Friday, Jun 14, 2024 | Last Update : 05:48 AM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  03 Nov 2023  Farrukh Dhondy | Hamas ‘terrorists’ or ‘militants': A word storm as Gaza war rages

Farrukh Dhondy | Hamas ‘terrorists’ or ‘militants': A word storm as Gaza war rages

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Nov 3, 2023, 11:58 pm IST
Updated : Nov 3, 2023, 11:58 pm IST

The BBC has stubbornly refused to call the Hamas personnel “terrorists”. The BBC has called them “militants”.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (AP/PTI)
 Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (AP/PTI)

“O Bachchoo, why stop saying your prayers

You know such a man was kicked downstairs,

Of course, nursery rhymes are fantasy

And you feel secure in reality

But think one day an angel comes

Into your dreams to flutes and drums

And tells you, you are creation’s fool

Would you say dreams are the devil’s tool?”

From Hey Bhagwan, What About Hindustan? by Bachchoo

In the beginning was the Word, says St. John’s gospel in the New Testament. I am amazed how many biblically illiterate Christians think the phrase comes from Genesis in the Old Testament. They think “beginning” has to be the Bible’s beginning.

John goes on to say that the word was with God and the word was God. This is mystical as God possesses the Word, and then becomes it?

If St. John were a Hindu, the word would be “Om”, and it would be the universal spirit. John wasn’t a Hindu, of course, but if the prime conman of India, Bagwash Shri Rajneesh, Osho, was asked, I’m sure he’d say John was -- just as he asserts that both Jesus and Moses journeyed ultimately to, and are buried in, Kashmir!

Gullibility is the lyric of the mob.

But yes, words are important and more than ever today some believe that they lead or even determine crucially important opinion. This observation, gentle reader, is prompted by the fact that there is this week in Britain a controversy over the words one uses to describe the terrible events in the Israel-Gaza war. The BBC has stubbornly refused to call the Hamas personnel (I’m being neutral here --fd. Makes a change? --Ed) “terrorists” as the home secretary, Cruella Cowardperson, and several Tory MPs, or indeed the entire Tory Party, insists they should be labelled. The BBC has called them “militants”.

There have been open debates on TV and controversies in the national press about this dispute. The Tories of course want to support the stance of the PM, Hedgie Sunoch, and believe that labelling Hamas as they do will enforce their support for “legal” Israeli slaughter of the innocents as opposed to the “terrorist” slaughter that Hamas exacted on Israeli civilians on October 7.

There is a historical precedent. Margaret Thatcher, when she was PM, insisted that the BBC label the Irish Republican Army (IRA) “terrorists”. As I recall, the BBC, exerting its non-political rights to objective reporting and neutrality, declined.

The old British rhyme says “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me!” At the age of nine, having to wear spectacles because of my life-long short sight, I was targeted by some of my schoolmates in India and constantly taunted as “four-eyes” and other Hindi phrases which were not friendly. I wasn’t aware of the British rhyme and was mildly disturbed by the teasing/bullying, but suppose I absorbed it as part of the stings and arrows of life and would have taken a very different and resistive attitude to sticks and stones.

Of course, words matter, but I’ve always considered linguistic revolution to be somewhat “cry-baby”, playing-the-victim stuff. Please, please, gentle reader, don’t get me wrong. Allow me to explain myself even before the Twitter storm! Of course, I don’t mean that hate speech or abuse are reasonable and tolerable parts of social intercourse. I do believe that offensive language, using nasty words in a racial, misogynistic, or homophobic context should be met with a punch to the jaw or even a sharp kick to the genital area. I am cautiously sceptical about whether the victim of such abuse can get much satisfaction through a complaint to the police. I’d much rather watch the perpetrator writhing in pain on the ground holding his assaulted testicles.

Yes, OK, I know -- the victim of such abuse may not be strong enough to confront the linguistic perpetrator in my recommended way. Does legislation to ban words or characterise them as unusable actually help?

There are undoubtedly matters of taste. In English, the words for genitalia are traditionally used as abuse. One may call someone the “c” word. We hear people saying someone’s a dick or a prick. On the other hand, when discussing sex in a non-abusive context, one uses these demotic words in an affectionate context, but they still have the abusive connotations echoing. Then in descriptive contexts one uses clinical words: “Penis, vagina, vulva”. For me, the clinical/medical context kills any romantic or sentimental connotations intended. I propose that the Sanskrit words “lingam” for penis and “yoni” for female genitalia enter the language as common English idiom. That would kill abusive vulgarity and clinical alienation, and facilitate sexual romance. Thus Spake….

So, back then to the events that should absorb the world day and night today. Hamas did perpetrate terror on the 7th of October. Maybe the Tories are right and Hamas, in that context, perpetrated an act which can, without any doubt, be labelled “terrorist”. So, also, the reaction of the desperate Benjamin Netanyahu government should be labelled as “genocidal” and “war criminal”.

Tags: hamas, israel palestine conflict, gaza airstrikes