The Language of Despotism

war-is-peaceOriginally published by Defining Ideas

Long before 1984 gave us the adjective “Orwellian” to describe the political corruption of language and thought, Thucydides observed how factional struggles for power make words their first victims. Describing the horrors of civil war on the island of Corcyra during the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides wrote, “Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.” Orwell explains the reason for such degradation of language in his essay “Politics and the English Language”: “Political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.”

Tyrannical power and its abuses comprise the “indefensible” that must be verbally disguised. The gulags, engineered famines, show trials, and mass murder of the Soviet Union required that it be a “regime of lies,” as the disillusioned admirer of Soviet communism Pierre Pascal put it in 1927.

Our own political and social discourse must torture language in order to disguise the failures and abuses of policies designed to advance the power and interests of the “soft despotism,” as Tocqueville called it, of the modern Leviathan state and its political caretakers. Meanwhile, in foreign policy the transformation of meaning serves misguided policies that endanger our security and interests.

One example from domestic policy recently cropped up in Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor’s dissent in the Schuette decision, which upheld the Michigan referendum banning racial preferences. In her dissent, Sotomayor called for replacing the term  “affirmative action” with “race-sensitive admissions.” But “affirmative action” was itself a euphemism for the racial quotas in use in college admissions until they were struck down in the 1978 Bakke decision. To salvage racial discrimination, which any process that gives race an advantage necessarily requires, Bakke legitimized yet another euphemism, “diversity,” as a compelling state interest that justified taking race into account in university admissions.

Thus the most important form of “diversity” for the university became the easily quantifiable one of race. Not even socio-economic status can trump it, as the counsel for the University of Texas admitted during oral arguments in Fisher vs. University of Texas last year, when he implied that a minority applicant from a privileged background would add more diversity to the university than a less privileged white applicant. All these verbal evasions are necessary for camouflaging the fact that any process that discriminates on the basis of race violates the Civil Rights Act ban on such discrimination. Promoting an identity politics predicated on historical victimization and the equality of result is more important than the principle of equality before the law, and this illiberal ideology must be hidden behind distortions of language and vague phrases like “race-sensitive” and “diversity.”

Another example can be found in the recently released report from the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. The report is the basis for the government’s numerous policy and procedural suggestions to universities and colleges in order to help them “live up to their obligation to protect students from sexual violence.” Genuine sexual violence, of course, needs to be investigated, adjudicated, and punished to the full extent of the law by the police and the judicial system. But the “sexual assault” and “sexual violence” the Obama administration is talking about is something different.

At the heart of the White House report is the oft-repeated 2007 statistic that 20 percent of female college students have been victims of “sexual assault,” which most people will understand to mean rape or sexual battery. Yet as many critics of the study have pointed out, that preposterous number––crime-ridden Detroit’s rape rate is 0.05 percent––was achieved by redefining “sexual assault” to include even consensual sexual contact when the woman was drunk, and behaviors like “forced kissing” and “rubbing up against [the woman] in a sexual way, even if it is over [her] clothes.”

The vagueness and subjectivity of such a definition is an invitation to women to abandon personal responsibility and agency by redefining clumsy or boorish behavior as “sexual assault,” a phrase suggesting physical violence against the unwilling. As one analyst of the flawed study has reported, “three-quarters of the female students who were classified as victims of sexual assault by incapacitation did not believe they had been raped; even when only incidents involving penetration were counted, nearly two-thirds did not call it rape.” As many have pointed out, if genuine sexual assault were happening, colleges would be calling in the police, not trying the accused in campus tribunals made up of legal amateurs and lacking constitutional protections such as the right to confront and cross-examine one’s accuser.

What matters more than protecting college women against a phantom epidemic of rape, then, is the need to expand government power into the social lives of college students, empowering the federal bureaucrats, university administrators, and ideological programs like women’s studies that all stand to benefit by this sort of coercive intrusion. This enshrining of racial and sexual ideology into law through the abuse of language has had damaging consequences, whether for the minority college students mismatched with the universities to which they are admitted, thus often ensuring their failure and disillusion; or for the young women encouraged to abandon their autonomy and surrender it to government and education bureaucrats who know better than they how to make sense of their experiences and decisions.

In foreign policy, however, the abuse of language is positively dangerous. Since 9/11, our failure to identity the true nature of the Islamist threat and its grounding in traditional Islamic theology has led to misguided aims and tactics. Under both the Bush and Obama administrations, for example, the traditional Islamic doctrine of jihad––which means to fight against the enemies of Islam, which predominantly means infidels––has been redefined to serve the dubious tactic of flattering Islam in order to prevent Muslim terrorism.

