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Notes

Guidance: The ‘War’ On ISIS #

President Obama calls it a “campaign against extremism.”

NPR, though, does use the word “war” when reporting about the U.S.-led military strikes aimed at the self-proclaimed Islamic State. We’re not alone, as you’ll see in reports from The Associated Press and other news outlets.

The definition of the word guides us: “war — 1. open armed conflict between countries or between factions within the same country; 2. any active hostility, contention, or struggle …” (Webster’s)

Military forces from the U.S. and other nations are now part of an “open armed conflict” between factions within Iraq and Syria, and there is clearly “active hostility” in those countries. The situation differs from what’s happened in other nations where the U.S. has aimed strikes at organizations said to be training terrorists.

Here’s an example of how we’ve used the word, from an introduction heard during All Things Considered:

“We’ve been reporting, today, on the series of airstrikes the U.S. and Arab countries conducted overnight in Syria. After weeks of attacks on the self-proclaimed Islamic State, or ISIS, in Iraq, these are the first U.S. air attacks on the group in Syria. And it marks a major expansion of the U.S. led war on ISIS.”

The words “on ISIS” are important. They distinguish the current campaign from the earlier war in Iraq. If the al-Qaida offshoot called the Korasan Group is targeted again, that could make it advisable to say “war on militant Islamist fighters in Syria and Iraq” or some variation of that phrasing. But at least for now, most reports will likely focus on ISIS.

Obviously, war isn’t the only word that applies. Other words and phrases can be used: attacks, campaign, military campaign, air strikes, bombing runs, military conflict and so on.

It’s also clear, as Greg Myre explores on the Parallels blog, that there are good reasons to add context:

“With the airstrikes in Syria, the U.S. has now bombed seven Muslim countries since the 9/11 attacks and the lines between a full-fledged war and counterterrorism have been blurred. The current efforts contains elements of both as a broad, open-ended military campaign that also targets a specific terrorist group.”

Related “memmos”:

– Islamic State? ISIS? ISIL? Here’s Another Reminder About NPR’s Guidance

– Guidance On The Word ‘Execute’

(Memmos; Sept. 24, 2014)

Notes

Guidance On The Word ‘Execute’ #

Several listeners and readers have told us it’s wrong to say that James Foley was “executed” or to use the word “execution” when reporting about his death.

They have a point.

According to Webster’s, someone is executed if they are “put to death as in accordance with a legally imposed sentence.” An execution is the putting to death of someone “in accordance with a legally imposed sentence.”

The AP advises that “to execute a person is to kill him in compliance with a military order or judicial decision.”

Saying Foley was executed, by definition, would mean his death was “in compliance” or “in accordance” with orders from a recognized court, government or military. Saying Foley was executed would imply that the Islamic State (or ISIS) is an entity that can legally carry out such sentences.

In this case, it’s better to say Foley was “killed” or “beheaded” or “murdered” (“the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another”).

Note I: Yes, the AP seems not to have followed its own guidance on this issue. And yes, “murdered” is a powerful word that should be used judiciously. In this case, though, the video evidence supports use of the word.

Note II: Another word to think about when discussing the Foley case is “captured.” When an Israeli soldier was missing recently, we discussed why it was wrong to say he had been “kidnapped” (a word that applies to civilians and to crimes) and was better to say he had been “captured” (a word that applies to combatants on a battlefield). In Foley’s case, the opposite is true. He was not a combatant. It’s not a major problem to say Foley was “captured,” but it’s better to say something like he was “taken hostage” or “kidnapped.”

(Memmos; Aug. 22, 2014)