“Stop calling them terrorists”

As the Somali pirates have a strong week, attacking more ships and capturing hostages, the word “terrorism” is coming up in many news stories. Most recently, my learned colleague wrote about the FT’s editorial that asserted we should “stop calling them pirates.” Munro-Ferguson basically took the position that this was nonsense — perhaps “Maritime armed robbers,” or “blue water hijackers,” or “maybe something simple like ‘pirates.’”

I couldn’t agree more. The Somali piracy phenomenon is one I discussed at length about half a year ago, arguing that the Somali pirates were actually a result of the strong civil society in the northern horn, unrelated to the Islamic extremists in the south, and regardless, irrelevant to Al Qaeda and the major factions in the war on terrorism (defunct). Basically, Washington agrees with me — “U.S. officials have found no direct ties between East African pirates and terrorist groups.”

But everyone — the press, analysts, academics, and others just can’t help themselves:

But piracy is believed to be backed by an international network that runs from the Horn of Africa to as far as North America. It is made up primarily of Somali expatriates who offer funds, equipment and information in exchange for a cut of the ransoms, according to researchers, officials and members of the racket. With help from the network, Somali pirates brought in at least $80 million last year.

As I see it, the war on terrorism created a large, self-entitled bureucratic infrastructure — in government, academia, think tanks, and the media — that justifies its existence on the threat of terrorism. As the war on terrorism comes to a soft close, it is in the best interest of these parties to make sure that “terrorism,” whether it by Al Qaeda or desperate Somalis, be labeled as such so the bureaucrats keep their jobs.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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5 Responses to “Stop calling them terrorists”

  1. ElamBend says:

    When you’re a hammer, every problem is a nail

  2. Anthony says:

    In a story, you need a hero and a villain. The news is no different if you want to create a compelling news story. That’s why “terrorism”, “terrorists”, or “pirates” are frequently used words these days.

  3. Pingback: Warren Ellis » Links for 2009-04-29

  4. Thomas says:

    The problem is that both the word “terrorist” and the word “pirate” carry specific connotations in the US.

    Gun toting teenagers hijacking container ships don’t fit either.

  5. B. Walthrop says:

    I agree that they are not terrorists, and the word has been overused.

    The GWOT is coming to a soft close by edict of the executive branch to change the language, but if you believe that Global Contingency Operations are winding down, I don’t think you’ve been paying enough attention to Pakistan. We shall see….