Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rebels vs Insurgents

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed something a little odd about the language used to describe the conflicts going on around the world at the moment?

Take for example the way anti-government forces are described in the media: are they "rebels"or "insurgents"? Literally the two words mean pretty much exactly the same thing:
Rebel: a person who refuses allegiance to, resists, or rises in arms against the government or ruler of his or her country.

Insurgent: a person who rises in forcible opposition to lawful authority, especially a person who engages in armed resistance to a government or to the execution of its laws; a rebel.
But their implied meanings are poles apart. In my mind (which I don't think is too far from the average) when someone says rebel I think fondly back to stories of the French resistance, Che Guevara, Luke Skywalker, Marlin Brando even.

Insurgent on the other hand seems to have been popularised by the Bush Administration's ongoing War on Terror. So pretty much translates to a non-passport-holding terrorist; the guys that stay home and make IEDs rather than jet-setting around the world blowing things up.

The point is, the word you choose tips your hand as to which side of a conflict you're cheering for; effectively they're just fancy ways of saying "good guys" and "bad guys".

For government press releases and dinner party conversations that's fine, but you'd think the news media would be a bit more careful, as it's supposed to be impartial, unbiased and dispassionate (it's not, but it's at least supposed to try to be).

To give you an idea, let's have a look at what word is used to describe which conflict via a Google News search. It's by no means scientific, but hopefully youíll get the idea:
Insurgent Rebel
Afghanistan 5,450 720
Iraq 2,080 879
Libya 1,040 9,080
Tunisia 426 2,740
Okay, any theories as to why that is? Well it's hard to say for sure, but my hunch is that whenever the United States Government - the most powerful spin-doctor on earth - gets involved we see what John Pilger described as the "information dominance" strategy coming into play. That is, the US Military saturates the news media with their footage and their version of events.

Media outlets are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them and when the government hand is supplying tasty treats like high-res photos, spy drone camera footage and up-to-the minute statistics, normally savage news hounds tend to roll over, play dead and repeat the US version verbatim.

That's just one example, but the point is, next time you turn on the TV or pick up the paper, don't just passively absorb the information flowing down the tube, have a critical think about what's being said. Sometimes thereís more information between the lines than within them.