Control language to control thought

Almost nothing is more important in the information war than control of the language we use to describe brute reality. Reality just is. Language infuses events with meaning.

For example, some time ago I decided to stop using the term ‘West Bank’, which was invented by the Jordanians in 1950 to refer to the area they had illegally invaded and occupied. Before that, even UN documents called the region “Judea and Samaria.” Why should we obscure Jewish provenance in the land of Israel?

Another loaded term is ‘Palestinians’. Prior to 1948, it meant residents of the Mandate, Jews and Arabs. The newspaper today called the Jerusalem Post was then the Palestine Post; and I recall seeing sacks bearing the logo of the “Palestine Metal Button Company” with a Tel Aviv address at the sewing workshop in the kibbutz where I lived.  The British created a Palestine Regiment made up of (mostly) Jews and Arabs during WWII. And Arab nationalists during the first part of the 20th century often insisted that they were not ‘Palestinians’ but actually citizens of ‘Southern Syria’ (جنوب سوريا), a name for the region used in the Ottoman period.

True Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian identity developed slowly, in opposition to Zionism, and didn’t really exist until Yasser Arafat’s PLO created it. George Antonius’ seminal work on Arab nationalism, The Arab Awakening, published in 1946, doesn’t mention a ‘Palestinian people’ even once — it refers only to Arabs, who live in many places, including Palestine.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a group defining itself, or even defining itself in opposition to another group if that’s what floats their boat, but spare me the ‘historic Palestinian people’.

One particularly irritating misuse of language — because I take it as a personal insult — is the appropriation of concepts like ‘peace’, ‘social justice’, ‘human rights’, etc. by the anti-Israel side (I touched on this Sunday in connection with the anti-Israel activists of Jewish Voice for Peace). How dare they suggest that those of us who oppose dangerous concessions, distrust the PA or think that it is likely to be overthrown by Hamas are ‘against peace’? Our whole point is that their path is a path away from peace. They call themselves the ‘peace camp’. Does that make us the ‘war camp’? Are we against human rights because we want them for Jews as well as Arabs?

Then there is the word ‘Zionism’, which means the view that the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in the land of Israel (a more detailed analysis is here). Recently, Birthright Israel announced a campaign to ‘take back’ the word, which is used in anti-Israel circles to denote a fascist, racist rationale for an apartheid state based on a belief in Jewish superiority. Need I say that this description quite accurately fits the program of Hamas (just change ‘Jewish’ to ‘Muslim’) — and not that of Israel?

I am also really tired of “right-wing” and “left-wing”, especially in the US where these expressions refer to a whole constellation of political, economic and social positions. But that will be another post.

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2 Responses to “Control language to control thought”

  1. Robman says:

    A lot of the tactics you describe, Vic, were developed by the left during the Cold War.

    The old lefties who didn’t have a wretched Soviet Bloc to champion anymore, in the wake of the end of the Cold War, still needed someone they could cozy up with who’d hate Western civilization as much as they did.

    Islamists and the Western academic left: A match made in Heaven…or whatever Islam calls that….

  2. Shalom Freedman says:

    Robman is correct. Much of this kind of turning Language upside down for Propaganda purposes was devised by the Cold- War communists. The historian Joel Fishman has written on this extensively and also shown how the propaganda approach the North Vietnamese used to discredit the U.S. was taught to and adopted by Arafat and his people.