Alistair Burnett

A 'so-called' War on Terror?

Is the BBC trying to make a political point when it uses the expression 'so-called War on Terror' or 'The Bush Administration's War on Terror' or 'the American-led War on Terror'?

Some bloggers certainly think so, but is it true? Well you wouldn't expect me to say it is, so I won't, because it isn't.

The BBC usually qualifies or attributes the expression 'war on terror' for several reasons. The main reason is that the concept in itself is disputed. It is not like 'World War Two' - a description which is widely accepted in the English-speaking world (the Russians and Chinese among others have different names for it).

It is not a neutral phrase because there is no consensus among politicians, commentators or even the general public - including those who blog - over:

• whether it is really 'a war' in the traditional sense - the Americans declared it in the wake of the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington, but the definition of who the Bush Administration see as the enemy has evolved and critics say it is too broad and amorphous to usefully convey a clear meaning

• whether the Bush Administration is justified in using the expression to describe - as they do - what their forces are doing in Iraq as opposed to their counter-terrorism operations against groups like al-Qaeda

• whether it is possible to have a war 'on terror' as opposed to 'terrorists' - though this is more one for the linguistic purists.

We believe we need to use the expression because it has become such a familiar part of the political and dilplomatic debate which we report on regularly, however, because the expression in itself is so hotly contested, we believe it is better to qualify it, so as not to give the impression to our global audience that we are endorsing it or opposing it.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight



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