There’s something odd going on with our language. I’m not sure exactly how it’s happening, but our forms of expression are being pressured to change. Words and phrases are being rounded up like troublesome cattle and forced into enclosures limiting the free usage they once enjoyed. Our ability to use and interpret previously familiar words is being constricted by the process of political correctness.
Here are a few examples. This is the 10th Amendment to the Constitution verbatim: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively or to the people.” The language of this amendment has become meaningless verbiage. Step by step, supporters of increasing federal power have tightened their grip. The 10th Amendment notwithstanding, we now accept that the government controls our schools, defines our families, regulates the message of our clergy, supervises our healthcare and oversees the smallest details of our commerce.
The American voter, like docile oxen, grew accustomed to the gradual application of the yoke. They now assume they’re really not aggrieved by loss of the freedom guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The nullification of the 10th amendment took a couple of generations of gradual dilution to accomplish. Now when we read it, no matter what is expressed by the language, we know it doesn’t mean anything.
There are more recent instances of surprising linguistic transformations. A few years ago, President Bush used the term “crusade” in describing the mission of America and its allies to bring a reckoning to those who planned, orchestrated and carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Though “crusade” can refer to any righteous undertaking, there was a general outcry that the very word evoked inflammatory emotion in the minds of our Muslim friends and critics. In order to be respectful of their feelings, we dropped the term from any reference to our operations against terrorists. Now, to avoid “stepping on anyone’s toes,” we must be careful when and how we use the term “crusade.”
Following the Sept. 11 attacks, America and allies launched a “war on terror.” This phrase ultimately became unappealing to “the vocabulary police.” They decided the reality of the brutal struggle might be softened by simply renaming it “overseas contingency operations.” Now we know the stressful, bloody work necessary to carry the battle to our enemies doesn’t get any easier by softening the description. War by any other name … .
On Nov. 5, 2009, when Nidal Malik Hassan opened fire on his fellow soldiers killing 13 and injuring more than 30 others in the name of Allah, our government could not bring itself to refer to this as an act of terror even though this attack was motivated by the same anti-American malevolence that drove the Sept. 11 terrorists to crash our planes into the twin towers. To this day, we can’t officially call Hassan’s attack a terrorist act even though we all know that’s exactly what it was. The vocabulary police have applied a restraining leash on our language where this behavior is concerned.
In describing the Sept. 11 attacks on our installation in Benghazi, even though the perpetrators were known Islamic extremists, former CIA deputy director Mike Morell edited the talking points used in reporting to the American people. He omitted the term “Islamist” from the description of those who carried out the attack. Again, in someone’s view it was necessary to soft-pedal the language. In the president’s early remarks about that attack, he couldn’t bring himself to say outright in unambiguous terms this was a terrorist attack. He buried the term “terrorist” in rambling rhetoric while he touted a distorted narrative concealing what really happened.
Just within the last couple of days, a group of religious representatives were invited to view a 7-minute videotape to be available as part of the Sept. 11 museum scheduled for opening in May. Some are protesting the use of the word “jihad” for fear it might be misleading. The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines jihad as “a holy war undertaken by Muslims against unbelievers.” This is exactly what the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks declared they were doing. Critics insist visitors may not understand that all Muslims don’t share the aims and methods of the Sept. 11 attackers. This may be true. The anti-dote to such misunderstanding is plain speech. We need to start insisting that people “tell it like it is.” And if some are fearful they may be unfairly linked to the Sept. 11 attackers, they must boldly express their objections to terrorism and place themselves unambiguously on the side of peace. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.