Thus in 2008 the National Terrorism Center instructed its employees, “Never use the term jihadist ormujahideen in conversation to describe terrorists,” since “In Arabic, jihad means ‘striving in the path of God’ and is used in many contexts beyond warfare.” Similarly, CIA chief John Brennan has asserted that jihad “is a holy struggle, a legitimate tenet of Islam, meaning to purify oneself or one’s community,” despite the fourteen centuries of evidence from the Koran, hadiths, and bloody history that jihad is in fact predominantly an obligatory armed struggle against the enemies of Islam. The reluctance to put Muslim violence in its religious context reflects not historical truth, but a public relations tactic serving the delusional strategy of appeasing Muslims into liking us.

That’s why, to this day, the 2009 murders of 13 military personnel at Fort Hood by Muslim Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan are still classified as “workplace violence” rather than an act of terror. This despite the fact that Hasan––whose business cards had the initials “SoA,” “Soldier of Allah,” on them––shouted the traditional Islamic battle cry “Allahu Akbar” during his rampage. Or that in a presentation at Walter Reed Hospital, Hasan had put up a slide with the great commission to practice jihad that Mohammed delivered in his farewell address: “I was ordered to fight all men until they say ‘There is no god but Allah.’” This command to wage jihad was echoed in 1979 by the Ayatollah Khomeini, revered as a “Grand Sign of God” for his theological acumen, and by Osama bin Laden in 2001. Those ignoring this venerable jihadist tradition must use verbal evasions like “workplace violence” and “striving in the path of God” to hide the indefensible––and failed––tactic of appeasement that prevents us from accurately understanding the religious motives of Muslim terrorists, and the extent of the Muslim world’s support for them.

No foreign policy crisis, however, is more illustrative of the “regime of lies” and abuse of language to serve “indefensible” aims than the conflict between Israel and the Arabs. The Arabs’ aim, of course, is to destroy Israel as a nation, a policy they have consistently pursued since 1948. Since military attacks have failed ignominiously, an international public relations campaign coupled to terrorist violence has been employed to weaken Israel’s morale and separate Israel from her Western allies. An Orwellian assault on language has been key to this tactic.

Examples are legion, but one is particularly insidious, here seen in a New York Times headline from 2011: “Obama Sees ’67 Borders as Starting Point for Peace Deal.” The common reference to “borders” in regard to what is in fact the armistice line from the 1948 Arab war against Israel is ubiquitous. Yet there has never been recognized in international law a formal “border” between Israel and what the world, in another Orwellian phrase, calls the “West Bank,” because that territory has never been part of a modern nation. Its only international legal status was as part of the British Mandate for Palestine, which was confirmed by the League of Nations in 1922, and which was intended as the national homeland for the Jewish people. The Arabs’ rejection of the U.N. partition plan and their invasion of Israel in 1948 put the territory’s status in limbo once Jordan annexed Judea and Samaria, which the international community with a few exceptions refused to recognize. In 1967 Israel took it back in another defensive war against Arab aggression. Since then, its final disposition has awaited a peace treaty that will determine the international border.

This may sound like quibbling over careless language, but the dishonest use of “border” reinforces and encodes in peoples’ minds the big lie of the conflict––that a Palestinian “nation” is being deprived of its “homeland” by Israel, a canard that didn’t become current among Arabs and the rest of the world until after the 1967 Six Day War. And this lie in turns validates the common use of “occupation”––which implies an illegal invasion into and control of another nation, as the Germans did to France in 1940––to describe Israel’s defensive possession of territories that have long served as launch pads for aggression against Israel. Until a peace treaty, the territory known as the “West Bank”––more accurately Judea and Samaria, the heartland of historical Israel for centuries––is disputed, not “occupied.”

To paraphrase Thucydides, words like “borders” and “occupation” have had their ordinary meanings changed, and been forced to take meanings that serve tyranny and aggression. And we who accept those new meanings are complicit in the resulting injustice that follows.

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  • Damaris Tighe

    ‘the dubious tactic of flattering islam in order to prevent muslim terrorism': very well put & reminds me of the vomit-making pronouncements about the ‘religion of peace’ after each new atrocity.

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  • WesternCivilization

    Controlling the lexicon, dictating its terms, is outcome determinative.

    Commanding the terms, defining them – and forcing opponents to accept them and to continue to use them instead of contesting them – wins the battle without firing a shot.

    The lexicon must be challenged or it is point, set, match – game over.

    They define their game - They define their rules

    Equals:They win, you lose..

    Playing by others’ rules and employing their terms and definitions is a certain path to defeat.

    Start at the beginning and refuse to accept the terminology of assured loss.

