Reasons to be radical

December 15, 2015

A reader comments on one of the media's latest campaigns.

THE "WAR on terror" has killed huge numbers of people across the world--from the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, to the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and beyond, etc. to the U.S./French/British/Russian bombing of Syria and Iraq again.

But it does something else as well---it kills language.

As George Orwell explained in his essay "Politics and the English Language," written in 1946, propaganda is a part of war. To win support for their disgusting anti-human conduct, the war-makers have to remold language, give words new meaning and empty the meaning from other words to win support for their disgusting anti-human conduct.

Orwell gave blunt examples of this in his novel 1984. The slogans of Big Brother were "War is Peace," "Freedom is Slavery" and "Ignorance is Knowledge."

These slogans are illustrative of the process, but too crude to be effective in everyday life. Instead, in his essay, Orwell says that:

political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

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There are many examples from our own time: the slaughter of civilians is called "collateral damage." The systematic destruction of the lives of the poor, and especially Blacks and other people of color, is called the "criminal justice system." The attempt by billionaires to hijack the public school system to remove any hint of creativity and critical thinking to produce a new crop of low-wage workers is called "education reform." The elimination of the social safety net is called "welfare reform" or "building character." The Pentagon war machine is called the "Department of Defense."

BESIDES THESE examples of euphemisms used to put a good face on a horrible reality, there is another process the ruling class uses. It takes positive words and makes them negative. One such example is "radicalization."

The media, quoting the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies, has used this word to describe the process by which someone becomes a terrorist. Anyone who becomes more devout as a Muslim is suspected of becoming "radicalized."

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So part of the "war on terror" and "defense of the homeland" requires interrupting the process of "radicalization." This justifies invasion of privacy, entrapment, surveillance and suppression of civil liberties. It justifies the infiltration of mosques.

The use of the word "radicalization" has another purpose as well. It is a not-so-subtle attack on anyone who radically opposes the status quo. It lumps together left-wing radicals who want a more even distribution of wealth and greater democracy with the reactionaries of ISIS, who want an authoritarian regime based on the suppression of religious minorities and oppression of women.

The word "radical" has a long and mostly positive pedigree. It generally means people who want to go to the root of a problem. It was the description given to the people who participated in the mass social movements of the 1960s: for civil rights, against the war, for women's liberation and LGBT liberation.

We need to reclaim the word "radicalization." It is a good thing if people try to get at the roots of the economic and political crisis. It is a good thing when people become fundamental critics of a destructive capitalist system based on exploitation, racism, sexism, LGBTQ bashing, war and environmental destruction.

Of course, the billionaires and the mainstream press that they own oppose radicalization. They want to defend the system from any fundamental critique. They oppose any radical opposition to their wealth and power. To do so, they try to give the impression that anyone who criticizes the system is on their way to random murder and anti-human mayhem.

In fact, the opposite is true. The more people radically oppose the current system, the less likely it is that people will look to reactionary ideologies, like that of ISIS. If there is a strong, organized, vibrant left-wing movement, fewer people will fall into the politics of despair. Radicalization is actually an antidote to reactionary terrorism.

Fortunately, the process of radicalization is well underway today, with movements from Black Lives Matter, to climate justice, to the defense of reproductive freedom and others showing the way to a more humane society.

Part of our opposition to the "war on terror" needs to be opposition to the ruling class propaganda that justifies it. It is time to defend radicalization!
Steve Leigh, Seattle

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