When the Minneapolis Star-Tribune announced that it would not use the word "terrorist" in connection with Palestinian suicide bombers a hullabaloo ensued. A group called Minnesotans Against Terrorism took out a full-page ad in the same paper calling its policy "just plain wrong." U.S. Senators Mark Dayton and Paul Wellstone and Governor Jesse Ventura were among 400 signers of the ad.
Ms. Pam Fine, managing editor of the Star-Tribune, explained the newspaper's policy this way: "This helps us avoid labels that might suggest we're taking sides..." Earlier, the newspaper's ombudsman had written that they were avoiding "terrorist" because of "the emotional and heated nature of that dispute."
Not long after all this transpired, I received an e-mail message from a New Mexico friend. "Sounds familiar, doesn't it?" he wrote. "Remember last fall when Reuters, the wire service, and the BBC banned the same word ? The editor of Reuters said, 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.'"
"Around here," my friend added, "It's common knowledge that a space ship landed near Roswell in early September. No one in the big media centers paid any attention to it because they were preoccupied with the September 11 attacks. Some reliable people I know say these space travelers -- from Mars, or wherever -- have the ability to focus their minds in such a way that they can change their appearance to resemble anyone here on Earth. They have studied us enough to know that most people buy what the media tell them. By controlling the media they figure they can control the world. So, we think they have kidnapped the Reuters and BBC editors -- and now these editors in Minneapolis -- and substituted some of their own who look exactly like the people they abducted."
Phew. That was quite a lot to absorb. Still, the policies of these news outlets about the word "terrorist" were so outlandish that there had to be an out-of-the-box explanation.
I pulled my Webster's Collegiate Dictionary from the shelf. It defines "terror" as "The state or instance of extreme fear; violent dread; fright." It says "terrorism" is the "Act of terrorizing" and a "terrorist" is "One who favors or practices terrorism."
Let's see. The television photos of survivors and relatives of the victims at the scene of the suicide bombings in Israel looked mighty frightened and in dread of further violence. Those boys and girls who were induced to strap explosives around themselves, then blow themselves up in restaurants and stores were certainly practicing terrorism as the dictionary defines it.
Yassir Arafat signed payment vouchers to terrorist groups for arms, so that makes him a terrorist, according to the dictionary. So is Saddam Hussein, who pays the families of suicide bombers $25,000 each if their kids are successful in blowing themselves up, along with some Israelis.
Now the members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and al-Qaeda may all call themselves "freedom fighters," but whatever they call themselves isn't mutually exclusive with the terms "terrorist" and "terrorism." Terrorism is what they practice and terrorists are what they are.
Still, Martians taking over news rooms? I put it aside as too fanciful, especially since it involved Roswell, where that first spaceship landed back in the late Forties, exactly nine months to the day before Al Gore was born.
I chalked up the Minneapolis, Reuters and BBC policies to a misunderstanding of the meaning of words (a not uncommon phenomenon in the news media) and to moral relativism.
Then last week an e-mail message arrived from a former agent of one of our intelligence services. He claimed that what was left of al-Qaeda's leadership had decided on a change in strategy. In order to sow maximum confusion they would surreptitiously take over various news media and gradually change their policies toward terrorist organizations. My friend said they may have done it as early as last fall, using look-alikes of the Reuters and BBC editors. He's not sure of that, but he's pretty sure that's what they did at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
He cited as an example a March 28 story in the newspaper in which Hamas was called "an Islamic militant group" even though the U.S. Government had officially declared it to be a terrorist group.
I asked my research assistant to obtain photos of the newspaper's editor-in-chief and its ombudsman. We scanned them into the computer, then did some digitizing. Add a beard and a mustache here, glasses on one, a turban there and head scarf here. Yes, the resemblance is uncanny: I was looking at likenesses of Osama bin Laden and his sidekick Ayman al-Zawahiri!