In Diplomacy, Semantics Matter (and vice versa)
The 2-day Euromed summit co-hosted by Tony Blair and Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero wrapped up in Barcelona today and organizers are smearing lipstick all over it, despite poor attendance and a failiure to come to terms on terms.
The purpose of Euromed (which to me sounds like something your urologist might prescribe, and appears to have been only modestly more pleasant) was to develop an anti-terror code to address "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations" and it aimed to include all 35 EU nations plus 10 Euromed neighbors. Laudable a goal as it undertook, the event was snubbed by Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, and the Palestinian Authority.
A Financial Times piece explains that "Arab leaders were wary of attending an event that could be seen as cracking down on groups denounced as terrorists in the west but regarded as freedom fighters by many of their own people."
Indeed, too often we've seen terrorists variously misnomered as freedom fighters, insurgents, extremists, rebels, radicals, separatists, guerrillas, and other sanitizing euphemisms. Even here at home, unvarnished evil has by some been whitewashed as merely different "perspective".
This deliberate ambiguity and the attempt to coax grainy, grayscaled relativism out of sharp contrast and resolution renders the chief failure of the Euromed summit all the more regrettable. Despite the group's stated resolve to combat "terrorism in all its forms and manifestations", they overtly failed to define the word "terrorism".
Tony Blair downplayed the significance:
"The fact that we got the practical agreement on the code of conduct from everybody is a very significant step forward indeed.
"It's as strong a statement as you can possible have on the unified determination to fight terrorism is all its forms."
But this quote from Blair was the capper:
“I think that this is an area where semantic agreements are less important than shared spirit and determination.”
Assuming that by this area, he refers to the war on terror, I couldn't disagree more. UN Resolution 1441 appeared to be the very embodiment of shared spirit and determination when it was unanimously passed in 2002. But matters of semantics soon took hold. What is a "material breach"? What are "serious consequences"?
For that matter, what are "weapons of mass destruction"? What are "sexual relations"? What is "covert status"? What is the meaning of the word "is"? What are "new taxes"?
Semantics, as quibbled and seemingly trivial as they are wont to be, are not only important, they're often crucial. How much of the fate of national and world affairs has hinged (and continues to hinge) on the above embattled terminology?
No foreign diplomat represents a greater ally to the United States than the British Prime Minister, but Mr. Blair should not feel compelled to gloss over this significant failing. While the summit's deliverables weren't meant to provide a binding action plan, the group's inability to distinguish our civilian-slaying mutual enemy from combative political factions bodes poorly for the future of a cooperative, globally distributed war on terror.
Even the U.N. managed to adopt an "academic consensus definition" of terrorism back in 1988, which, while wordy, still fills the bill:
"Terrorism is an anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby - in contrast to assassination - the direct targets of violence are not the main targets. The immediate human victims of violence are generally chosen randomly (targets of opportunity) or selectively (representative or symbolic targets) from a target population, and serve as message generators. Threat- and violence-based communication processes between terrorist (organization), (imperilled) victims, and main targets are used to manipulate the main target (audience(s)), turning it into a target of terror, a target of demands, or a target of attention, depending on whether intimidation, coercion, or propaganda is primarily sought" (Schmid, 1988).
Obviously, the Euromed summit had this language at their disposal, so the hang-up wasn't likely one of composition or phraseology. Rather, I suspect the definition was probably viewed by some as dangerously descriptive of factions that might be stewing in their own homelands. Factions best left misnomered.
Handcrafted by Flip on November 28, 2005 |
TrackBack URL for this entry:
Listed below are links to weblogs that reference In Diplomacy, Semantics Matter (and vice versa):