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January 28, 2015 11:44 am

BBC Arabic Official Refuses to Call Paris Attacks ‘Terrorism’

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avatar by Alex Margolin

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris that was attacked on Friday by an Islamist terrorist. Photo: JJ Georges via Wikimedia Commons.

For reasonable people, the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and kosher supermarket in Paris were clear cases of terrorism.

But apparently, not everyone who runs the BBC is reasonable. Take the head of BBC Arabic, Tarik Kafala, for example. For him, terrorism is too “loaded” a term to describe what happened.

“We try to avoid describing anyone as a terrorist or an act as being terrorist,” Kafala told The Independent this week. “What we try to do is to say that ‘two men killed 12 people in an attack on the office of a satirical magazine.’ That’s enough, we know what that means and what it is.”

In fact, we do know what it is – it’s terror.

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It’s terror because the attack was carried out to scare people into complying with the wishes of the attackers. That’s what terrorism means and what it is.

Kafala’s prescription of simply describing what happened is actually not enough, and Kafala should know that. Leaving out the motive behind the act leaves readers badly misinformed. How will they understand the reluctance of publications to print photos of the next issue of Charlie Hedbo if the attack is described as a simple murder, free of loaded terms that could give an insight into why it happened?

Kafala also cites the complexity of the word terrorism, noting that the UN has trouble with the term as well.  “The UN has been struggling for more than a decade to define the word and they can’t,” he said. “It is very difficult to. We know what political violence is, we know what murder, bombings and shootings are and we describe them. That’s much more revealing, we believe, than using a word like terrorist which people will see as value-laden.”

If the UN can’t define the word, it could be because of the political interests of member states that use or sponsor terrorism. If Kafala wants to know what the terms means, maybe he should check a dictionary, not the UN.

Terrorism is not the same as political violence. Terrorism is specifically done to scare people into complicity. The “value-laden” element Kafala seems to object to is the idea that terrorism is wrong. Does he really object to the claim that the attack on Charlie Hedbo and the kosher market were terrorism, and thus wrong?

Instead of taking the opportunity to educate the BBC’s Arabic audience, Kafala is catering to the popular view, one where Jews are rarely if ever described as victims of terror. Even an act of obvious terror in Paris can’t be referred to by its proper name.

This article was originally published by HonestReporting.

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