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A 'so-called' War on Terror?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 18:11 UK time, Monday, 2 October 2006

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.


  • 1.
  • At 10:34 PM on 02 Oct 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

".....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."

By putting "war on terror" in quotes you certainly are giving the impression that you oppose it. In fact, the tone of much of your output regarding the war on terror is positively derisive.

But that doesn't change the fact that this is indeed a war. And we will never win it if we don't recognise that fact. So do us a favour, BBC: if you can't or wont accept that, at least stop giving hope and comfort to the enemy.

  • 2.
  • At 10:35 PM on 02 Oct 2006,
  • stop promoting Islam please wrote:

This is more anti-US bias from the BBC. If the BBC was so concerned with "qualifying disputed terms", it would be consistent in this approach.

For instance, the BBC has no problem using the term "the Prophet Muhammed" whenever it refers to Islam even though the idea of Muhammed being a prophet is disputed (and indeed, 97% of Britain, the country the BBC is supposed to represent, do not believe in Muhammed as a prophet).

  • 3.
  • At 11:02 PM on 02 Oct 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

Would I be right in thinking that the term is criticised by the left wingers and Muslim countries? Which means that only people in the west who are right of centre call it a “war on Terror”? If this is the case then are you not making a valued judgement in who is right? By calling it the "so called war on terror", you must therefore be taken the side of those who say it isn't.

Therefore I suppose if you actually called it "a War on Terror" you would be taking a judgement that the right of centre people are right - if you see what I mean. So to compromise you take the lefts view.

If it is a war on terror or terrorists do you think this stance actually helps with the defeat of terrorism? If I were the BBC I would call it something else - what about "the "USA governments war on terrorists". Then this way we can see who exactly is trying to fight terrorism and who is appeasing them.

  • 4.
  • At 12:04 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

There is a lot going on that includes the military as well as the police. Action is often not against individual countries. Action is often by individuals rather than by countries. It is on a large scale. It appears to be funded by some civil authorities. There is an intention to produce terror.

It certainly looks like war on terror. I would not attach too much importance to descriptions used by politicians and others for their particular purposes. If you put it in inverted commas you are expressing an opinion.

  • 5.
  • At 12:45 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J.G. wrote:

Strange that the BBC only qualifies those statements that are not in accord with its left-wing political bias. Recently the BBC web site has been referring to the ‘prophet Mohammed ‘. Now the fact that Mohammed was a prophet is disputed by many people of different and no faiths, yet the BBC does not use the phrase ‘so called prophet Mohammed’.

Such double standards are what we have come to expect from the ‘so called’ impartial BBC.

  • 6.
  • At 03:51 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

BBC is fighting a war on the English language and logic. There is no English counterpart to the "Acadamie Francaise" to pass judgement on the validity of newly coined words and phrases. They are adopted merely by common repeated usage by a living language. And BBC's war is a war fought against the Americanization of everything down to the very words and phrases it must use to report the news. Is America in a war on terror? With a large well organized and well financed enemy spread out globally and sworn to destroy the United States, and American troops attacking all manner of military and civilian fortifictions in several countries which might be of use to the enemy, how could it not be called a war? Is it being fought against terror? All one had to do was to be in the US on September 11, 2001 to experience the novel and terrifying sense of being under military attack by a foreign force, not knowing by whom, why, to what extent, or how it would end to know what terror is about. And we know it could happen anywhere in our nation again at any time without warning. That's also terrifying. So it truely is a war on terror and on those who perpetrate it, the terrorists.

BBC's obsession with American civilization as expressed in the tone and substance of its reports, its absurd commentaries such as its anti American series "America Age of Empire" which purported to explain American power and influence in the modern world but missed the mark miserably, reveals its status as an interested participant if not as an active combatent in the war.

It is not by chance that BBC interviewed the well know extreme left wing anti-American American linguist Noam Chomsky. He is in the champion class when it comes to co-opting the meaning of words and redefining them pejoratively to suit his own political ends, ends which coincide with BBC's own views. By his definition, America is a "rogue nation" which we learn from him much later in the interview means it acts according to its own self interests... which makes every other nation in the world a rogue nation as well, something both Chomsky and BBC conveniently neglected to mention.

Whether BBC is aware of it or not, most Americans familiar with BBC's views and reports regard them as antagonisitic to American interests and therefore BBC as at least mildly anti American as well. It is clearly a foreign presence in the American media when seen on PBS or heard on NPR reflecting a typically continental European socialist view of the world, a view now increasingly resented by many American citizens with good reason. If and when American democracy actually falls as a casualty of the war on terror, BBC will likely find itself an enemy alien presence unwelcome here. It wouldn't be the first time the redcoats were "sent a runnin'."

  • 7.
  • At 04:29 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • ironabecket wrote:

All media was happy to use the two words (terriost/terroism )in N.Ireland.
But when it was taken off the island of Ireland,the ,media,called it,a "TERRIOST THREAT TO THE "MAINLAND".
Now it is a political expediancey for capitolising one's own home grown truth?with profits?.

  • 8.
  • At 05:18 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • James wrote:

Why worry about such a crazy right wing blog - are they real?

The comments...

