UPDATE, JULY 19: Since this post is necessarily long, I’ll provide a brief summary for those who don’t have time to go through every word here.
It is clear, based on the track record of at least the past 15 years (and arguably longer, back to the World Trade Center attack in 1993, if not further), that the percentage of properly labeled “terrorist attacks” carried out by radical Islamic jihadists has been such an overwhelmingly high percentage of all terrorist attacks that the worldwide press would be at least 95 percent accurate if it labeled all such attacks as “terrorist attacks” or “terrorism” committed by “terrorists” and failed to properly label all others. 95%-plus accurate journalism in this arena would be a substantial and quite welcome improvement over the current state of affairs.
Instead, we have a Slate.com writer lobbying for the idea that, like Reuters has already mandated in its handbook, all journalists should stop using the term “terrorist” in their non-quoted reporting (and, consistent with what Reuters is doing, “terrorism”) because the words have “acquired a powerful religious—and specifically Islamic—connotation” that “is substantively consequential.” The fact is that the “connotation,” based on the aforementioned track record, is richly deserved.
The author’s wish to wipe out “terorrist” and “terrorism” from non-quoted reporting is, despite what will surely be his denials (whether out of ignorance or dishonesty, we can’t know), an Orwellian and cowardly attempt (only the Slate.com writer knows whether it’s cowardice on his part, but such a move would certainly be perceived and promoted as cowardice by jihadists) to delegitimize the words out of everyday official and informal conversation and discussion. It should therefore be summarily rejected.
A post yesterday at BizzyBlog (mirrored at NewsBusters) took on an occasional Slate.com columnist’s belief that the word “terrorist” (and, inevitably, the term “terrorism,” based on the actually implemented Handbook Guide policies at Reuters) should no longer be used in establishment press news reports.
The driver for this move would be a decision by the Associated Press to revise its Stylebook to effectively ban the use of the term, similar to the 2013 revision it made to eliminate the use of the perfectly accurate term “illegal immigrant” to describe an immigrant who is in another country without that country’s specific permission.
While that post served its purpose, it was, in retrospect, a bit narrower in focus than it should have been.
There are bigger-picture issues here which NB commenters and Slate author Adam Ragusea, who was interested enough to post comments himself but not particularly interested in civil discourse, either raised or to which they alluded.
To be clear, the original post holds up fine for the main point it makes in refuting Ragusea’s primary complaint against “terrorists” and “terrorism,” namely that the terms have, in his view, “acquired a powerful religious—and specifically Islamic—connotation.”
That they have — with good reason.
As I pointed out, TheReligionOfPeace.com notes (updated to Monday afternoon’s value) that “Islamic terrorists have carried out 28,833 deadly terror attacks since 9/11,” and I argued, quite accurately I believe until someone proves me wrong, that “I doubt that any other group is responsible for more than a few hundred attacks during that time.”
Based on that huge TROP.com figure, I wrote, again quite accurately, that “There’s such an overwhelming chance that a given (terrorist) attack is rooted in radical Islam that the average person logically starts with that tentative assumption, and needs to see evidence that it wasn’t to believe otherwise.”
Ragusea challenges this contention on three fronts, but he misses a far larger definitional point about Islamic association with terrorism which in the final analysis should make the term’s journalistic employment mandatory when the conditions for its use are present:
- Based on what has to have been a relatively cursory review, based on the sheer volume of attacks, he disputed TheReligionOfPeace.com’s “terror attacks” characterization. He believes that a substantial portion of the events cited are really ”attacks targeted at specific people, or a specific class of people” and as such, if they are counted as “terror attacks,” should mandate that assassinations like those committed by Micah Johnson in Dallas should be considered “terror attacks.” (The final sentence of this item was revised on July 19 in reaction to Ragusea’s comment below. — Ed.)
- He used Point 1 in part to criticize my assertion that “Islamists have been ‘doing’ darned near all of the post-9/11 terrorism,” and built on that point to claim that “it is in fact untrue if we look at the United States in particular.”
- Being a numbers guy, I glossed over his third objection, which is really the most important one. That’s because, in his mind, it alone, regardless of arguments over classification, justifies banning “terrorist” and “terrorism” from reported, unquoted content in news reports: “I’m in favor of news organizations reporting the facts and letting people decide for themselves how they should feel about things. … let readers decide for themselves whether they consider it terrorism. Is that really such a controversial thing? Why do you want to tell people what they should think?”
