Sunday, July 11, 2010

Propaganda Studies: "Terrorism"

Terrorism can mean just about anything as pointed out by Glenn Greenwald in Manipulative use of the term "Terrorism":
There's a great paradox in the American political landscape:  the word that is used most frequently to justify everything from invasions and bombings to torture, indefinite detention, and the sprawling Surveillance State -- Terrorism -- is also the most ill-defined and manipulated word.  It has no fixed meaning, and thus applies to virtually anything the user wishes to demonize, while excluding the user's own behavior and other acts one seeks to justify.  All of this would be an interesting though largely academic, semantic matter if not for the central political significance with which this term is vested:  both formally (in our law) and informally (in our political debates and rhetoric). 
Remi Brulin, who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses at NYU, has spent many years -- as part of his PhD dissertation at the Sorbonne in Paris -- examining the use of the word Terrorism in international relations, the law, and the media (particularly as used by The New York Times).  The history of this term -- how and why it came to be such a politically prominent and consequential label, the radically inconsistent meaning it has based on who is wielding it, the failure to create a universally or even widely recognized definition -- reveals how long it has been manipulated as a propagandistic tool. 
The word "terrorism" and "terrorist" is probably one of the longest applications of exploiting a word for Maximum Advantage in All Things.  indeed, it is far older than the Technical Morality, and as such will outlast it.  As a consequence, the label is very difficult to negate, but can become meaningless.  As it is presently overused, "terrorism" and "terrorist" are largely losing impact as overexposure tends to blunt impact.  Hence, as it becomes widely ignored, propagandists will need to start looking around for another phrase in the next few years.  What will it be?  I would bet that another fall back, namely "anarchist" or something more specific like "Islamo-anarchist" or right/left wing-anarchist labels will make a comeback.  The peasants need to be kept in line somehow and old bogeymen are an easy means to that end.

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