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Sunday, 22 November 2015

"An act of war" - and other unfortunate phrases

Richard Jackson
Blacklisted News

Watching the terrible events unfolding during and after the Paris terrorist attacks, I have a helpless sense of deja vu. It reminds me of the movie, Groundhog Day, only much more deadly and depressing. It feels like we have been here so many times before: the same anguished images, the same suffering, the same questions and sense of disbelief. Most depressingly, listening to the rhetoric coming from Western leaders, I can’t see any way we can avoid experiencing the same day again – whether in a few months or years time.

As I explained in my book Writing the War on Terrorism (2005, Manchester University Press) about the language of counterterrorism, when the 11 September 2001 attacks occurred, President Bush said that they were “an act of war”. This was a key rhetorical move and it led the US to launch the global war on terrorism which has caused so much suffering, violence and counter-violence. On Friday in Paris, exactly like all those years ago, French President Hollande said, the attack was “an act of war committed by a terrorist army”, and “faced with war, the country must take appropriate action”. Just like President Bush fourteen years ago, he similarly signalled his resolve: “we are going to fight and our fight will be merciless.” Former president Nicolas Sarkozy added to the war rhetoric: “The war we must wage should be total.”

After the 9/11 attacks, President Bush said that the attacks were an attack on freedom and the civilised world. Today, President Obama said: “this is an attack not just on Paris, not just on the people of France, but an attack on all humanity and the universal values we share.” As Bush did so many years ago invoking the mythology of the Western frontier, Obama said that America will do “whatever it takes to bring these terrorists to justice”.

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