So here we go.
1. TheReligionOfPeace.com list.
I didn’t expect this contention of Ragusea to end up being so weak (a previous rendition of this paragraph contended that it “appear(ed)” weak, and I have strengthened my conclusion — Ed.). Though my review is based on perusing the web site’s most recent list of 171 attacks (no one on earth has time to review over 28,000, and TROP.com doesn’t provide details for all of them in any event), there’s no good reason to believe that items listed in prior months and years are fundamentally different in character.
I’m estimating that perhaps 60 of the 171 most recent attacks listed were or could be said to have targeted specific people. Just a few examples meant to broadly repreesent such items would include the following:
- “A model is strangled to death by her brother after offending religious conservatives.” Honor killings represent perhaps the only area where we all could agree that we’re not talking about a “terrorist attack” as any news outlet would describe it.
- “Six people are beheaded by a Sharia court.” Not a terrorist attack, either, but arguably state-sponsored, “religion”-inspired killing.
- “A terrorist lobs a grenade into a group of policemen, killing one” (and injuring seven). Possibly targeted, but if the victims happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and weren’t targeted because of being policemen, this would be a regular garden-variety terorrist attack.
- “Three off-duty soldiers are ambushed and killed by Abu Sayyaf while buying food.” Same point as the previous item, though this does look targeted. Nonetheless, it’s a terrorist attack.
- “Four doctors are beheaded by the Islamic State.” Targeted, not a terrorist attack, but carried out by terrorists.
- “Five civilians are beheaded in front of their families by the Islamic State.” Targeted, not a terrorist attack, but carried out by terrorists.
- “The wife of a Shiite cleric is gunned down in a targeted attack.” Targeted, not a terrorist attack, but carried out by terrorists.
- “ISIS is suspected of a home invasion in which a moderate cleric and his family member are killed.” Most likely targeted, not a terrorist attack, but carried out by terrorists.
- “A suicide bomber strikes a rival mosque, killing at least nine.” Targeted, and a terrorist attack.
But except in the first two instances, we’re missing the larger point that the left and Islam’s apologists seemingly will never understand or concede until their dying day (which is likely destined to come sooner if their false take on things continues to gain traction).
That point is this: Radical Islamic jihadist terrorists kill their victims because they are “infidels” in some respect. Either they won’t convert to Islam, won’t convert to their brand of Islam, or won’t adhere to certain tenets of their brand of Islam. The “rationale” for murder is essentially the same regardless of whether the people involved are “targeted” or not. Additionally, these terrorist acts are sanctioned by a significant enough portion of Muslim clerics that they are perceived to have official religious sanction. In shorthand, as TROP.com tells us, these acts are “committed out of religious duty - as interpreted by the perpetrator. ” And the overriding religious duty is to murder and frighten infidels. Every act at TROP.com except for honor and intrafamily killings arguably does those things.
If one accepts the implications of these sad realities, then the vast majority of items TROP.com identified are indeed carried out by people correctly tagged as terrorists, and a still-large majority of the incidents involved indeed qualify as instances of “terrorism” as it’s commonly and properly understood. Additionally, they are easily distinguished from assassinations like those committed by Micah Johnson in Dallas. Though he was clearly aggrieved over the alleged mistreatment of black in America, his effort (unless authorities are holding facts back from the public) was not “inspired” by others who who said that it was his religious or civic duty to kill everyone who won’t ascribe to his belief system or everyone who is white. (The final two sentences of this paragraph were added on July 19 in reaction to Ragusea’s comment below. — Ed.)
But there’s more.
Further research at TROP.com took me to a page documenting the BBC’s look at just one month of Islamic attacks:
Jihadist attacks killed more than 5,000 people in just one month, an investigation by the BBC World Service and King’s College London has found.
Civilians bore the brunt of the violence, with more than 2,000 killed in reported jihadist incidents during November 2014. Islamic State carried out the most attacks, adding to the spiralling death toll in Iraq and Syria.
The BBC identified 664 attacks — in just one month. Even if we assume that November 2014 was some kind of outlier with twice as many attacks as “normal,” we’re talking nearly 4,000 attacks per year. No other organization currently on earth is carrying out attacks at more than a tiny fraction of such frequency.
