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Is it too extreme to say extremist?

January 12, 2015

Hoo boy, here we go again. There are now some journalists who question using the word “extremist” to identify the people like those who attacked the French publication, “Charlie Hebdo”, apparently viewing the word as either inaccurate or politically insensitive.


Extremist is defined as both an adjective and a noun depending on how the sentence is parsed.

Most dictionaries define it using its root, extreme, including examples of correct usage that indicate it is the most radical,  i.e. the furthest away from center, form of something. Some attach it specifically to religion or politics, some do not.

That seems like an accurate descriptor, but the word isn’t the problem. The mindset that accurately describing the motivation behind that attack is somehow insensitive or inaccurate, or God forbid, that it is “labeling”, is the problem.

No one seems to have a problem with using adjectives like  “racist” cops or “white” privilege. No one ever had a problem with “communist” Russia, or “Nazi” Germany. These are all descriptive terms.

The purpose of descriptive modifiers in language is to make it more accurate. If that’s labeling, so be it. If we are going to drop them in the name of pure reporting, then it’s time to drop them all. People will no longer be “struck by a red SUV” they will be struck by a moving self-powered personal conveyance. People will no longer be black, white, red, brown, or described in any way other than as humans.

We have to call these people and the religious fanaticism that drives them something, if only to distinguish them from all Muslims.

They are not Catholics or Jews or Presbyterians and they are supposedly a long way from the center of the Islamic faith, so it would seem that identifying them accurately would be a good thing, in terms of not tarring all Muslims with the same brush.

Maybe the journalists are hoping that if they don’t name the enemy, there will be no enemy. The trouble with that approach is that sticking one’s head in the sand leaves your tail feathers exposed.

In the commentary, the journalist asks if the word is a label, whether it is subjective, or if it is a value judgment and suggests just doing away with it.

Why? Would doing away with it produce more accurate reporting or is it just more political correctness?

I guess we could just say the French victims  “were killed by other residents of France”, but that would seem to be scribing with a very dull pen.

Or we could just pretend they don’t exist.  Yeah, that’s it…if we don’t think about them, much less describe them, our enemies will just go away!  Score another win for professional journalism and its guide for approved communication that advocates doing away with “labels”.

Perhaps in the name of unbiased reporting, we should do away with modifying the noun journalist with the adjective professional.

From → op-ed

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