Did the recent cyclone hit Myanmar or Burma? Is what’s happening in Darfur to be considered genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes?
It depends on who you talk to. In a recent interview, scholar Saree Makdisi, author of Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation, discusses his views on the issue of language and conflict.
Q. And you insist that language is central in this?
A. Think of the way language is used to describe this conflict. For example, technically, legally, and morally, there’s a distinction between “colony” and “settlement.” You settle your own territory, you colonize somebody else’s. What the Israelis are doing in the occupied territories is colonizing. So why is an activity that the dictionary defines as colonization portrayed as settlement? Yet even I use the term “settlement” in this book.
Q. Because you don’t want to confuse the reader?
A. And be marked as an extremist. What does it mean when someone who uses language accurately can be dismissed as an extremist?