Thus, you can put an exclamation point on my slightly modified assertion yesterday that “Islamists have been ‘doing’ darned near all of the post-9/11 terrorism worldwide!” — and certainly darned near all of it in recent years!
The only qualifier I added — “worldwide” — takes us to Item 2.
2. Looking at Islamic vs. “right-wing” attacks in the U.S.
Adam Ragusea sought refuge for his contention that Islamist terror does not dominate the U.S. landscape as much as right-wing terror does by referring to a list found at a page at the “International Security Data” (ISD) web site, which turns out to be partially or mostly funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and other left-leaning groups and persons.
Based on this list, Ragusea claimed that “right-wing extremists have perpetrated twice as many terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 than have Jihadists.”
Not even close, dude — and quite deceptive, even if you were right, because even ISD’s list has just shy of twice as many jihadist deaths.
The aforementioned TROP.com has a separate list of what it calls U.S jihadist attacks since 9/11 listing “an additional 139 Americans (who) have been killed in 48 separate acts of deadly Islamic terror or Islam-related honor killing in the United States.” Subtracting out 8 honor killings and intrafamily murders involving 14 deaths leaves 34 attacks and 125 deaths. (Those who might have seen my related comment at yesterday’s NewsBusters post should know that the 10 Beltway sniper killings occurred on six separate days in 2002; the 7 additional murders committed by the two involved prior to their sniper killings are not included in the above totals.)
Those two totals dwarf the 18 “right-wing” items listed at ISD involving 48 deaths. Additionally, as TROP.com notes, “Hundreds of mass murder plots have been thwarted or botched.” (Update, 9:30 p.m.: This link implies a far lower number in the forties after subtracting out the ones that have taken place.)
I would also note that two of the right-wing “terror attacks” ISD lists really weren’t. George Tiller’s murderer specifically targeted just one guy, and ISD itself describes his act as an assassination. In the Austin, Texas/IRS incident, Andrew Joseph Stack only killed himself.
So the comparison is really Jihadists, 34 attacks and 125 deaths; “right-wing,” 16 attacks and 46 deaths. Over twice the number of attacks, and not far from triple the number of deaths.
In the U.S., it is the case, based on the above work, that “Islamists have committed over two-thirds of post-9/11 terror attacks, which have been responsible for 73 percent of the deaths in such attacks.”
It’s quite obvious that Adam Ragusea’s claim that “right-wing extremists have perpetrated twice as many terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 than have Jihadists” is as wrong as wrong can be.
3. The Orwellian “let readers decide” gambit.
Here’s Ragusea’s pitch, as seen in one of his NewsBusters comments:
I have no trouble with you using the word terrorist. I have a problem with reporters deciding for you whether a particular person is a terrorist. I think reporters should give you facts about actions and let you make your own judgments as to what those actions constitute. I didn’t think that was so controversial.
Nice try, no sale, pal.
The elimination of the word “terrorist” and “terrorism” from news reporting unless the words are part of a quoted statement made by a story subject (which is what the policy at Reuters already is) is a deliberate attempt to constrict the language. We have seen that in the AP’s disgraceful 2013 decision to stop calling illegal immigrants what they are.
It hasn’t taken long at all. Three years down the road, “everybody knows” that anyone who dares to employ the term “illegal immigrant” is a presumptive right-winger who hates immigrants and is likely a racist. The AP did what it did to achieve that end, and it has largely succeeded.
The same thing will happen with “terrorist” and “terrorism” if the AP changes its Stylebook to ban the term from non-quotemarked text. Anyone who dares employ either T-word will be tagged immediately as a reactionary, and, eventually, because darned near all terrorist attacks worldwide are jihadist in nature, a presumptive “Islamophobe.”
George Orwell saw this coming (Quote 2 at the link), as an NB commenter noted: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
No thanks, Adam. I like freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, and accurate characterizations and labels when their use communicates important, irrefutable facts and information economically. So should journalists, who of all people should know that words matter. If you don’t like the uncomfortable reality behind what those words communicate — too bad, so sad.
Radical Islamist jihadists who commit acts of terror known as “terrorism” are terrorists.
Deal with it.