My Mideast Punchlines: what’s in a word?

BBC executive Tarik Kafala explained to The Independent why the Beeb won’t describe the Charlie Hebdo massacre as an act of “terror.”

Mr Kafala, whose BBC Arabic television, radio and online news services reach a weekly audience of 36 million people, told The Independent: “We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist. What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine’. That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.”

Mr Kafala said: “Terrorism is such a loaded word. The UN has been struggling for more than a decade to define the word and they can’t. It is very difficult to. We know what political violence is, we know what murder, bombings and shootings are and we describe them. That’s much more revealing, we believe, than using a word like terrorist which people will see as value-laden.”

Small FistTarik is, of course, living in Kafala-land. Firstly, let’s look at the Macmillan dictionary’s brief definitions of terror: a strong feeling of fear; something or someone that makes you very frightened; violence used for making people very frightened in order to achieve political aims. I’d say the last one’s a bit of a clincher. Yes, terrorism is a loaded word. However, as far as the unfortunate victims at Charlie Hebdo were concerned, it was more a loaded weapon. And as for the UN struggling to define the word, this is not overly surprising given the plethora of terror regimes to be found wallowing in the detritus of that less than august body. And as for ‘terrorist’ being value-laden, you are spot on, Mr Kafala. It’s laden with the values that most people outside the BBC and the UN see as all that is evil within the human condition.
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