"How much longer can it be before the BBC begins to openly cheer bombings, beheadings, and other "successes" of the Islamic facists?"

To which the author replies

"Warner Todd Huston Says:
September 30, 2006 - 23:08

You think they don't already?


  • 9.
  • At 06:05 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • James McCann wrote:

Ah, well. Well, well, well, If ever more proof were needed that individuals do indeed change history, the story of that phrase, "War on Terror" has got to be it. (President Bush's dropping the word "crusade" into a speech is another example, but for another time).

The more sinister or Orwellian implications of many of the Bush Administration's sayings and doings are frequently lost on those making them: Bush and many of his fellows are not well-educated; some of them are not especially intelligent. George Bush has a second-rate mind and a poor education, and people consistently misjudge him, his words, and his deeds, by assuming that he is quick, intelligent and well-informed. You might expect the President of the United States to be educated and intelligent, but those are unfortunately not among the legal requirements for the office. He has grown up, as this sort of rich kid, in a culture that already has had a "War on Poverty" and a "War on Drugs," (metaphorical usages quite within the understanding of the American public), so that declaring a war on "Terror" does not for him involve any intellectual niceties: he knows what he means; everyone else seem to know what he means; at least they think they know what he means; what's the problem? Life goes on, and America rapidly devolves into a cartoonish parody of itself. Oh, ye Heads of state, diplomats, rulers, and lord high mucky-mucks all over the world! take sharp notice of this: though George Bush, something of a nitwit and a bonehead, is now our President, you ought clearly and carefully to differentiate Bush's policies and his country's interests. Bush is not America. Bush (God willing) will step down at the end of his term. The American people will correct the problem in Washington.

Our experiment in governance --- "of the people, by the people, for the people" isn't over yet. Not quite.

  • 10.
  • At 09:58 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Chung Yung wrote:

What rubbish the BBC is politically biased in everything it says and does.

Al Queda prior to 9/11 declared war on the US. So the US declares war in return - it is a war.

If the US decides that as part of the War they are going to invade Iraq then that invasion becomes part of the War rightly or wrongly.

The so called British Broadcasting Corporation. You have nothing to do with my Britain stop taking taxes off us and go out into the real world and get proper jobs you losers.


  • 11.
  • At 10:01 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Graham wrote:

Come on folks, you feel the need to defend yourself against a blog site where one blogger thinks we're all commies because Britain happens to be the burial site of Karl Marx?

I read that site and just felt embarrassed for them.

Trouble is with all these (liberal and conservative) blog sites is that they're basically the size of your average debate down the pub, but given extra significance by some simply because they can be read anywhere in the world.

  • 12.
  • At 10:05 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ben Goudie wrote:

Personally I prefer to describe it as 'The War of Terror', since that sums it up rather more accurately on all sides, whomever the war is upon.

J. McCann says Bush is not well educated, had a poor education and is not intelligent.

Let's see, Bush graduated from both Harvard and Yale, was a fighter pilot, served as govenor of Texas, elected President of the United States and re-elected President of the United States.

Based on that, It's a pretty safe bet McCann doesn't have a clue what he's talking about, so you can ignore the rest of his rant.

As for how biased the BBC really is, read this:

Can I suggest in order to avoid the controversy you call it "Bush's Imperialist Crusade" instead?

  • 15.
  • At 10:19 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Rod MacLean wrote:

"War against terror" Bush is having a laff! It started off as revenge against Osama Bin Laden and has rapidly escalated into Dubya calling for everyone who disagrees with him to get a sound kicking from the US military.

Even if he got his way and got to crush N Korea, Iran and anyone else who didn't send him a Christmas card then it would make little difference - his daddys friends in the CIA are probably training another batch of terrorists in some other third world country.

"War on terror"? Ha, who is kidding who, 'cos Bush isn't kidding me!

  • 16.
  • At 10:26 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

The BBC is missing the point slightly. The problem with "so-called" is that it is widely understood as pejorative, not neutral.

Muslims would be offended by the expression "so-called Prophet Mohammed" because it is loaded with attitude, coming across as not only sceptical but scathing about Mohammed's credentials as Prophet.

The neutral expression the BBC are after would be more like "what Bush refers to as the War on Terror".

  • 17.
  • At 10:35 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • fmk wrote:

wrt the term of war on terror. qualifying it as bush's war on terror is important. the war on terror was actually declared by ronald reagan, and continued under bill clinton's reign.

  • 18.
  • At 10:38 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Brian Gooch wrote:

All those people who are commenting that by qualifying the expression the BBC are opposing it are missing the point.

To not qualify it would certainly imply that the BBC condoned it, but the converse is not necessarily true.

The distinction is between not positively agreeing with something and actively disagreeing with it.

What the BBC are doing is simply acknowledging that the "war on terror" is not universally recognised as such in the west, let alone the whole world, and the issues are far more complicated than the general media portrays. History can take a wider view on this "war", looking at the actions of both sides, since no party is blameless; the US and their allies are breaching the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1949 Geneva Conventions, the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. And I've not even mentioned motives and oil.

The BBC is much better at taking an impartial stance than most of the UK, and indeed world, media, and long may it continue.

