Unafraid to Identify Islamic Terrorism

The Reuters News Service instructs its correspondents to eschew the use of the word “terrorist.” Correspondents may quote others using the word, but they cannot exercise journalistic judgment and use the term directly. After all, according to Reuters, one man’s “terrorist” is another man’s “freedom fighter.” This is a new policy, since Reuters had no problem accurately characterizing Timothy McVeigh, the person who set off a bomb in a Federal building in Oklahoma Building killing many fellows citizens, as a “terrorist.”

In its defense, Reuters claims it is trying to avoid the use of “emotive” words and employ more descriptive ones. Well, this begs the question since the word terrorist is also descriptive. So what words are they substituting instead of “terrorist?” They are using words such as “bomber” or “hijacker” as if these words carried no emotional content. No, there is something more behind Reuters’s decision.

It would be easy to ridicule Reuters for its inability to identify a “terrorist.” Surely there may be cases where people might differ in their judgment, but it seems the deliberate act of slamming civilian aircraft into the World Trade Centers, killing thousands of civilians, is easy to identify as the act of “terrorists.”

A little cynicism may be in order here. Reuters is an international news service that seeks to expand its market. Calling a “terrorist” a “terrorist” may bother some Middle Eastern news consumers.┬áReuters is simply trading a little journalistic integrity for market share. This is not an unheard of exchange. Greed may not be noble, but it is, at least, understandable.

The Religious Newswriters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists have no similar excuse when they advise journalists to “[a]void using word combinations such as `Islamic terrorist’ or `Muslim extremist”’ lest someone believe that all Muslims are terrorists or extremists. Surely this is political correctness gone awry.

It is certainly the case that mainstream Islamic teaching is fundamentally inconsistent with mass murder. Nonetheless there are strains of Islamic fundamentalism that endorse and use terrorism. These strains are sufficiently prevalent that they pose political threats to Islamic countries like Egypt and Pakistan. Indeed, the clerical leaders of one such strain, the Taliban, rule Afghanistan with a religiously gloved iron fist.

It is not insensitive journalists who have attached the modifier “Islamic” to “terrorism.” It is groups like “Islamic Jihad” and the Taliban who have seized the traditions and history of Islam for their purposes. The US is not at war with Islam, but there are certainly Islamic groups who are at war with the US.

The term “Islamic terrorist” is accurately descriptive and informative no matter how uncomfortable that makes some feel. Such a term no more implies that all Muslims are terrorists than the phrase “American steelworkers” implies that all Americans are steelworkers. If it were not for the traditional Islamic respect for learning, perhaps we in the West would not have had the benefit of Aristotelian logic to understand this simple point.

The source of the recent anthrax attacks in the US is still not clear. The Washington Post has reported that “right-wing hate groups” are suspected sources. Does that phrase imply that all right-wingers are haters? Of course not.

This mania for political correctness, to avoid offending Muslims even when there is no real offense, potentially corrupts journalism. Journalists often call the subjects of stories to provide them an opportunity to correct inaccuracies or to respond to comments by others. However, they would never allow any outside groups to be involved in the editorial process. The Society of Professional Journalists would rightly never suggest that the military should “review…coverage and make suggestions.” Yet, this is precisely the oversight function that the Society of Professional Journalists believes “targeted” groups should have.

In an effort to appear objective and impartial, journalists are being asked to contort their normal processes for seeking the truth. Sometimes, speaking and writing the truth forces one to be on one side. Live with it. As Winston Churchill said, “I cannot undertake to be impartial as between the fire brigade and the fire.”


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