A new entry for the Orwellian doublespeak award ‘ The Lexicon of Terrorism” project.

July 6, 2009 |

Doug McClelland is one of the better Federal Attorney General’s of late.  He is experienced in the black arts of politics and  knows his way around the corridors of power (unlike Darryl Williams) and doesn’t see his role to be an attack dog for the government (ie he is not Ruddock lite).  Unlike his state counterparts he doesn’t bang the law and order drum until the skin breaks (Hatzistigos in NSW) or become an affirmative action zealot (Hulls) though he seems to be gently nods in that general direction.  All in all he is working quietly and smoothly through his portfolio pushing through reforms to the courts and procedures.  How well they work out is a matter for time to tell. 

So it is all the more disappointing to read about the Lexicon of Terrorism project in today’s email. 

Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, today welcomed the national roll-out of a project to

promote the consistent use of language in engaging with communities on national security


While we are working on lexicon:

  •  “roll – out” means spending a lot of government money ;
  • “promote” – dictate
  • “consistent use of language” – a list of acceptable words, blanched and stretched to appear as bland and inoffensive, not to mention meaningless, as possible;
  • “communities” – professional community leaders enjoying some government stipend or another.

The ‘Lexicon of Terrorism’ project seeks to examine the use of language by Commonwealth,

State and Territory Governments’ in relation to terrorism.

“Experience has shown that the language used to describe terrorism can be counterproductive.

Certain words have the potential to glorify terrorism and terrorists, while others

can cause anxiety among Australians and create divisions within and between communities,”

Mr McClelland said.

That “use of language” can hurt, offend or upset is, let see, trite.  And yep, bumbling, stumbling use of language can be counterproductive. 

The project will look at the impact of terrorism-related language, including for example,

describing combating terrorism as a ‘war’ and words such as ‘jihad’ to depict a struggle

between religions or values.

What exactly is  “terrorism – related language.”  The two word given, war and “jihad”  don’t work their way into Commonwealth or State buerocrats lexicon nor into the mouths of their political masters.   

“We need to use language that does not inadvertently glorify terrorism but rather describes it

in terms of base criminal behaviour of the most reprehensible kind. We should also be

conscious of not alienating broad ethnic and religious groups by labeling them in a way that

causes prejudice or leads to misunderstanding.”

Weasel words like the need to be “conscious of not alienating” are an entreport to speech codes.  Ethnic and religious groups are misnomers in and of themselves.  Are Arabs an ethnic group.  No.  Arabs are those who speak Arabic.  As for ethnic groups, there are Turags, Egyptians, Moors and on and on it goes.  As for religious groups, take Islam.  There is the obvious split between Sunni and Shia.  But what about Suffism and Wahabism.  And then there are the Druze.  It gets all very confusing.  But not as confusing as the verbal calastetics that goes with turning a language inside out and upside down trying not to offend anyone.   

Work on the project is being led by Victoria Police, in partnership with the Victorian

Department of Premier and Cabinet, the Australian Multicultural Foundation and the

Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department.

Here is another word for the lexicon:

  • project: a huge amount of person hours involving no shortage of per diems for a report that is going nowhere in particular.

Community focus groups will be conducted around Australia by the Australian Multicultural

Foundation. Additional interviews with relevant agencies, academic research and public

submissions will also inform the project’s recommendations.

Another few words for the lexicon:

  • community focus groups: lots of billings for the organisers;
  • “Australian Multicultural Foundation” – a sanctuary for those with a heightened sense of their heritage in the times of economic difficulties, a rotten borough,
  • “inform the project’s recommendations”: obscure and unreadable works of academic dross to keep academics and others in pin money. 

“This project will help Governments frame effective public information messages on national

security issues by strengthening community harmony and disempowering potential violent


Here’s a thought, use some common sense.  Terrorism is a law and order issue.  It is a crime.  The law is, or should be, colour blind.  It has its own language that the community understands when spoken plain and directly. 

Similar studies have been conducted in other parts of the world, including the United

Kingdom, which have resulted in strategies to reduce counter-productive language.

I rest my case.  Taking a lead from the mess that is the UK’s policy on multiculturalism and law and order is to put ones hand in a vice and start turning with the other.

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