I can't remember the BBC saying such things as "the so called War on Want". I can't remember them disputing the concept of Lyndon B Johnson's "War on Poverty", either.

Neither of these were wars in the traditional sense either, but the BBC had no problem with the idea of wars on a concept back then.

Indeed, as late as 2004 the BBC were happy to refer to the war on poverty without quotes or qualification in this report ..

"China's rulers are well aware of the potential for social unrest. They have pledged to narrow the wealth gap and have declared war on poverty."

Wars on concepts are considered fine as long as they are considered concepts worthy of war against them. The question is - why would anyone have a problem with the idea of a war on the concept of terror?

  • 20.
  • At 11:03 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

The BBC is absolutely right to use captions when using the term 'war on terror' simply because as stated it is a debatable term.

I see a lot of comments from Americans here complaining but i guess just becuase Tony Blair is Bushes lapdog they hate it when the BBC refuses to be also.

If the 'war on terror' was a generaly agreed term then it would be fine but it isn't end of story.

In my view the expression 'war on terror' is actually a direct contradiction in terms. Simply because by definition a terrorist does not represent an army of a country and so without an apposing army to fight it is impossible to have a war.

In fact i would go as far as saying that most Americans (especially the Bush administration) have very little understanding of what terrorism is, possibly because they have never experienced it.

Generally speaking terrorists are people within a country that cannot get in to government and make themselves heard becuase they are unpopular with the electorate. And so in order to get there way they 'terrorise' the electorate and government in to doing what they want. ie: the IRA. Or animal rights activisits who attack people who work in labs that test on animals etc or ETA in spain.

Hamas for instance are wrongly branded terrorists, they are a democratic goverment who got in to power becuase they represent the majority view of not recognising Israel, this of course gets up the nose of the U.S and certain E.U countries and they are wrongly branded terrorists.

The point is a 'terrorist' is a terrorist because of who they are not what they do. Otherwise what would stop me describing the U.S.A as a terrorist state? It has killed considerably more innocent people than Al Qaeda afterall. But it isn't because its a democratic government.

In the end fighting Al Qaeda can be done best by being seen to be fair and just and not hypercitical. IE: a immediate recognision of Hamas and a return of E.U aid to Palestine along with an acknowledgement of the Palestinian peoples right to vote for who they like as they did without the threat of collective punishment for practising the very same 'democracy' and 'freedom' that America constantly goes on about.

  • 21.
  • At 11:14 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Des Currie wrote:

The "War on Terror", so called by the USA's Bush administration...
This could remove any stigma being attached and place cause for the folly where it belongs.
Des Currie

  • 22.
  • At 11:19 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mike wrote:

I find the idea that Bush's actions are a "War on Terror" laughable.

But then it's equally clear that using a highly pejorative term like "so-called" is heavily biased against those poor misguided souls who don't agree with me.

'The Bush Administration's War on Terror' is much better.

  • 23.
  • At 11:22 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

Of course the BBC is right to call it a 'so-called' war for exactly the reasons given - there is no consensus on whether it is a war or not, or indeed whether one can wage war on a concept like terrorism.

I'm somewhat in agreement that it is inconsistent not to similarly qualify 'the Prophet Mohammed' (and other such contested claims), but the suggestion that this justifies not qualifying 'war on terror' is to argue that two wrongs make a right.

The fact is that people have always tried to push their beliefs in by the back door by using loaded phrases. Very often this works - the phrase enters common usage and people accept it without any critical analysis. The BBC should be applauded in whatever it does to make people think a bit more.

  • 24.
  • At 11:22 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J Marshall wrote:

When discussing the BBC I always think first of the following saying - "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference...". Then I give thanks that I can accept the BBC will *never* change , that I had the courage to stop funding this state monstrosity years ago, and through the internet and blogging I had the wisdom to finally see how socially corrosive the BBC really is.

  • 25.
  • At 11:36 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • MIKE KNOTH wrote:

would not combat areas of terrorism be a better way of not pandering to bush/blair bias
it would move away from the uk/us view of circumstances to often glamourised phrase war on terror which does little but martyr and ligitimise those seeking to influence by violence rather than the ballot box
terroists from whatever background

  • 26.
  • At 11:38 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Steve E wrote:

I look forward to the day when the BBC refer to home-grown Jihadi suicide-murderers as ‘so-called British citizens’.

  • 27.
  • At 11:45 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Duncan Hothersall wrote:

I want to add my support too to the BBC's approach. It is right to recognise the potential propaganda nature of the phrase "War on Terror". Overall the Beeb is good at differentiating such things, and I appreciate it.

I too would prefer to see the irrational assertions of religionists similarly qualified, but as Ian (#23) said, two wrongs don't make a right.

  • 28.
  • At 11:51 AM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • expat wrote:

By qualifying that phrase, the only the BBC is doing is refusing to perpetuate the propaganda created by the Bush Administration. That is an administration of catch-phrases made easily digestible for the press (like "stay the course" and "cut and run"), and i think it's great that the BBC is refusing to let the White House do the agenda-setting and define the language surrouding this conflict.

