Juliet asked a question:
“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweetâ€¦”
She is, of course, correct. If your friend hands you a full, deep-colored, fragrant rose, and tells you that it is stinkwort (which, by the way, is an actual thing), it wouldn’t smell like stinkwort. It still would smell like a rose.
But what if there really was no rose? What if your friend took some stinkwort, renamed it rose, and told you to smell it? It still would smell like stinkwort.
“What’s in a name? that which we call a militant
By any other name would be as innocentâ€¦”
The word “militant” has a neat, official sound, because it evokes echoes of the military, all in straight lines, standing stiffly on parade. A militant is just someone who feels very strongly about something, and takes action to fix it, right? It’s all about fixing the world, isn’t it?
The word terrorist doesn’t evoke daylight or right angles. It’s at least straightforward. It’s about fear. It’s about horror. It’s about darkness and evil, death and mud and filth.
We know that news outlets want to use the word militant because there is something inherently political about deciding who is to be called a terrorist; in a politicized world one person’s hero is someone else’s villain. There are no doubt times when it is unwise, unsafe, or just plain inaccurate to use the label terrorist.
But anyone who beheads anyone else is a terrorist.
As the unbearably terrible story of the foul murder of James Foley was told, the savages who murdered him were called militants. They are not. They are psychopaths. They are monsters.
They are terrorists.
It doesn’t help when news outlets, ranging from National Public Radio to the Times of Israel, go all mealy-mouthed, writing about the militants who kidnap, torture, and behead. It’s as if we should refrain from calling them names because if we aren’t so nasty to us, maybe they’ll be nice to us. Maybe they’ll even like us.
No, they won’t.
We are faced with a waking-nightmare threat from enemies who wish us dead. That, it seems increasingly clear, is true for Israel, for the United States, for Jews, for Westerners in general.
We cannot possibly best those enemies if we cannot call them what they really are.
Language matters. Honesty matters. Words matter.
A terrorist by any name is evil.