September 6, 2004 by AK

Word choice is everything

Russian Rebels Had Precise Plan, announces the NYT.

Five words as if chosen to mislead millions of title-browsers. “Rebels” they were not (see post below); the paper used the word, it seems, to elicit sympathy from those numerous Americans who associate “rebel” with “freedom.” Some of the terrorists were not Russian in any way; some of the others were Russian nationals of Chechen extraction. If the Chechens were indeed fighting for independence, as the term “rebel” suggests, calling them “Russian” is a non-sequitur or an offense (“British rebels from the IRA,” anybody?). Non-Chechen Russian nationals hardly made up the majority of the attackers.

All in all, to call this bunch “Russian” is as misleading as to call gangs of USSR-born thugs in the US the “Russian mafia.” Normally a second look at the thugs’ identities reveals half of them are or were nationals of Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Armenia, etc., and the other half are Jewish and kind-of-Jewish immigrants from the former USSR, including Russia–technically Russian but rather unrepresentative of Russia’s population. One may attribute that to Russian anti-Semitism or whatever, but most Russians wouldn’t recognize them as their own. “Russian mafia” is a convenient term, but it’s also an anti-Russian smear.


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