I don't think you should downplay linguistic objections to the phrase "War on Terror". Again, you can't really have a war on "terror". That's a feeling. But of course, we mean "terrorism". But then you're trying to "declare war on" [literally: take action against] a technique being used against you in "asymmetrical warfare". Using war. And it doesn't really make sense to describe what you're going to be doing as using war to try to eliminate the use of a form of warfare.

That having been said, I'd agree that "so-called" doesn't really cut it. It's more a schoolyard taunt than it is a judicious way of handling this politically charged phrase.

  • 30.
  • At 12:00 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Alex Tingle wrote:

My goodness the wingnuts are out in force today.

The phrase "War on Terror" is a marketing slogan designed to favourably frame the policies of the Bush administration. If the BBC were to use it without qualification, then they would rightly be accused of allowing a charged political slogan into their reporting. On the other hand, the phrase is widely used by those who agree with Bush's policies, so it would be just as biased to avoid it entirely.

The BBC's formula is an obvious attempt to steer a path between those extremes. Only the dim witted or those with an agenda of their own would interpret it as bias.

  • 31.
  • At 12:07 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Alessandro wrote:

From a purely liguistic point of view, there is no need for the BBC to qualify Prophet Muhammad with a phrase indicating that it is a contested point,
the English dictionaries, both the Oxford and the American Heritage dictionary, define the word Prophet with a capital P as a reference to Muhammad.

Can we not go back to calling it "The War Against Terrorism"? Or at least use the acronym when displaying a picture of George W Bush?

In my opinion, which, face it, is as valuable as any other of the blinkered opinions on here, the BBC *should* be making a political stand.

If both the right and left wing are attacking you, then you can't be accused of bias.

  • 33.
  • At 12:15 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Saidhbhin wrote:

I commend the levelheaded reply, and hope that the BBC continue to use this phrase cautiously. It is possible to call this violence a war or an invasion, an attack, a crusade; many things. I believe "so-called" war on terror is a fair enough evaluation, and clear in its impartiality if nothing else.

Any excuse for the BBC to throw some thinly vailed digs at the US, strange how they keep quiet over the rights of the people abused by the terrorists in Palestine and the like.

Over to the BBC for more leftie bias.

  • 35.
  • At 12:30 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

Sam wrote:

"In the end fighting Al Qaeda can be done best by being seen to be fair and just and not hypercitical. IE: a immediate recognision of Hamas and a return of E.U aid to Palestine along with an acknowledgement of the Palestinian peoples right to vote for who they like as they did without the threat of collective punishment for practising the very same 'democracy' and 'freedom' that America constantly goes on about.

You seem to misunderstand the concept of "aid". The thing about aid is that it does not HAVE to be given and the parties that are giving the aid have the right to remove their aid at any time.

The Palestinian people have decided to vote for a government which has spoken out against the west (including the EU and the US). The Palestinian people have made their choice and the people of the EU and the US have to respect that - however they don't have to PAY for it.

This is NOT collective punishment against the Palestinian people, this is the EU and the US refusing to donate money to a group who opposes us.

If we were to elect a government in the UK who supported withdrawing from the EU, would we still expect to have the same relationship with the EU after our withdraw? Of course not.

This is simply that the western states are reacting differently to a change of government to one that is very much anti-west and anti-Israel.

  • 36.
  • At 12:32 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Chris Reed wrote:

The BBC are of course quite right to use the term "War on Terror" in the manner that they do.

And for the initial rash of objectors: Just because someone doesn't agree with you, does not make them left wing. I remain an intelligent and educated person with a free mind, such vacuous insults do not change that.

For what it's worth my politics are free-market, small government oriented (I'm actually in accord with a number of Neo-Con theorists). But I have to agree with all of the assesments that have concluded that the Iraq fiasco has exacerbated the threat of Islamic Terrorism.

  • 37.
  • At 12:44 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

"23. At 11:22 AM on 03 Oct 2006, Ian wrote:
Of course the BBC is right to call it a 'so-called' war for exactly the reasons given - there is no consensus on whether it is a war or not, or indeed whether one can wage war on a concept like terrorism.

I'm somewhat in agreement that it is inconsistent not to similarly qualify 'the Prophet Mohammed' (and other such contested claims), but the suggestion that this justifies not qualifying 'war on terror' is to argue that two wrongs make a right.

Very well said Ian. I feel the BBC is right to not blindly refer to the actions as the "War on Terror" as to do so would imply that they agree with the actions.

However, I do feel that using the term "so-called" is perhaps going a bit too far the other way, perhaps the BBC should be looking for more of a neutral comment.

I do agree with the past comments about the "so-called Prophet" Mohammed, in the Christian religion Mohammed isn't a prophet and has no relevance, so a more correct term from a Christian point of view would be "False Prophet" Mohammed or "Blasphemer".

  • 38.
  • At 12:46 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Colin wrote:

I think the first "B" in BBC stands for British, paid for by the British public and for the British Public. It's not there to pander to, or represent American views, I think the USA has it's own TV stations to do that.
If we have to call to the Falklands War a "conflict" than what's the problem with to refering to a bunch of misdirected politically motivated military strikes as a "So called War" It was just a media friendly buzz word that politicians made up to whip up support.
History is normally written by the victors, let's wait and see what they call it!

