Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What's In a Name?

The events in Mumbai are still repeating themselves in my head. One thing that bothered me then and is still bothering me now is the way that the murders were reported--yes, murders, not killings. As an English instructor I am very sensitive to the nuances of words. I teach about denotation and connotation. For me, there is a strong connotative difference between the word "kill" and the word "murder," and what took place in Mumbai was not killing but murder. I couldn't quite get the posting i wanted framed in my head, and then someone sent me the following. I believe it says it all.


The Chabad Rabbi in India was not 'Killed'
Media suppresses word 'murder' and overlooks 'torture' by Islamic terrorists

By Shelomo Alfassa

NEW YORK (December 1, 2008) - On Thanksgiving Day 2008, gunshots rang out startling the family of Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and others inside the Chabad center in Mumbai, India. A maid at the Chabad center thought it was firecrackers--then an Islamic gunman came up the stairs. Explosions and gunshots rattled the building and continued through the night. At the same time the Chabad center is attacked, Islamic terrorists were attacking a police station and a few minutes later they opened fire at a hospital. They also opened fire in restaurants and at hotels, all together, at over 10 locations, the Islamic terrorists murdered over 190 people.

The Chabad center maid told the media that the gunmen destroyed the elevator, dining room and "everything" else. The rabbi ran to the telephone to call the Israeli Consulate. He got them on the line, told them there were men with guns in the house, but in the middle of the conversation, the line went dead after the rabbi said, "something's wrong" and the rabbi's wife was heard screaming "SEND HELP IMMEDIATLY."

The rabbi was grabbed by the Muslim terrorists, held down and had a belt secured around his legs to prevent him from walking. Several other Jews in the center had their hands and feet bound with telephone cords or nylon rope. The Indian Express reported that, Rabbi Holtzberg, his wife Rivka and their three friends died in a "brutal manner..." The paper horrifically reported that there was "brutality unleashed on the Holtzberg." The paper reported that police photos inside the Chabad center spoke, "volumes of the nightmare the family and their friends must have gone through before they died." The Rabbi's body was found in a room on the second floor, with his legs under the mezuzah, stretching into the hall where his wife's body was found. Rivka's body was found near the legs of Rabbi Holtzberg, the floor was covered red in blood. The rabbi's 2-year-old son Moshe was found drenched in blood, crying in the silence, beside his parents who lay dead on the floor. The dead bodies of the murdered Jews were then booby-trapped with live hand grenades and other explosives. Indian security forces indicated the Jewish women were murdered first, as the Jewish men were first tortured before being murdered.

In the United States, where the news media like to cover up all things which may make Muslims look bad, they never mentioned that the Israelis were mutilated beyond belief. In the Digital Journal news, it was also reported that the victims of the terrorist attacks had been tortured. In the words of one doctor, "It was shocking and disturbing." A doctor who conducted the post-mortems on the victims added: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again."

When someone is "killed" they may have been hit by a car, drowned at sea or struck by lightning. In contrast, when someone is "murdered," this speaks of a victim who was targeted with premeditated malice. It is someone who inhumanly had their life taken from them, it is someone who was a victim of severe mutilation, targeted brutality, a person who had their life taken by another person who sought them dead. This begs the question, why did the media avoid using the word "murdered" ?

The Wall Street Journal reported: "The dead also included a young New York rabbi and his wife..."
The Boston Globe reported: "the New York rabbi and his wife were among the foreigners killed..."
The International Herald Tribune reported: "Two of the victims, a rabbi and his wife..."
The Sun-Sentinel reported: "killed were Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg, 29, and his wife, Rivkah, 28, who died in the attack..."
The Associated Press reported: "The bodies of New York Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg and his wife, Rivkah, were found at the Jewish center..."
National Public Radio reported: "Among the dead are Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka..."
The New York Times reported: "six of the hostages were killed, including the Brooklyn couple who operated the center..."
The Los Angeles Times reported: "the Chabad Lubavitch members who were killed by militants"

The stupidity of the Western media is blatant. What is not being made clear in prominent Western media is that this was a meticulously planned and well-organized attack. What is the motivation of journalists in trying to downplay these heinous atrocities? Do they wish to express some sympathy for these murderers? The mainstream media remains a giant bureaucracy with no feeling, soul, or intelligence. They make it too easy for blatant evil to be excused or explained away.

The Muslim murderers had a well coordinated well thought out plan. They had been in the country for months, obtained jobs in the area, stockpiled food for the siege, and stockpiled ammunition enough to kill thousands. Some of the Muslim murderers had even rented rooms in the Chabad center! They utilized BlackBerry email devices to stay in touch with each other and outsiders, to exchange intelligence information in different locations during the attacks. An Indian Marine commando told the media that it was obvious the terrorists were well trained. The Marine said the attackers were "very determined and remorseless." The Times of India reported that the sole surviving murderer told Indian police that the terrorists were sent with a specific mission of targeting Israelis at Chabad House in order to avenge "atrocities committed against the Palestinians."

The Chabad rabbi and his wife (as well as the other 190+ victims) were not killed, they were murdered, there is a difference, and one that needs to be differentiated at every opportunity.


