Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Meanings of Words

This morning I heard Jackie Northam on NPR slip from journalism into opinion (not that uncommon on NPR) as she explained that what is going on in Iraq must be called a ‘civil war’ because, well, Webster defines it as “a war between geographical or political factions of the same country“ [Please note: I am using a transcription of what she said on the air, not the actual quote from the online Webster’s] and she (and the experts she likes) thinks it fits. Of course, she points to the Shi’a, the Sunni, and the Kurds and the factions fighting this ‘civil war’.

Big problem already, isn’t there? After all, Shi’a and Sunni are not geographically- or politically- defined, are they? They are religious groups, or “sects”, meaning that violence between such groups should be described as ‘sectarian violence’ – the very phrase dismissed by Miss Northam in an offhand manner in the radio piece I linked to, above. The Kurds are also not involved in the waves of violence we hear so much about – the geographically and politically (and racially) identified Kurdish regions are wonderfully violence-free.

In short, Miss Northam proves that she is capable of reading a dictionary, but also shows that she has trouble understanding the meanings of the definitions she finds. By her own statements of what 'civil war' means and her own description of who is doing the fighting, Iraq is suffering not from a civil war, but from sectarian violence. Her piece descends from journalism into unannounced opinion-spouting in a fairly-blatant attempt to paint anyone who doesn't call it a civil war as being dishonest.

I don’t even need to get into the definition of ‘foreigner’ and how it relates to the definition of ‘civil war’ that she uses in this context to render this piece moot.

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