  • 39.
  • At 12:52 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Justin Reeve wrote:

When the news can talk about a "war on hunger" or a "war on poverty", why not a "war on terror"? People are being killed in an on-going conflict between two opposing factions. Surely that counts as a war?

  • 40.
  • At 12:54 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

When German V1s and V2s were exploding all over London, was that the "so called Battle of Britain?" When military exchanges between the Allies and Axis were occurring all over Asia, Africa, Europe, the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and where North America and Austrilia were deeply involved, was that a so called "World War II?" When the US and USSR were poised with 50,000 nuclear weapons targeted at each other ready to be launched on a moment's notice, was that a so called "cold war?" If Al Qaeda bombed Bush House, would BBC still call it a "so called war on terror?" It is telling that as a news organization, BBC has deteriorated so badly that it doesn't even recognize war anymore when it sees it.

  • 41.
  • At 12:59 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mosle wrote:

The "War on Terror" is a clever form of political thought-speak created by the Bush administration to endorse their activities against particular groups around the world. It amazes me how a concept so ridiculous has been taken up by the media and other countries, and propagated so that it has become common parlance. I think that the media should unbrand it and call it for what it is "Battle for Oil"; "Fight against Taleban"; "Hunt for Bin Laden"; etc.

  • 42.
  • At 01:09 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Jarrad wrote:

The BBC are correct to put the "War on Terror" in quotes. I am not a leftist Commie who cheers beheadings, burns flags and sends aid parcels to terrorist training camps. I am, however, wary of any phrase that has an amorphous, ill-defined meaning and is bandied about by politicians to justify a constantly-shifting agenda. As other commentators have noted, "war" has a specific and precise definition and is governed by numerous international covenants as to how it should be prosecuted. By internationally-agreed definitions of what constitutes a war, this doesn't seem to be one.

Some of the comparisons that have been made are unfair. To say that the Chinese "have declared war on poverty" is not the same as saying that the Chinese have declared *a* "War on Poverty". The first phrase is a common idiomatic usage of the word "war" and isn't politically charged. The second usage indicates a) that they're referring to what amounts to a composite proper noun - hence the capitalisation - and b) that the phrase is referring to a metaphorical context. The "War on Terror" should be distinguished in this way; it's a catch-all phrase for a huge raft of measures taken by the US and other governments - some good, some not-so-good - that don't amount to a "war" in any classical sense. In that regard, it is entirely appropriate to refer to it as a "so-called War on Terror" to distinguish it from an actual war, i.e. a conflict between two sovereign nations.

For me, the BBC's judgement in this case is a linguistic rather than a political one, and they appear to be opposing the suborning of language to inappropriate ends rather than contributing to it, for which I salute them.

It is impossible, when reporting on such a highly-polarised issue such as this, to avoid at least some phraseology that seems to indicate a bias to those who are looking for one. For those who are wholly in agreement with the measures and actions that together constitute the so-called "War on Terror", the very act of questioning in itself demonstrates a bias because it admits the possibility of a valid opposing viewpoint.

The instant dismissal we see nowadays of any viewpoint that doesn't seem to gel with one's own political orientation is very dangerous indeed. When a phrase is co-opted by either Left or Right and used as a banner, those at the same end of the political spectrum will immediately attack anyone who questions the validity of the phrase as being an attack on their political ideology. This allows politicians to do things under that banner that maybe wouldn't otherwise have been supported even by their own party.

This extreme polarisation of views seems to be causing many of the otherwise intelligent men and women who read and post to this site to lose their objectivity. Many are letting their feelings and opinions about the Bush administration, US foreign policy, "leftist hand-wringing" or "right-wing jingoism", the coalition actions in Iraq and who knows what else to obscure the actual question here. We're discussing whether or not the BBC's usage is unbiased and reasonable: for the reasons stated previously, I think it is.

For myself, I won't be happy with the phrase "War on Terror" until the politicians in the US, the UK and elsewhere who are using it actually sit down and properly define it, rather than using it to justify a raft of tenuously-connected policies.

In the meantime, both the Right (convinced that it's biased because of a preconceived belief that the BBC is a Lefty mouthpiece) and the Left (arguing that it isn't biased because it isn't questioning their own beliefs and because it's annoying the Right) are both ironically falling into exactly the same trap of failing to consider the question on its merits.

Take a deep breath and repeat after me: "A little objectivity goes a long way". Just because someone disagrees with you on a point like this it doesn't make them a right-wing neocolonial neoconservative imperialist nutjob, nor a lefty hand-wringing US-hating apologist for terrorism.

I await the inevitable beating from both sides for being a wishy-washy fence-sitting Centrist loser with no real conviction!

