Terrorism is usually defined as politically-motivated attacks against civilians.
For what seems to be political reasons, most of the major media have an editorial policy that the word should not be used — especially in articles dealing with Israel. But as I mentioned in this article, it is becoming increasing difficult for anyone to “ban” a word, especially journalists whose mission is describing what is going on in the world.
Like it or not, terrorism is a major global problem. Terrorist groups have victimized members of all religions and all major countries. It is no longer reasonable for the media to use the word “militant” to describe groups like Hamas that have been designated “terrorist” organizations by the United States and the European Union.
It’s not that the definitions do no exist. The rationale that the word means “different things to different people” just doesn’t make sense any more (if it ever did.) Someone who sets fire to a home as part of a political or religious agenda is a terrorist. And I don’t care if that person is Jewish or Muslim or Atheist or whatever.
So I was glad to see that Peter Baker, the New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, was not hesitant to use the word in the article “Facebook Struggles to Put Out Fires in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”
Sometimes the media use the word when it is part of either a direct quotation or information attributed to a source.
For example, in this Reuters story about the attack at Ohio State University, the word terrorism is attributed to “a US Congressman and another government source.” It is not Reuters using the word.
That’s what I thought would happen here when Baker referred to Facebook’s policy:
Facebook and other social media companies announced this week that they would team up to better track and reduce online terrorist propaganda.
No big deal. Facebook can use the word “terrorist.” When the NY Times reports this, they are simply covering the Facebook policy. They are not using the word in their own voice.
But then there is this:
In this part of the world, the debate is not just theoretical. Terrorism is an everyday reality…
Not only is the NY Times using the word in its own voice, but it is specifically referring to terrorism in Israel. Later, the article mentions a lawsuit filed by:
…relatives of several Americans killed in terrorist attacks in Israel…
So if the NY Times is comfortable referring to terrorism in Israel, would it be such a leap to start referring to Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist groups?
If “terrorism” here is an everyday reality, it’s time to report politically-motivated stabbings and car attacks as “terrorist” attacks.
As the new year starts, we’ll be keeping an updated reference on the usage of the word, “terrorism” by the major media. While we would like to see that the word is never used because there are no more terrorist attacks, until that happens we will continue our work to promote accuracy in coverage of the Middle East.
An earlier edition of this article originally appeared on The Times of Israel.