Dehumanising Metaphors in ‘War on Terror’

By Iqbal Jassat

In the light of fresh debates centered on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, particularly within the United States whose armed forces are deeply entrenched in the military conquest of the region under the guise of the ‘war on terror’, many fraudulent theories are advanced to justify hostilities against largely unarmed and defenseless populations.

The same can be said about the Horn of Africa and the US-sponsored war of aggression against Somalia.

One of the concepts used to perpetrate these military adventures is that of  ‘failed states’. The argument used is that the all-knowing West has to ‘remake the world’ in order to pave the way for democracy to flourish.  

Millions of people have been displaced as a consequence of these military adventures while the American presidential candidates bicker over their potential moves in this game of chess, which is what the terrible results of the Bush administration’s war games have seemingly reduced these tragedies to.

This cesspool of greed by captains of multinational corporations alongside the insatiable hunger of the West’s military industrial complex is ignored or at best glossed over by their media institutions. This explains the phenomena of ‘embedded journalism’, increasingly contributing to securing public approval for illegitimate conduct by America and many of its allies.

Metaphorically speaking then, ‘failed states’ invite invasions and occupations. And those resisting such aggression in defense of their precious lives and properties can be eliminated through bombing campaigns – after all, the prevalent wisdom propagated by their spin doctors who have sprung up all over the world as ‘terror experts’, is that resistance is terrorism.

The war of metaphors has become an indispensable tool in the armoury of perpetrators, for it allows perverted language to conceal the human faces of victims.

Only the equally repugnant process of curtailing civil liberties matches the process of dehumanisation. Hand-in-hand these methodical operations have resulted in a breed of lexicons, which are used to hide gross human rights violations:

· Renditions;

· Guantanamo;

· Secret evidence;

· Targeted killings;

· Collateral damage;

· Precision bombings;

· Remaking the world.

As the Bush term nears its end, it remains clear that the ‘war on terror’ – though discredited and acknowledged as illegitimate – will be pursued under the watch of either Obama or McCain. Neither of them has given any clue that they are aware of the nightmare of Bush’s legacy from which people are struggling to awake. 

Indeed the latest account of the devastation caused in Somalia by Ethiopian forces under American orders reveals the extent of mindless destruction characterizing the dehumanization of the so-called ‘war on terror’. A report by Human Rights Watch records the terrible ordeal suffered by Somalis as a direct result of misguided policies emanating from the Pentagon.

No matter how the architects of this ill-conceived warfare package their propaganda, it is clear that in the court of public opinion their efforts to strip the human dimension will not succeed.

– Iqbal Jassat is the Chairman of the Media Review Network, South Africa. He contributed this article to

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