    You cannot win when they are holding all the aces.

  • tagalog

    People have been saying for at least the past decade that “jihad” means some sort of subjective inner struggle with the contradictions of religious faith instead of armed holy war. Prior to that, the common Western definition for “jihad” was “holy war,” meaning armed struggle against unbelievers.

    The falsity of that claim can readily be seen in the fact that those who take up arms against us are, in large part, characterizing their warfare against us and the rest of the West as “jihad.”

    I always thought it was part of the liberal dogma that if others want to use a word to describe some item, then we should honor that. Evidently the term “jihad” is an exception. Except the only people who might be fooled are us, not those who are trying to kill us. They know exactly what they’re doing, and what to call it. We should honor that, and blow them to hell where they belong.

  • Clare Spark

    “Dhimmitude” now takes the place of Orwell’s “Freedom is slavery.” But the dhimmi status is accurate, but its victims are usually self-deceiving.

  • Daniel Williams

    There is a tendency for like thinkers to band together and preach to the choir, and no doubt many of the readers of this article are politically in line with the author. That being said, you really need to step back away from the rhetoric and honestly evaluate whats being said.

    Consider the last 500 years. What religion has been propagated more worldwide? Take into account the massive invasion of South, Central and Northern America by European forces and their accompanied Catholic priests. Look at the colonization of Africa. Even the spread of Christianity to traditional Buddhist countries like Korea and China.

    Now juxtapose that with the spread of Islam. Clearly there has been inroads made into places like Indonesia and Thailand, and Christianity has been supplanted in many African countries, but the lions share of forced indoctrination has been by Christians.

    What created the tensions we are experiencing today was the foolish establishment of a Jewish state in the middle of an overwhelmingly Muslim land. In the minds of many in the region, it was nothing more than the latest in a series of Crusades dating back to the Middle Ages. That is what many Muslims are responding to in terms of Jihad. There was never an organized attempt to convert Europe to Islam by coercion or force.

    If you believe Muslims are unique, pushing back against a cultural assault, consider the rise in right wing groups throughout Europe in response to Muslim immigration. It’s important to be honest with ourselves when formulating an opinion on any given subject however this article clearly was anything but.

    • zoomie

      “There was never an organized attempt to convert Europe to Islam by coercion or force. ”
      the truth is a lie

      • Judahlevi

        You are right. He doesn’t know what he is talking about.

    • Captlee

      When did the Catholics and other Christians “force” anyone to be Christians? Spreading the Good Word is not at all comparable to what Islam has done is and doing now. Lose the anti-west, anti-christian bias and then maybe you can analyze history a bit more clearly.

    • Gislef

      If you have to go back 500 years to compare Christianity’s “forced indoctrination” to modern-day Islam, you need to find some apples to match up with those apples.

      • Daniel Williams

        The lions share of religious conflict in the Middle East today is between factions of Islam. Their beef with the West has always been about our meddling into their affairs and our blatant disregard of their sovereignty. Again, my point is Islamists are not attempting to supplant Christianity with Islam. Historically however Christians have indeed supplanted indigenous religions with their own, on a scale unmatched anywhere on the planet.

        • Judahlevi

          You need to study history, not apologetics.

          You may find that the small desert religion of Islam “supplanted” many indigenous religions around the world.

          And their “beef” is much more than just our meddling with their supposed “sovereignty” – whatever that means.

          The rest is just hyperbole.

        • J.B.

          The “lion’s share” of religious conflict in the Middle East is between islamopithecines because the few Christians left there are incapable of reciprocating conflict. The same goes for the Near East (which is what you meant to write) and North Africa. Their “beef” with the West has alawys been its existence. Claiming that “islamists” are not trying to supplant Christianity is such an incredibly stupid lie that I wont bother to explain the 1400 year jihad to do just that. And Christians have supplanted other religions through proselytization and demographics – not forced conversion.

          Your anti-Western canards are as contemptible as you are. Go drink some camel urine Koolaid, trolltard. All you’ve done is regurgitate ridiculous lefto-islamic lies. Your doublespeak reminds me of Obama saying that funding terrorists combats terrorism, or the State Department claiming that Hamas combats terrorism. Left is right to contemptible lying lefties and islamopithecines.

          TROLLFAIL, but thanks for the opportunity to expose how deceptive and repulsive the “unholy alliance” is.

        • zoomie

          ” my point is Islamists are not attempting to supplant Christianity with Islam ”
          you’re way past effing clueless

        • Father Dacius

          Not true. They have issues with our freedom of speech, lest we “slander the prophet”

    • Father Dacius

      There actually was an attempt on Europe to”convert Europe to to Islam.’ They invaded th whole of the Iberian peninsula, and got as far as Vienna. There are still enclaves of militant mohaddans in southern Russia even today. The purpose of Islam is to forcibly convert other countries and cultures. Only fearsome military might will stop them. Don’t forget that was a good deal of provacation for the crusades.

