Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hey, Hey, The Gangs All Here!

Syrian "armed gangs" are to blame for a bus ambush.

"Armed gangs" are to blame for killing 120 security forces.

In April, "tribal leaders" were threatening rebels in Misrata, Libya to lay down their arms.

And now in Yemen, "Islamist gangs" have captured several towns.

I hate useless labels. They are meant to scare, or they can be used as a substitute for lack of information. A perfect example is the word "terrorist". It's empty! It means very close to nothing. Ready for a curveball? How about the word "patriot"? Define patriot. I'll give it a shot: "One who exemplifies and embodies the values that a certain nation or country holds as central to its identification". Pretty good.

Here's the rub. To many, Sarah Palin is a patriot. To others, John McCain is a patriot. Still others say that Barack Obama is a patriot. John Brown, Abe Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Herber Hoover, General MacArthur, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton (your choice), Bush (the latter). All have, I imagine, at one time or another been called a "patriot". I'm also reasonably sure that all have at one time actually been called a "traitor" or a "disgrace".

Calling somebody a "patriot" reveals more about the speaker, the one who is doing the labelling, than it does about the one who is labelled. Calling somebody a patriot means that they embody the ideals that YOU hold sacred or important. It says very little about the "patriot" themselves.

I find that the same holds true for words like "terrorist". The worn cliche of "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter" is apt.

In the previous news articles, the use of the phrase "armed gangs" straddles the "lack of information" and "fear" categories. I also find it pretty laughable. I will gladly admit that I derive actual pleasure from the Syrian government's use of the phrase. As if the world has descended into this Mad Max dystopia where armed gangs rove the streets of Daraa, randomly killing security forces and strapping them to the fenders. The gangs have no names and no motives, except their thirst for vengeance! And gasoline! And victims for the Thunderdome! Ridiculous.

What's most laughable is that the Syrian government switched the meaning, or the motive, of the "armed gangs" over the past three months. When the riots first broke out in Syria in March, the armed gangs were killing the rioters. They were, effectively, the opposition to the opposition. Read: it was a label for the security forces of Syria.

But then, in WWE fashion, the armed gangs turned face and started fighting the security forces. In effect, they went from the opposition-of-the-opposition to just the plain old, against-the-government opposition! They switched sides! But, the Syrian government didn't bother to stop calling them "armed gangs". No, images of roving armed gangs is much more sympathy inducing than calling them, oh, "pro-democracy protesters", or (dread the thought) "the people".

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