Jan 16, 2021 Letters
From time immemorial the English language has been imbued with elements of ambiguity, although not more than any other language. However, this ambiguity is not a quality of a language, but a quality of a human mind. On January 6, a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters forced their way into Washington, the nation’s capital, hell bent on derailing the certification of president-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November elections. They overwhelmed Capitol police, smashed windows, and forced lawmakers to scurry for safety.
Further trouble and confusion arose as politicians, lawmakers, educators, newspaper journalists, commentators and erudite alike struggled to find the appropriate name/term to describe actors and action. In his televised response to the violence, Biden settled for “insurrection”, some commentators termed it a “coup”, even appending the legal label “sedition”. Initially, headlines on CNN’s website referred to the Trump supporters as a “mob” and as “rioters”. Newsrooms such as CBS told reporters that the people who stormed the Capitol could be called protestors, although some rejected such a label, the Washington Post went along with “mob”, while the Washington-based non-profit media organisation National Public Radio (NPR) settled for pro-Trump extremists. The BBC referred to them as “rebel Republicans” and a “violent pro-Trump mob.”
The world witnessed the acts; history recorded the facts, then why should confusion reign supreme as to the label that should be affixed to the actors. It’s a national shame the absence of consensus on a name, for behaviour that was so plain. The truth be told, they needed to fit the events of that day under a neat label, by carefully selecting the term to be used in order to better inform how the country should respond.
The Analects an embodiment of Confucian ideas state that social disorder often stems from failure to call things by their proper names. British novelist and critic George Orwell in his famous essay Politics and the English Language argued that our words can shape our thoughts, our politics and our actions. If misleading labels are applied to events, it can be harder to figure out how to respond. The people who stormed the Capitol should they be called a mob?
Were they rioters? Are they domestic terrorists? Extremists? Revolutionists?
Terrorism is defined as the unlawful use of violence to coerce or intimidate a government or a people in furtherance of some social or political cause. However on January 6, that definition failed to meet the bar, because it was perpetrated by a certain ethnic group. When White people are involved, it is less likely to be perceived — or reported by news media — as terrorism, as currently in the U. S there are two coexisting narratives about terrorism. The first is that all terrorists are Muslims, which occasionally even translates into all Muslims are terrorists. The second is that white people are never terrorists.
President –elect Joe Biden used an array of terms to describe the perpetrators saying, “It’s not protest; it’s insurrection”. The folks at Merriam –Webster dictionary thoughtfully tweeted the definition of insurrection: We define insurrection as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government”. Joshua Tucker, a politics professor at New York University, takes particular issue with calling the violence a protest, which he says misrepresents the true nature of what took place. “When these people are called protestors”, said Tucker, “it gives this veneer of a legitimate form of participation in the democratic process”. Some contend that a coup must be a secret premeditated conspiracy by a small group of plotters, while others argue that it must involve the military, both of which would eliminate the events from the “coup” category.
He used an array of terms to describe the perpetrators, saying. “It’s not protest; it’s insurrection.” The folks at Merriam-Webster dictionary thoughtfully tweeted the definition of insurrection: We define ‘insurrection’ as “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.” As the debate continues regarding how the law should deal with the people who broke into the Capitol, hopefully the name to be used to describe the actors may also evolve. This displayed behaviour reflects not simply America’s double standard of lexical reluctance and racialism, but also her troubling insistence upon the basic innocence of Whiteness even when presenting evidence screams otherwise.
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