  • 43.
  • At 01:11 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J Jackson wrote:

It is obvious from some of the – presumably – American posters that they feel aggrieved that the BBC is not fully towing the administration line on ‘The War on Terror’ but you must remember that the administration you have voted in is at the extreme right wing end of the political spectrum, from a global perspective. I can not think of another country, at least not one you would be happy being lumped in with, that would give more that a hand full of votes to any party that advocated the republican platform. As to the war on terror, if you take the view that terrorism is an action or policy that generates extreme fear in those it is aimed at then much of the world views the US in these terms. US foreign policy has for decades adopted an ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ attitude which has lead to the aiding, abetting and arming of some extremely dubious groups which - once they have achieved power - have predictably bitten the hand that fed them. This policy has also lead to some glaring double standards – Saudi Arabia good, Iran bad, Iraq good (when fighting Iran) then bad etc. In the nuclear arena Israel and India ignore the non proliferation treaty and develop bombs (good, or at least just a “I would rather you hand done that but it will not sour our relationship”), Iran build enrichment plants which they claim (believe them or not you can not prove they are not peaceful until they enrich beyond a certain percentage) are for energy production and they are threatened, India are offered nuclear deals. One set of rules for friends of American and a different set for the rest of the world are never going to lead to stability or respect for the rule of law (if international law and norms are seen as at the whim of US policy makers). This situation and injustices like Gitmo, extraordinary rendition, inhuman treatment of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan (even if they are the exception rather than the rule), Israel’s destruction of southern Lebanon etc. are powerful recruiters for the organisations we then have to fight in the war on terror. I am British and had the Nazis won WW2 and I grown up in an occupied UK would I be a terrorist? I don’t know, were the French resistance justified, the Americans fighting for independence, the Palestines in Gaza? Grey lines not black & white, remove the divisive foreign policy so less of the world feels threatened and the war on terror will be far easier to win and as an added bonus states like Iran & North Korea will not feel the nuclear option is the only way to ensure they do not suffer the fate of Iraq or Afganistan.

  • 44.
  • At 01:12 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Steve Malpas wrote:

If the BBC was being rightwing, it would call it "the war on terror".

If the BBC was being leftwing, it would call it "the campaign for US global hegemony".

The sensible compromise seems to be what the BBC is currently doing in referring to the phrase, but adding "so-called" to highlight its contention.

The validity of the phrase "war on terror" is considerably more politically sensitive and openly disputed than the validity of the phrase "Prophet Muhammed", so it's churlish to compare the two.

There is no single term that would absolve the BBC of bias in everyone's eyes. And I appreciate that it's a tricky one to get right, far more tricky than many would like to believe.

In some ways it reflects the dilemma of whether neutrality means the BBC taking the official line if the official line is itself biased.

  • 45.
  • At 01:14 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ritter wrote:

I agree with the previous poster who commented that it is the phrase "so called" that is the problem. One dictionary website states that the phrase "so called" is an:

"All purpose adjective to convey contempt, derision, or inferiority."

To avoid bias, the BBC should simply state who (or what entity) has used a term or phrase for their own purposes ie " what President Bush refers to as America's war on terror" or "...who many Muslims refer to as the Prophet Mohammed".

"so-called" is a poor choice overall.

Here's another site that exposes the BBC's bias - daily.

  • 47.
  • At 01:31 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • D Taylor wrote:

I assume from the editor's comments that he wouldn't therefore have any problem with other media outlets referring to the 'so called independent BBC'.

The BBC 'attitude'is leading to the organisation losing its respect in the world community and becoming little more than a joke. The totally inconsistent use of quotation marks and loaded phrases such as 'so called' merely provides support to those who see bias everywhere. I assume from the article above that unless I now see qualification by words or quotes that the BBC IS providing endorsement.

Treatment of the founder of Islam is a classic example. When did the BBC last refer to 'Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' or even 'His Holiness the Pope'. The absence of quotations marks, or the qualification 'so called' before the word 'prophet' clearly must mean, as Alistair Burnett states above so eloquently, that the BBC endorses this view of the individual, but clearly doesn't endorse the equally valid view of the founder of Christianity.

So now we all know where we stand, thank you Mr Burnett for the clarification

  • 48.
  • At 01:34 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Dan Andersson wrote:

Terror is an abstract noun.
You can not fight a war on an abstract noun.
And regardless, 'terror' will never disappear, it will always be there in one form or the other, and hence the phrase 'war on terror' is misleading.

'War on Al-queda', 'War on Iraq', some would say 'War on Islam', all these are more accurate phrases for what the Bush administration is doing.

Besides, there are very mixed opinions on who generates more terror in this world, and by simply using the US terminology you would be endorsing their view.

Seems not everyone at the BBC got the memo.

Peter Barron, editor of BBC "Newsnight", recently had this to say:

"But it's also the case that at present there is no greater public interest issue than the highly controversial prosecution of what's known as the war on terror."

"What's known at the war on terror". No "so called" there. Peter admits it's known as "the war on terror".

  • 50.
  • At 01:44 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

The expression is not "hotly" contested. It's just contested, and only by a few people who happen to espouse certain ideologies.

It's the same with the word "terrorist" which the otherwise excellent BBC refuses to use. Yes, a handful of people dispute the use of the word "terrorist", thus inducing you to employ the politically correct "militant". Yet, it's a distorsion of reality to say that the term is "hotly" contested or debated.

It's not. The BBC should not employ scare quotes around "war on terror" or "war on terrorism" or "war on radical Islam".