      • Daniel Williams

        Considering there are over 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, the vast majority simply living their lives like you or I, the question is what sets these bad actors apart. Clearly there is nothing inherent in their religion that advocates terrorism, otherwise the entire planet would be engaged in warfare.

        In many cases the link can be found in oil rich countries where the West has used indigenous parties in a proxy war, arming them to the teeth and training them in the latest military logistics. In other cases like in Iraq, arms meant for one party have been taken by their opponents.

        In other cases, it’s a matter of tribal warfare. Much of the Middle East and Africa are ruled by warlords but when armed with munitions designed by 1st world country, their use is often indiscriminate and capricious.

        The question therefore is how to deal with a violent minority. Since most Muslims are peaceful and non-violent, the best solution would be for Muslims to isolate these bad actors within their community. By taking indiscriminate action against an entire population, you do nothing but encourage nationalism and those who would have been on your side now hold you in contempt and will be your lifelong enemy.

        Many posters here seem to believe in the total eradication of Muslims, sort of like rounding them up into camps and exterminating them. Others advocate dropping nuclear bombs on highly populated areas in response to terrorists actions. Fearsome military might seems to be an odd solution to be advocated by a man of the cloth.

        • Father Dacius

          My comment was in regard to the establishment of a Caliphate, mostly comprised of radicals, and our response to it. It must be stopped lest their success engender more violence. and I said nothing about nuclear weapons which endanger people far beyond the combat zone. But no matter how one achieves it,(leaving out nuclear means) they must be stopped and rendered helpless as a fighting force. We have the air power to do it, but the leftist coward in the White House actually wants the establishment of a Caliphate. It seems now that it was one of his goals from the beginning, he views it as some sort of counterbalance to U.S. strength. My only prayer is that we are able to flip the Senate in November and get this enemy of the state out of office.

          • mollysdad

            The Law of Moses as it was in the time of Christ provides for the institution of “milkhemet mitzvah”, or war by God’s commandment. It is the particular responsibility of the King of Israel to wage temporal war for the defense of the nation of Israel, and to wage holy war for the total destruction of Amalek.

            God can take human life as and when He pleases, but He will do so by a human act of God the Son only where there is a mitzvah in the Law of Moses to do so. Jesus therefore will kill Amalek not by an individual measure, but by war, because He is the Lord of Hosts.

            The reason for destroying Amalek with the sword is that he hates Israel with a perfect hatred which makes him as evil as a human being can be. He is a perfect instrument of Satan and will stop at nothing to exterminate the people of God, even if it means building gas chambers and crematoria in which to incinerate them.

            And so the destruction of Amalek is an end absolutely to be achieved, and the end justifies all necessary means.

          • Daniel Williams

            You see “air power” as a sterile civilized way of indiscriminately killing people, death from the air without getting your hands dirty but it’s no more brutal than the actions of a suicide bomber. When bombs go off, they kill anyone in the vicinity who may or may not harbor ill will against us. You advocate the killing of Muslims for no other reason than they *are* Muslim and happen to suffer the misfortune of being born in a country you detest. It’s time to ask yourself what have you become as a human and a Christian. Do you hold any of Christs teaching sacred or do you simply bend his words to justify your hatred?

    • J.B.

      There was absolutely no rhetoric or falsehood in this excellent article, Christianity absolutely does not practice conquest or doublespeak, islam’s 1400 year jihad against civilization has absolutely nothing to do with the restsblishment of Israel in 1948, and your are absolutely a contemptible member of the unholy alliance between the left and islamopithecines.



    Good piece by Thornton on the abuse of language to achieve power. And of course in modern America, that means the ones resorting to this tactic are the Democratic Left.

  • Father Dacius

    Those who control the terms, control the argument.

  • Immigrant_from_Socialism7


  • Richard

    Though honestly, I seemed to remember reading that when the Conquistadors entered the Inca’s lands, they did try to force Christianity on them. I remember reading about an Inca king, who like the others believed it was important to reincarnate again and again; and of course this wasn’t in Christian teachings. The Incas though believed that if they were strangled they wouldn’t return to earth (reincarnate) and the Conqusitadors used this against them, as well as savaging their treasures (if my memory serves me, an Inca king was strangled by the invading Spanish). Though the Incas had brutal human sacrifices that disgusted the Conquistadors; in the minds of the Spanish invaders, this was used justify the invaders actions.