Call Things By Their Right Names: “RADICALIZATION”

Part of Confucius’ seemingly two-pronged Golden Rule was to “Call Things By Their Right (correct) Names” (the other being “Do NOT Do Unto Others” etc) which amount to the same thing: “Do Not Attack First,” considering that deliberately NOT correctly identifying things to others is also known as LYING, and lying is the most basic form of theft: it’s the (at least, attempted) theft of the Truth. Since all first-attacks are crimes, and all crimes are forms of theft, lying (aka “fraud” and slander) is a crime.

From here:

There is much to dislike about both the passive “was radicalized” construction and the term “radicalization,” which comes from an adjective (radical) turned into a verb (radicalize) and then into a noun. The term “self-radicalized,” which appears to be a reflexive passive verb, if such a thing exists, is even worse.

Consider the following sentences, which could have been pulled from a thousand sources:

  • Tamerlan Tsarnaev was radicalized in Dagestan.
  • Sayed Rizwan Farook became radicalized by his wife.
  • Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan was self-radicalized.

The passive construction in each blurs the relationship between agent (Tsarnaev, Farook, Nidal) and the already-vague verb “radicalized.” Each deflects responsibility elsewhere, or omits it altogether, treating “radicalism” as a contagion that infects its host upon first contact.
Observing Rule #4 from “Politics and the English Language” might yield instead the following sentences:

  • Tamerlan Tsarnaev sharpened his nascent hatred for the US among the Islamists in Dagestan.
  • Sayed Rizwan Farook traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia seeking a wife who shared his Islamist views.
  • Maj. Malik Nidal Hasan sought spiritual and operational guidance from AQAP leader Anwar al-Awlaki.

What Gore Vidal called “the popular Fu Manchu theory that a single whiff of opium will enslave the mind” is not a good metaphor for Islamism. Islamism is inculcated over time. Teachers spread it in schools with booksImams and community leaders reinforce it in mosques and Islamic centers. Some communities ignore it, and some families tolerate it. Sudden Jihad Syndrome only appears sudden to outsiders.

What Gore Vidal called ‘the popular Fu Manchu theory that a single whiff of opium will enslave the mind’ isn’t a good metaphor for Islamism.

Orwell insisted that language always be used “as an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought,” but he understood that not everyone shared his view.

The “was radicalized” construction has become ubiquitous mostly by thoughtless repetition, but to those who deliberately obfuscate, this seemingly inoffensive passive construction provides a way to avoid what has increasingly become the un-nameable. Maajid Nawaz calls this “the Voldemort effect: the refusal to call Islamism by its proper name.”

Those who make and influence US counterterrorism policy must recognize that jihadists are not created accidentally or spontaneously. Speaking and writing as though they are, either deliberately or through “the slovenliness of our language,” hinders clear thinking. And as Orwell put it, “to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.”

A.J. Caschetta is a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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