  • 51.
  • At 01:46 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Kye wrote:

There seems to be two arguments here, the BBC's use of English revealing a political slant and the dispute as to whether it's a war at all.

On the first point, the term 'so-called' itself could be interpreted differently. It is an adjective term that could either refer to something that is popularly known as (eg the so-called information superhighway)or to something that is incorrect or alleged (eg these so-called experts are no help). Interestingly, both interpretations counter the BBC's argument. If you side with the first interpretation then you are admitting that the 'War on Terror' is a generally accepted term for the counter-terrorism activities being undertaken worldwide thus there is no need to qualify it. If you side with the second interpretation then you are admitting that you are portraying the qualification (the war on terror) as incorrect and thus stating your opinion and portraying a bias.

On the second point, there are so many definitions and uses of the word 'war' it seems a little futile to suggest that we aren't engaged in one although the problem we face is the ignorance of the fact. Just because this is not a conventional war with both sides having defined terroritories and identifiable uniforms doesn't mean we are not fighting a war of a different kind, an ideological one without borders or easily identifiable enemy. Osama Bin Laden declared war against the US, their interests abroad, and anyone supporting them in 1996 (although his involvement in terrorist attacks against the US and their interests pre-dates the declaration) and was very specific about how the war should be fought "..The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it". To name but a few actions of war since then by Al Qaeda - US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, bombing of USS Cole, 9/11, London bombings on 7/7 (re-attempted 2 weeks later), bombings in Madrid.

These are undeniable facts free from any kind of slant whatsoever so if you still think we aren't at war then I dread to think what needs to happen before you do admit it.

The big problem we face is that the media (that includes, if not lead by, the BBC) portrays the US, Israel, and even Britain as bullies of the world and acts as constant apologists to the socialist left and minority groups and is effectively doing Al-Qaeda's propaganda for them. The reason why so many people are turning to blogs is that it's the only place you can get the other side of the story. Not once have I seen a good news story about what we're doing in Iraq and there are plenty. 60% of the population of Iraq voted in the last democratic election at great personal risk - this wouldn't happen if they didn't want democracy. Construction in Iraq is happening at an unprecedented scale and Iraqi's are prospering because of it. The tribal leaders in Iraq are working with the coalition to root out Al Qaeda (this week they've killed four senior members). These are just the tip of the iceberg and there's no reason why an impartial, unbiassed media would not report on them therefore it's a safe assumption that any organisation that is supposedly impartial but only portarys one side of a story is biassed and in the case of the BBC is either pompously aware of it because it fit's their agenda or they are ignorant to the point of stupidity.

  • 52.
  • At 01:55 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Michael Shaw wrote:

The BBC is right to not be absolute as the interpretation of the phrase is a cultural one. Americans (and many British too) understand the cultural references to the war on drugs, the war on cancer and other grand ambitions that the americans made a lot of publicity about.

My view is that the American 'wars on...' have a track record of failing to achieve their aim - and this one is also following that pattern too.

If you talk to someone from a country that has been to war recently, America's war on terror sounds very hollow. America is not really commited to doing what ever it takes to defeat terror - only just enough to keep its enemies at bay.

  • 53.
  • At 02:07 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Ed wrote:

I agree with qualifying "War on Terror". I can see how it can annoy people, and/or suggest that the BBC actively disagrees with it, but I can't really see any alternative. Perhaps just using quotes is enough to suggest a disassociation with the term.

Keep up the good work - you're never going to satisfy everyone, especially bloggers who set out to bring you down.

  • 54.
  • At 02:16 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • syndrom wrote:

Because the BBC in its usual biased way has still not come to terms that what has been happening around the world IS terrorism.

From my experience, once you experience it you change your mind. Don't forget the Americans were as care-less and so-called politically correct before 9/11.

  • 55.
  • At 02:38 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • wagner wrote:

BBC's philosophy regarding the "so-called" War-On-Terror coverage is mindful of Simon Waldman's recent BBC article "Pandering to the Audience." Instead of Mr Waldman's light example of cavorting Panda bears, the BBC might show video footage of humans gracefully jumping off top of the burning WTC on 9/11 morning. Mr Waldman can imagine Osama saying, "Oi! come and 'ave a look at this." The BBC must acknowledge that these images are highly pleasing to much of their "audience." The BBC can say it is "Fair and Balanced." Such a showing will offer proof to this "audience" that the BBC neither endorses nor opposes the "so-called war on terror."

  • 56.
  • At 02:43 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • jonathan wrote:

Some people in 2003 told me that the biggest mistake at all was to call it a "war" in the first place.

How can you have a "war against fear" let alone have the remotest chance of winning it.

The same observer also suggested that if the USA had done absolutely nothing at all then perhaps the problem would have just gone away.

Isn't that after all the best way to react against fear? If you react to it you are just encouraging it or even taking it on board yourself.

Isn't that exactly what the USA and others have now done much to our and their detriment?

  • 57.
  • At 02:57 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Of course the BBC should qualify the phrase, as you do. I'm very glad, after I raised the issue in a comment on this blog last week, you have now explained your colleagues' own reasons.