Lion of Zion said...

these word games are standard in media coverage of terrorism, particularly in refernce to israel

Jack Steiner said...

I agree with you about language. It also bothers me that they refer to the murderers as militants. It is almost suggestive that they had legitimate grievances.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you here. I went over to the Washington Post web site, and did a simple word search on murder.

As far as I can tell, their style is uniform. The word murder is only ever used to describe criminal charges.

So you'll see quotes like "convicted of attempted murder ... in the shooting of a detective", or "A woman accused of fatally shooting an FBI agent who came to her home ... was charged Monday with federal murder and firearms charges."

It seems pretty straightforward, they use murder to describe the crime, and killing or shooting to describe the act.

So, assuming that the Indian government presses criminal charges, I would expect to see things like "charged with murder in the killings of Rabbi...".

As far as the use of "militant", all of the major news sources with the exception of Reuters have been using "gunmen", "militants" and "terrorists" pretty much interchangeably. I think this is largely so that the prose doesn't repeat the same word over and over. Reuters has a stated policy that they do not classify individual acts or individuals as terrorism or terrorists. You may disagree with it, but they apply it to a Baruch Goldstein, Eric Robert Rudolph or Timothy McVeigh the same way they do to a Mohammed Ajmal Amir Iman.

ProfK said...

When readers read what the press has written they are not defining the words used according to a newspaper's style book; they define words according to the meanings in common usage and according to the dictionary.

In common usage and according to the dictionary murder is "to kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously; in law, the killing of another human being under conditions specifically covered in law. In the U.S., special statutory definitions include murder committed with malice aforethought, characterized by deliberation or premeditation or occurring during the commission of another serious crime, as robbery or arson (first-degree murder), to kill by an act constituting murder."

To kill is defined as "to deprive of life in any manner; cause the death of; slay."

By definition what took place in Mumbai was murder--malice aforethought, premeditation, deliberation. The newspapers all reported that the attacks were organized and had clearly been prepared for in advance. There was not one thing accidental or spontaneous about the attacks. The act was the crime.

The press may decide to hide behind their stylebooks but the English language doesn't support their position. What happened in Mumbai was murder, plain and simple.

Anonymous said...

Good posting and I agree. I can't stand it when people say "the incidences of 9/11" as if it was just an incidence.

Anonymous said...

If the press is too chicken to call a spade a spade they could always use the words execute and assassinate instead of murder.

Does the Washington Post hqave some doubt as to who murdered the people in Mumbai or how they were murdered? The events there were not exactly like coming across a body somewhere and having to search for the alleged murderer and build a case against him. An entire world viewed the murders and there is no doubt that a rational person could possibly have as to who the murderers were.

If Mumbai doesn't fit the definition of murder then what possibly could?

Anonymous said...

I'm vaguely remembering that a supreme court justice once said about pornography that "I know it when I see it". I think you could say that about using murder to describe what we all saw happening in Mumbai. So that leaves us two choices about the press. Either they are too stupid to know a murder when they see it or they have a different agenda when they use kill instead of murder. Or maybe both.

Dave said...

Or, alternatively, they are using the same rules they have always used, and you just got around to noticing it.

Contrary to the implications in the quoted article, this is not some nefarious (or simply naive) attempt to dimish the evil in Mumbai.

Let us look at another case. The DC Sniper. Clearly premeditated, clearly murder, and something that had a major American city terrified for weeks. How was it reported? Well, a quick peek at the archives from the New York Times shows us, "But detectives indicated they were treating the single-shot killing as the sniper's eighth in a 10-day spree that shows no signs of stopping."

It seems fairly standard; newspapers always refer to killings or slayings when they talk about the act, and murder when they talk about criminal charges or convictions.

Now, you may disagree with it, but let me ask you a question. Why didn't this bother you for all those years when it wasn't talking about the attack in Mumbai?

ProfK said...

If that question is aimed at me, the answer is I've been bothered for many years by the use of kill for murder. Perhaps you might say it started when I first became aware that the world talked about what happened in the concentration camps of Europe as killing, as if 6 millions Jews were just sort of accidentally killed.

And just maybe I am bothered by the press in particular because words are the tools of their business and they sometimes use them so poorly. Sometimes, as Henry Higgins said, I'd like to sentence them to hard (harder?) labor for "the cold blooded murder of the English tongue."

Dave said...

Fair enough.

It doesn't bother me, since it is accurate (all murders are by definition killings).

Let me propose another problem.

Let us assume we have a brutal, premeditated killing. The evidence is clear from the initial reports, and the newspapers, as you would like, report it as a murder.

Now, after arresting the killer, we discover that the have a significant brain lesion -- injuries to the brain have been found in the past to produce aberrant and psychotic behavior (and I believe in some cases surgical treatment has eliminated the behavior). We have a clear physical cause, and we know that the killer was unable to determine right from wrong -- a requirement under any definition for it to count as murder.

Is this the norm? No. Is it possible? Yes. Is the reporting of the killing as murder wrong in this case? Yes.

I don't know if this is why the journalists have adopted this standard, but I suspect that it at least partially informed that style guide.