The Language of Blood and Death: Terrorists, Militants, and Attackers Then and Now

Narrating war and terror. A historical perspective.

For those of us in developed societies, it is hard to overstate the importance of words and images and the effect they have on our lives. Although we live in a world in which many people don’t have the time or energy to read much in the way of books or hard news, words and language are as important now as ever before. Whether we’re aware of it or not, those of us in modern, developed societies are immersed in an ongoing narrative that’s constantly swirling about us, informing and transforming perspectives. Powerful forces in over-extended economies desperate to generate infinitely increasing profits focus tremendous energy on creating and broadcasting information to influence how we should feel about ourselves, others, and the world in general. While the Shakespearean stage has never and will never really exist for many of us, an unceasing flood of commercially-generated narrative holds us transfixed in a rush of words, images, and archetypes that are constantly chiseling away at our brains: shaping, directing, urging. We exist within and are caught up in this narrative even though most of us are merely observers and bit players in it.

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Whatever happened to the rebel?

Where do you find the rebel in a world where James Dean travels around on a postage stamp? Or when he’s a corporate CEO sporting a $4,800 leather jacket out for a ride on his Harley 1)see James Dean Transfigured: The Many Faces of Rebel Iconography by Claudia Springer? Or for that matter, the president of a major country, like Vlad “Bad Boy” Putin tearing around Moscow? Or those almighty iconoclasts in Silicon Valley sporting designer jeans and turtlenecks?

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References   [ + ]

1. see James Dean Transfigured: The Many Faces of Rebel Iconography by Claudia Springer

The Triumph of Capitalism, A Poem

The frail old woman’s half bent head, intently searching for bargains, barely rises above the Walmart shopping cart.

Unswervingly, the worn cart jangles down the aisles, one of its front casters not quite touching the floor, futilely spinning.

Like the orgy of shoppers accompanying her, she does not give an inch, steering her way with mechanical, unflinching devotion.

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The Absence of Morality Since 9-11 is Destabilizing the World

If the post World War II years introduced the law to normative economic analysis in a modern way, it was September 11th that solidified its dominance in legal and policy-making circles. I believe this is one of the reasons why, despite all the tireless talk about God, country, and our duty to the unborn, both the word and concept of morality has been wiped from serious consideration in precisely those areas that need it the most.

Today, truth and morality aren’t much more than bytes of information that can be shaped at will by those who believe they have the power to get away with it. Instead of the Golden Rule, policymakers increasingly rely on ideas whose main aim is to maintain the status quo for the power elite while delivering pre-selected values to the largest quantity of people in the most efficient way possible. Yet, for all the scholarship, mathematical equations, and bright red lines, there is little about these snaking, complex ideas that isn’t open to interpretation. Consequently, what passes for morality has been turned into a matter of subjectivity.

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Underlying Causes of Mass Shootings in America Seethe Below the Surface

Conventional explanations for recent mass shootings, like Sandy Hook, are overly simplistic and fail to help society fully grasp the reasons why these tragedies keep occurring. These ready-made answers often tempt society into narrowly focusing blame at the expense of searching for deeper answers and devising needed solutions.

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Since the horror of the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been 31 school shootings in addition to a number of other mass shootings. Each time one of these tragedies occurs, we understandably engage in a public dialog that asks why. Unfortunately, each time the dialog is cut short by a barrage of ready-made answers that steadily and thoroughly whacks each question away.

Viewed within the context of Columbine, the past six months raise these questions again, since this time period contains three mass shootings that urgently cry out for a level of understanding that transcends these overly simplistic, self-serving answers.

Why, after shooting and killing his mother, did Adam Lanza, 20, walk into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shoot 26 people, 20 of whom were children? How come, three days earlier, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, opened fire in a Portland, Oregon mall food court with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle? Tragically, two people were killed, but Roberts’ intention was to kill a lot more had it not been for the gun jamming. Or why is James Holmes, a 24-year-old former neuroscience graduate student, believed to have opened fire on an audience in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, CO, with a 12-gauge pump action shotgun?

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The Monster Dialectic

Suicide Bombers

Presidents Obama, Bush, and other politicians routinely call them and their leaders evil. Others say they’re hapless dimwits lured into sacrificing themselves on the altar of jihad for the sake of remuneration or virgins in paradise. There are also theories that they’re trying to rid their countries of what they perceive as military occupations by foreign governments. Who are the suicide bombers and why do they want to kill us so bad they’re willing to blow themselves up? Why are there so many people volunteering to end their lives in such a gruesome way? Continue reading “The Monster Dialectic”

Who or What are Contemporary Monsters?

Who are the monsters that contemporary, developed nations fear the most? A look at the ones we hear the most about nowadays.

The Quintessential Monster…is he real?

Wild eyes bulging out of a face squeezed into vertical ribbons of fury that stretched down to peel back the lips of a snarling mouth filled with gnashing yellow teeth. He stood wringing his blackened hands and stared at me with violent intent.

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Hunting the Terrorists — The Impact of Words on Actions

Implications can be very powerful tools. When the media hypes language using phrases, such as “hunting terrorists”, listeners should be concerned with the consequences. Not does this kind of phraseology raise ethical and moral questions but lays the groundwork for heavy-handed legislation down the road.

Connotations of Hunting Terrorists

In the Who or What are Contemporary Monsters? chapter, we provided a summary of the official U.S. rhetoric that was used to communicate why it was necessary to pursue the War on Terror. Before we turn to the question of who the terrorists are that threaten the U.S. and other—especially developed countries—it will be instructive to look at some of the specific government actions that have evolved out of this war. This will add an important dimension to our understanding of the terrorist monster, as he is symbolized in the Western mass media. By and large these actions are a logical extension of the heated rhetoric that was so well communicated in the years after the 9/11 attacks. Continue reading “Hunting the Terrorists — The Impact of Words on Actions”

Terrorist or Insurgent?

Where have all the terrorists gone? Seems like the longer the Global War on Terror continues, the less the western media refer to the other side as terrorists, preferring substitutes such as militants, insurgents, and bombers. This chapter delves into the metamorphosis.

Summary (The Terrorist as a Modern Monster)

This chapter will focus on the controversial debate over what the words “terrorist” and “terrorism” actually mean. What is meant, for instance, when the media or officials tell us we’re threatened by terrorists? Adding to the confusion, other words seem to be used almost interchangeably with terrorist or terror root words. As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on, words, such as “insurgent” and “extremist”, are increasingly replacing “terrorists” in the lexicon of Western officials and news media. Continue reading “Terrorist or Insurgent?”

Preface: The Modern Monster, a Working Definition

The definition of a modern monster and an explanation how it evolved and what it means today. Do all members of a society fear monsters in the same way and to the same extent?

Monsters and Masters

As you read the following chapters about modern monsters, it might be helpful to keep these questions in mind: What does it mean to control society’s monsters? Are those who control society’s monsters better able to control society? What is the relationship between monsters and masters? Who defines whom? Continue reading “Preface: The Modern Monster, a Working Definition”