Thursday, January 1, 2009

"take [someone] out"

the mainstream media is now aping Bush's use of the phrase "to take out" meaning "to kill or assassinate." it is a blunt-sounding verb, maybe because its words are unimaginative (ie, like "do it" for "having sex"). using such bland words sounds macho, because they understate, muting the real horror behind the word. those who use it probably enjoy feeling like jocks, like experienced men who understand how the world works and who are not afraid to celebrate a bit of violence. what makes this word especially odious to me, beyond the unimaginative understatement/euphemism, is its casualness. i can understand casual language like this being used by soldiers. but its use by leaders and news anchors is unacceptable. what next? will a president decide to say, "today we offed a taliban leader"? even if you believe that person should be killed, how is it that we must also smirk and show how much we enjoy it? this is nothing but barbarity. what makes this coarse word acceptable, clearly, is that it originated in the military. therefore it has an air of authority around it that "off" does not.

this morning a CNN anchor used the word when asking questions of the NYT's correspondent. he was referring to israel dropping a 2,000 pound bomb on a hamas leader's house, killing him and more than a dozen family members and neighbors. the correspondent, an arab, did not object to this disgusting word choice. by using the word, the CNN anchor was approving and legitimating the israeli act. can you imagine if he had said, "today a hamas rocket took out an israeli soldier"?

of course not. because even though this david and goliath conflict is described as a "war," as if between equal parties, only one side is justified by our media. hence israelis "take out" palestinians, their schools, houses, etc. they engage in "operations" against palestinians. palestinians, on the other hand, "kill" or "massacre" israelis, "destroy" houses and schools.

what a callous term. it ought not to be used by persons in authority, no matter who is being described. it reduces certain people, disapproved of by the state, to the status of acceptable targets, and no more: no more humanity. being used by leaders, it is imitated by ordinary people, and the coarsening, the brutalizing, spreads among us. will this top-down trend of vicariously enjoying violence through brutal language continue, even with a new government in washington? i hope not.

today i got a letter from the ACLU asking me to renew my membership. the letter described an example of american military illegality: a boy of 13 taken prisoner in afghanistan and kept at bagram air base and tortured. the letter emphasized the "women and children and old people" unjustly imprisoned and killed.

of course this opposition is correct. but it is not correct enough. the implication of the letter is that only those sympathetic to us are worthy of justice. but i demand justice not only for the 13 year old boy, but for the thug who really was helping the taliban. people deserve rights not because they seem nice to us, but because they are people. and no matter how bad a person is, they deserve, in our political philosophy (though not that of bush or cheney or the many americans who care nothing for legal principles), legal procedures to determine guilt.

torture is not one of these legal procedures, even if the one being strapped down is a horrible, ugly, bearded person who committed crimes.

this soft-pedalling of hard truths by the ACLU reminds me of the criticisms made of the Jena Six in Louisiana -- the black youths convicted for assaulting white students. some conservatives pointed out that these six men were not squeaky clean. some had shop lifted. they really did beat those white students. etc etc.

but i had to ask then, as i ask now: so what? are we to be accorded rights conditionally? are we to be condemned on a sliding scale of acceptability to the grandmothers of the world?

no. we have our rights absolutely. the protesters in Jena that year were not claiming those six were angels. they were demanding an equal application of the law -- so that blacks not be imprisoned while white students guilty of the same thing are merely suspended, or given community service.

a human is a human is a human: this is my radical position, and i will oppose any and all attempts to fudge, snowball, or otherwise muddy that fact. bad people are still people, and their rights are no less than those of good people (good itself being subjective and hard to pin down).

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