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Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate: Getting Orwellian on Hate Speech

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch shoots and kills a rabid dog. Why? Because you can’t rationalize with an animal, especially a crazy animal caught by disease.

Too many Americans--even influential pundits and politicians--feel the same way about Arabs or Muslims, especially the extremists. From Andrew Bacevich in the Washington Post:

"You have to understand the Arab mind," one company commander told the New York Times..."The only thing they understand is force -- force, pride and saving face."

Far from representing the views of a few underlings, such notions penetrated into the upper echelons of the American command. In their book "Cobra II," Michael R. Gordon and Gen. Bernard E. Trainor offer this ugly comment from a senior officer: "The only thing these sand n*****s understand is force and I'm about to introduce them to it.”

Societies use language to manipulate how we feel about other groups. We use language to dehumanize our enemies. By dehumanizing them, we make them easier to kill. It’s one thing to kill another rational human being with thoughts, emotions, feelings and a family. It’s another to kill a “sand n*****” who can’t be reasoned with.

Muslims (even the so called “islamofascists”) aren’t animals. They aren’t less than human. They aren’t barbarians, primitives or savages. They’re people. We may hate them and what they do. They’re still human.

We’ve been writing about language and hate speech for these last few months not because we’re grammar and usage mavens (though I am). We’re writing about language and war because words matter especially when those words sustain conflicts instead of ending them. Words actively change points of view and perceptions. Words actively shape worldviews. Language affects whether the American military ever tries to adopt population-centric counterinsurgency, or whether it decides that the enemy is an sub-human that must (and can only) be killed.

Take this quote from Marcus Luttrell in Lone Survivor:

“To meet these guys in these remote Pashtun villages only made the conundrum more difficult. Because right here we’re talking about Primitive with a big P. Adobe huts made out of sun-dried clay bricks with dirt floors and awful smell of urine and mule dung. Downstairs they have goats and chickens living in the house. And yet here, in these caveman conditions, they planned and then carried out the most shocking atrocity on a twenty-first-century city.”

This quote makes the masterminds of 9/11 sound like backwards primitives. But Osama bin Laden was anything but. Osama bin Laden, as is commonly known, was a millionaire from a rich, cultured family. He was educated; he was not a primitive. In fact, most terrorists are educated.

Tactically, this misguided belief puts us (the West, if you will) at a disadvantage. Understanding the enemy is the key to winning a war. By not actually knowing your enemy, you can’t defeat them. By labeling all Muslims--or at least, entire nations--as backwards, primitive, savages or barbarians, it destroys all nuance. After the Innocence of Muslims debacle from last year, Slate ran an article on Muslims who support free speech.

But I hate writing about tactics. Just like the debate about torture, it doesn’t matter if hate speech is  ineffective; morally, it’s wrong. That’s all that matters.

eleven comments

We wrote this series this summer, but expect more on language after the ISIS beheadings. Or more precisely, the descriptions of the ISIS beheadings.

And to correct Marcus Luttrell again, the Taliban did not conduct 9/11. Again, terrible scholarship.

Brothers C:

Now tell me why IS who are enthusiastic committers of atrocity, atrocity of all types, who not only do but document, advertise it and for a bit of novelty have reinstituted human slavery and brag about that too; tell me why IS shouldn’t be treated like Atticus’ target.

I figure too that savage barbarians is simply an accurate description of those guys and hardly evidence of un-PCness.

Carl, we aren’t talking about the response to ISIS/ISIL/IS (with respect to your point “treated like Atticus’ target”), we’re talking about the language used to describe them.

But, since you bring it up, since Eric C launched this series, ISIS took over the news and the terms barbarian/savage multiplied. With this, you posed us, basically, an interesting philosophical question: why are/aren’t the acts of ISIS barbaric? This begs the question, how do we define barbarism? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that in one post, so over the next few weeks (hopefully) we’ll give you the answer.

Michael C:

I take it that we agree that IS, and the people in it should be exterminated, like Atticus did with the rabid dog. That being said I agree that we are talking about the language used to describe them. However I don’t think philosophizing about the meaning of words like barbaric and savage is useful. Their meanings are pretty plain in modern American English and the actions of the IS, which are well known since they gleefully record and broadcast every murder and enslavement, perfectly conform to the types of behavior that define those words. After all, we are talking about people who should be shot down like rabid dogs; why the concern for delicacy in language?

It seems to me that you may be concerned about a baby and bathwater effect, I call a psychotic IS killer a savage and somehow that reflects on a Malaysian shopkeeper. Why? I don’t figure us proles out here are so foolish. We can easily tell the difference. If we meet the one he will try to kill us and if we meet the other he will sell us a Fanta.

I think rather than engaging in what can’t be other than a savage and barbaric attempt to torture the English language into not properly describing the IS as a savage state, time might be better spent into discussing what must be done to destroy it.

I think the simple answer is that defining barbarism is not nearly as easy as you make it out to be. And it’s racially tinged.

“Now tell me why IS who are enthusiastic committers of atrocity (…)”

Try this Explanation:

@ S O – Just further proof that your blog is awesome. Expect us to reference that post in the future.

S O:

That is a nice bit of speculation about why chopping off the heads of individuals who’ve done them no harm make them feel good, but it does tells me nothing about why they shouldn’t be treated like Atticus’ target.

Now about those mass murders and re-instatement of human slavery…

This requires some thinking, and I understand that’s way out of reach for the haters.

Up to 2/3 of IS-whatever are foreigners. The vast majority thereof appears to EXPECT the West to attack IS-whatever.

Now if the West did not attack IS-whatever, it would have disrupted their perceptions and the perceptions of potential recruits.
In the long term such perceptions might disappear wholly if the perpetual meddling in the Mid East ceased to happen.

Moreover, a group that’s basically a mercenary group will not be able to maintain much control in the area for long, especially as all states in the Mid East oppose it already.

The problem might have solved itself, but haters insist on throwing oil into the fire, completely convinced that the fire deserves to be hurt this way.

The other civil war factions murder, rape, abduct, steal as well. This is normal during a civil war. They just don’t get singled out by Western media.

You’re naive if you think killing people in a civil war means less suffering in the country.

And I’m perfectly clear about yourself “still wondering”. You got the order of events wrong. First you need to open your mind, then the info can enter it. You forgot step one and I suppose you’ll stick to pretending we should make you understand work without you making that step one, ever.
The again, you’re plain dishonest, pretending to be open already and that’s what would on my blog be called “trolling”.