Posted by: Nathan M. | July 31, 2012

When Language Confuses

When reading a recent article by Reuters on the Syrian conflict, a particular phrase caught my eye. The article referenced a Syrian newscast, which explained that “troops were still pursuing remaining “terrorists” [in Salaheddine]– its usual way of describing rebel fighters”. This reference to the difference in terminology is both intensely insightful, and infinitely confusing. Why does Reuters, and most western news publications refer to the insurgents as rebels, and not as terrorists? It seems that the insurgents have received the label of “good guys” in this particular conflict, but why? The simple answer could be that we in the west can relate to the insurgents. By “we”, of course, I mean Americans. Yes, I know, I am Canadian and do not have the same history of fighting for freedom. But Canadian culture has, for better or for worse, been heavily saturated with American ideals and unconscious conceptions of the world. What throws a kink into this feeling of empathy is the involvement of al Qaida in the Syrian “rebel” movement. The guardian pointed out that al Qaida has been a turning point for the success of the insurgents, and the organization is working closely with the leaders of the movement.

Although this isn’t directly related to the issue, there is a connection, so I do feel it belongs in the same post: Pakistan has recently been pushing for intelligence sharing with the United States, largely as a response to the continual use of spy drones by the U.S. over Pakistani air space. Pakistani Lieutenant-General Zaheer ul-Islam has argued that the drones are a violation of Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty and, to be entirely honest, he is completely right. Imagine if Canada began to send spy drones over the United States because of the fear of terrorism in their land. Of course, we would be correct in assuming that terrorism in the U.S. will impact us, and that there does exist a strong likelihood that there are terrorists in American borders. Does this mean that America would concede our right to use spy drones? Of course, the idea is almost laughable. Language again rears its head. The discussion of difference in sovereignty rights and the right to interfere is riddled with ambiguity and confusion. Will Kymlicka and John Rawls have both taken a stab at the issue-two of the world’s most brilliant political theorists. Both were unable to escape the inevitable problem of cultural elitism and line-drawing, although we owe them respect for bringing us closer. Yet, the world continues to experience seemingly infinite conflict. We must, as responsible citizens, continue to do our best at muddling through the issues-getting things wrong more often then not. Perhaps having a cause is a possession of self-evident worth.

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