Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

Language of Fighting Terrorism

Posted on October 5, 2016

By David Burress

Language matters. What language should we use for the struggle against Islamist terrorism?

“War” is a bad metaphor. War has a well-defined opponent. This struggle doesn’t. War has an outcome with the possibility of a win, a defeat, a draw. This struggle doesn’t. It is more similar to policing, a task that has no end.
“Against terror” is a bad metaphor. Terror is an age-old tactic that cannot be permanently suppressed. It is not an opponent. In fact we don’t have a well-defined opponent, only a tendency, like crime.

What we are actually doing is policing violent Islamism. And that is how we should describe it.

As in the policing of crime, we should promise neither a final victory nor a complete elimination. What we can reasonably promise is that, if the civilized countries of the world cooperate, we will make steady progress. Violent Islamism can eventually be reduced to a tolerable background level, like crime in a well-managed country. 

And we should make analogies to problems such as traffic fatalities, a terrible social problem that has killed far more people than violent Islamism have directly killed. However we have learned to live with traffic fatalities, and we are making steady progress in reducing them. Granted that traffic fatalities are not deeply unjust in the same way that violent Islamism is unjust, but if we succumb to rage at violent Islamists we generally help their cause rather than our own.

Another analogy is to our inadequate gun laws, which have also killed more people than violent Islamists. But we are not making any progress on gun laws. And there is a deep injustice in that: the uncompromising NRA and the manufacturers and the politicians who serve them are unjustly preventing progress that could save many lives without unduly restricting any well-governed right to bear arms.

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