All That’s Wrong With Journalists Using Terms Like ‘Islamic Terrorist’

Posted by Munawar in Media
June 28, 2017

Stephen Quinn and Vincent F Filak, in their book “Convergent Journalism: An Introduction”, wrote, Good writing is all about good word choice and proper ordering of those words. Since this is journalism, the first rule for word choice is accuracy. The word has to be right. Not close to right. Not nearly right. Absolutely right. Next, the word has to be appropriate for the context…Whatever meaning a word conjures in the minds of the listeners is the way you should use it…Use words the way they’re commonly used.”

“Call them what they call themselves.” – Unknown

The fundamental units of communicated ideas are a specific selection of words. While compiling a reportage, the choice of words reflects the stance of the reporter towards a particular situation. How a journalist portrays news is equally seminal as what they have to say about the phenomenon.

Diction and syntax are two poles which support and help an idea to be established in a typical characteristic. With the singular choice of words, some ideas are conveyed to us in a dramatic way. While some stories draw a curtain over our eyes, others can lead us to derivatives. Some can cultivate, obfuscate, alternate or deviate our opinion.

The choice of words in journalism has been a subject of debate for many years. Word choice carries a lot of weight when it comes to reporting a news item. Bias can creep in anytime and sometimes the use of words while framing a reportage vividly tells us about the editorial policy of a news channel.

Following the deadly shooting at a hotel in Libya in January, 2015, a leaked email from Al Jazeera English showed executive Carlos van Meek telling employees not to use the terms ‘extremist’, ‘Islamist’, ‘militant’ and ‘terrorist’ in their news coverage to ‘avoid characterising people’. Carlos elaborated where to use these words and where not, in his email.

This controversial subject stepped its foot outside the world of reportage. Even the world leaders found themselves caught in the mess of wrong word choice.

Image Credit: Waseem Andrabi/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

The current POTUS is adamant on his view and characterisation of terrorism birthed in Islamic countries, and he reiterated it while issuing a joint statement on June 26, 2017. The Prime Minister of India was present at the occasion. The President said, “We will destroy radical Islamic terrorism.”

Earlier during 2016 Presidential elections, he had criticised former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the same phrase. He used this term after the Orlando shootings in June, 2016. After that, the use of the term became a topic of election in the United States.

Barack Obama defended himself for not using the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. While replying to a question from an audience member, he argued, There is no doubt, and I’ve said repeatedly, where we see terrorist organisations like al Qaeda or ISIL — They have perverted and distorted and tried to claim the mantle of Islam for an excuse for basically barbarism and death.”

That’s not what my religion stands for. Call these folks what they are, which is killers and terrorists,” he added.

Accusing religion of breeding and nurturing the concept of terrorism would be irrational and fallacious at the same time. This kind of a remonstrance by the nonviolent populace indirectly helps terrorists to further their agenda: to justify murder on the pretext of religious teachings. Contrarily, calling a terrorist a terror-monger would put an end to many conflicts. Evidently, no religion believes in violent extremism. Separate lines are to be drawn when defining an act of terrorism and the ideology of the terrorist to which they adhere.

Interpretations are the subject matter of contention. Many terrorists who openly claim to be motivated by religious principles and perpetrate violence on this pretext could be victims of wrong and misleading conclusions. Thereby, it is humane to define a person who uses violent means to frighten people as a terrorist – as simple as that.

The terms like ‘radical Islamist’, ‘Islamic extremist’, ‘Islamic terrorist’, ‘Islamic fundamentalist’, are in vogue. Many media outlets feature this nomenclature in their reportage in contemporary times. Naming Daesh as a group of Islamic terrorists is another form of shallow journalism adopted by media organisations. As stated earlier, there is no connection between religion and terrorism, though many religious zealots would claim so.

Circumscribing the usage of diction and syntax in the Kashmiri conflict, it is noteworthy to mention the coverage of international, national and regional media regarding the Kashmir issue.

Although Ali Khamenei, supreme leader of Iran voiced his support for Kashmiri freedom after seven years in June 2017, the media outlets of Iran have been continuously and actively framing the world view in favour of Kashmir by their selective adherence to diction and syntax. One television channel, Press TV, has openly used words like ‘pro-freedom fighter’ and ‘Indian-controlled’ Kashmir in its reportage.

In May 2017, Kashmir-based correspondent of Press TV, Shahana Butt reported the killing of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander and she said, Kashmir shuts down to protest killing of pro-freedom commander.”

Also in June 2017, one of the reports of Press TV identified Kashmir as an occupied part of India. The report read, New Delhi forces have killed at least two suspected militants during a fierce gun battle in Indian-controlled Kashmir amid rising tensions in the disputed Himalayan region.

While most of the mainstream media outlets of India hail the deaths of the armed forces as martyrdom and deaths of militants as killings, the media outlets of Pakistan doesn’t believe in the same nomenclature.

In 2017, one of the eminent outlets of Pakistan’s media establishment, Dawn News, reported, Indian soldiers killed six suspected rebels Saturday along the highly militarised de-facto border that divides the disputed region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, the army said.

The story is altogether different when it comes to one of the widely read newspapers in Kashmir. Greater Kashmir (GK), contrary to Press TV and Dawn News, has a different stance in reporting the conflict in Kashmir.

One of its reports goes on to say, A gunfight broke out around midnight between government forces and militants hiding inside the school building.

However, there are ideological newspapers like Kashmir Reader, whose editorial policy has regularly approved the usage of words like rebels for militants.

Pearl Strachan Hurd once said“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”