Wednesday, January 24, 2007

 

Language, Politics and Resisting the Bombers

The talk by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken MacDonald, to the Criminal Bar Association yesterday revolved around language and politics, a fascinating, understudied area which changes subtly by the day. Remember the endless rows about whether the IRA had decommissioned arms 'permanently'? It mattered because the nationalist paramilitaries did not want to concede the appearance of surrender.

A somewhat amusing further example was offered last year when we saw the debut of a phrase to describe painful hikes in energy prices which were said to be 'eye watering', a term with a possible digestive provenance. Sir Ken focused on some key words and phrases which he felt were inappropriate. He insisted the 7/7 bombers were not 'soldiers', as they claimed on their video but rather, 'deluded narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists'.

Again 'The fight against terrorism on the streets is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws.' He argued that such alarmist terms undermined 'The values critical to to the maintenance of the rule of law-upon which everything else depends.' The DPP is clearly sensitive to the way words come freighted with associations and wider connotations.

He wants to change the terms of the discourse, to regain the advantage the bombers have already won by provoking alarming, horrific images of conflict which have encouraged the public to become disengaged from those crucia values of democratic society. In essence he is arguing that the word 'terror' provides the wrong concept, the wrong lens through which to view the events of 9-11, 7-7 and the rest. He is saying, I think rightly, we should reclaim our own vocabulary of a civilised society from the bombers.

Comments:
'The fight against terrorism on the streets is not a war. It is the prevention of crime, the enforcement of our laws.'

Never a truer word spoken.
 
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