it bothers me to see the same word used to describe a Hamas suicide bomber out to kill as many children on as possible on a school bus in Israel and an NDP campaigner knocking on doors in Outremont trying to get Tom Mulcair re-elected.
To be clear, Hamas – which seized control of Gaza in 2007 in what was essentially a Palestinian civil war with Fatah – is, despite the vagueness of the Citizen article, a terrorist organization and has long been recognized as such by Canada.
And it was not Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government that designated Hamas a terrorist organization. It was then-prime minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government back in 2002 – five years before Hamas seized power in Gaza – which made that designation.
Hamas is not about electoral politics. It is about suicide bombings, kidnappings and seemingly endless rocket barrages aimed at civilian communities. It’s not a political party. It’s a terrorist organization whose covenant calls for an Islamic state encompassing all of Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. It’s a terrorist organization whose covenant both denies the Holo-caust and advocates genocide against Jews.
Words matter and in these times when terrorist attacks – whether against children in Sderot; cartoonists, Jews and police in Paris; villagers in Nigeria; stockbrokers and firemen in New York City; or whomever wherever – have become much too commonplace, it is time for the mainstream media to start referring to terrorists as terrorists.