Belfast Telegraph

We must mind our language when it comes to evil fanatics

By Paul Connolly

Readers have inquired about the use of language in reports of the horrific massacres in Paris. Not particularly just in the Belfast Telegraph, but in the media generally.

The overwhelming use of language was sympathetic while at the same time being appropriate to the horrific drama. But there were some words used - often by the French authorities - which caused readers to pause and reflect.

Take, for example, the use of the world "professional". This was used in many media outlets, not least after being used by Jean-Michel Fauvergue, the leader of the French raid police unit.

Mr Fauvergue said: "We were subjected to heavy fire, with real professionals facing us. They were shooting in bursts, or in single shots, in turn, so that their fire didn't stop.

"This also allowed them to save their ammunition. They were super-motivated. This first phase lasted more than half-an-hour. Grenades were thrown at our feet. These caused numerous wounds to the arms and legs of the raid commandos."

Let's dissect this for a moment. "Real professionals"? Any idiot who's played Call Of Duty on the Xbox knows to fire in bursts to conserve ammo and to aim grenades low to get under armoured shields.

That's not professionalism, it's computer game amateurism beefed up with a little Daesh field training.

"Super-motivated?" Super-brainwashed more like. The human mind is capable of incredible things, but Isis is a death cult and its devotees can't think for themselves; they are myth-swallowers.

The media aped the unfortunate French police habit of calling each unit a "team". That unsettles me; a team is primarily used to define sporting units. In Northern Ireland we have a long-standing if unofficial practice of describing terrorist units as "gangs".

Personally, I prefer "death squads", which for some right-on reason is generally applied by the media to right-wing terror but should of course be applied across the board: left, right and Islamo-fascist.

Mr Fauverge is a policeman, not a wordsmith or a propagandist. He spoke not long after the drama and we can understand his lapses. But future police media training might include some media psychology.

In case you're wondering, I'm not alone in this. Venerable BBC security correspondent Frank Gardiner, crippled by an al-Qaida death squad in Saudi Arabia, commented on the BBC's use of the word "mastermind" to describe Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

"It bigs somebody up into being someone terribly clever or big or important, whereas this guy was a psychopathic mass murderer and the world is better off with him gone. Most Muslims... will celebrate the fact that he is no longer around," he rightly said.

"Ringleader" would be a better noun. Mastermind to me suggests a James Bond genius in a cave bringing the world to its knees with the genius of his plot. Not a brain-dead fanatic with a suicide vest.

At the end of the day, language matters. In Northern Ireland we have seen the dangerous power of the communal myth, the lethal delusions of victimhood - not least that people can starve themselves to death for two months, which is as strong a form of extremism as mass murder.

The Isis death squads are not professional, team-like, highly-motivated masterminds. They are sad, demented, brainwashed amateurs in the grip of pathetic, childish victim-myths.

We should not assist them by using their language, by playing their game.

Belfast Telegraph


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