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Friday, November 01, 2002

Minor Pet Peeve of the Day: The attempt to refer to "suicide bombers" as "homicide bombers," or alternatively, as "suicide murderers."

"Homicide bomber" is a redundancy. Presumably all bombers, whether they kill themselves in the process or not, intend to commit homicide, unless they're one of those people seeking only to destroy property, which - let's face it - you're not finding many of in the Middle East these days.

"Suicide murderer" is technically more correct but isn't as clear. When I hear "suicide murderer," I think of the guy who goes into the office where he's just been fired and kills his boss before turning the gun on himself and pulling the trigger. Which is a completely different phenomenon from terrorism. Or the Columbine killings, which share some elements in common with terrorism, but the very important "More of us will come and kill your people until you give our movement what we want" element is missing.

"Suicide bomber" tells us something useful about the nature of the act and how it differs from the old school "plant the bomb, set it to go off, and don't be there when it detonates" type of bombing. It's harder to stop someone willing to sacrifice his or her own life from killing people than it is someone whose goal is to get away unharmed, or at least alive. It tells you something about terrorist tactics that needs to be taken into account - namely, that they are willing to forsake, for whatever reasons, any chance of survival in exchange for a better chance at killing others.

I imagine advocates of the change in terminology are afraid that by calling them "suicide" bombings, it somehow ennobles the perpetrators, that they gave their lives for the cause and somehow this makes them honorable. I doubt, however, the terminology used by Western newspapers or politicians makes a dime's worth of difference to anyone, whether they support the terrorists' particular cause, whatever it is, or their tactics.

This whole thing reminds me of the efforts of the Clinton administration to change the term "rogue state" to "state of concern" because it was somehow less offensive to some people. Or maybe it was just embarassment that the United States (both the Clinton and Bush II administrations) has taken some positions on international cooperation that place it more in line with so-called "states of concern" than with the rest of the international community.

There, now that I have that off my chest...have a good weekend, folks.


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