  • 58.
  • At 03:01 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Zane Dennis wrote:

Great explanation, now we just need someone to explain your explanation. By giving a thoughtful well constructed explanation you are simply disguising the fact that your editorial policy is to take an opposing view with the war on terror. This is everyone's right as an individual, but shouldn't be the practice of any news organization, let along a public organization like the BBC.

  • 59.
  • At 03:07 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

What a surprise to see the right-wing brigade crawl out of the woodwork on this thread and use their usual illogical, ill founded thinking to try and support a purposely pre-packaged word to spin a gross lie.

If you fight a 'war on terror' then you fight a war on terrorists. Logically the war cannot be won until all the terrorists are dead, but as the CIA and UK intelligence reports have already shown, the "war on terror" is simply making more terrorists, not less.

So presumably this war go on ad finitum until every last terrorist is dead? When US troops find the last one and shoot him dead will Mr Bush appear with another "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him? Or as suspected is this a pharse to hide behind whilst the US conducts its global re-organisation of the Middle-East to suit its own geo-political interests?

Many people who support this "war on terror" consistently point to 9/11 as the start of events, but this only serves to show their ignorance and lack of understanding regaridn world issues. This is a Pol Pot style attempt to mark 9/11 as 'The Year Zero', ignoring or pretending that US foreign policy that came before it contributed nothing to what happened on that fateful day.

I'm sure George Orwell would raise a wry smile at the use of this word and its connatations in popular usage.
It appears the Ministry of Truth is alive and well in 2006.

  • 60.
  • At 03:11 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Jim wrote:

Alistair Burnett, you say the phrase 'World War II' is not disputed yet 1.5 billion people call it something else!?!? I bet less than 1.5 billion people call the 'war on terror' something else. If it's the name 'War on Terror' that you think is a 'disputed concept' then put War on Terror in quotes. The fact that you and the BBC prefix it with 'so called' does indeed mean you're trying to make a political point. The MAJORITY of the people in this country who pay the bbc TAX agree with the War on Terror and would acknowledge that it exists and that it exists for the correct reasons, to wipe out terrorists(i.e. declare war on terrorists -> 'War on Terror')

  • 61.
  • At 03:16 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Dan Sanders wrote:

I allegedly make my own supposed judgements about what I apparently read so I’d purportedly prefer if the so called BBC stopped qualifying every ‘phrase’ and took some journalistic responsibility for what they publish.

  • 62.
  • At 03:23 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Chris Godfrey wrote:

I agree with the BBC entirely on this line of thinking.

How can you fight a war against an abstract concept? How can you drop bombs on an ideology?

Wake up, you fools.

  • 63.
  • At 03:45 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Clive Jenkins wrote:

I agree with this blogger, and I agree with the BBC's approach. It's certainly not a question of left vs right or bias for or against the Bush administration. If the Clinton administration had declared it the BBC approach would be the same. It boils down to the problematic concept of a war 'on terror'. Since it is not a war against a recognised enemy, not even a war against terrorists, but a war against an abstract idea, it doesn't fall into the category of what we understand to be a 'war'.

  • 64.
  • At 03:54 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • LM wrote:

The wing-nuts like to claim that anything anti-the current administration is anti-American. However, I posit to you that it's the other way around-- anything anti- the current administration is inherently pro-America. The current administration have done more to INCREASE the terrorist threat than any other adminstration of this or any other country.

The current adminstration's policies-- both domestic and forign-- seem determined to destroy the United States and everything it stands for. One of their primary tools is the over-the-top use of Orwellian language-- kudos to the BBC for not propagating the propaganda. Just because a vocal and radical minority of the US population buy the Bush adminstration's lies hook, line, and sinker doesn't make them cease to be lies.

Some people call it the "War on Terror". Others contest this term as being pure propaganda aimed at generating a viseral reation (and it seems to have succeded). The BBC has declined to make a judgement one way or the other.

Barry Goldwater's opinions later in life would be considederd lunitic-left radicalism by the current batch of Neo-"Conservative" true beleivers, who think that everyone to the left of Marie Antoinette is a rabidly radical liberal. I don't understand the term neo-con, since these individuals are highly, highly radical-- not "conservative" in the least.

Just because the wing-nuts are the ones that have time to troll the blogs and post comments in-masse (they apparently have nothing constructive to do with the time) does not mean they speak, in any way shape or form, for the majority of U.S. citizins ("Look over there! Someone wants to teach science in science class!"-- there. That will give them something else to vent their spleens on.)

  • 65.
  • At 04:10 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Andy Miles wrote:

I suspect that the several thousands of Britsh Service people on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan would find this debate absurd.
Are we asking them to face up to 'so-called bullets' or 'so-called suicide bombers? Of course not.

I expect the BBC to offer a degree of impartiality, but the tone of commentary with regard to the sitation in the middle-East is, frankly, snide.
Of course we are at war, whatever the technical or linquistc niceties. For heavens sake, let us as a nation realise this and allow the debate to move on to how best we are to achieve victory over terrorism.

  • 66.
  • At 04:31 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • John R wrote:

When Lyndon Johnson declared a "War on Poverty" it was merely a rhetorical device to describe the high priority his administration would be giving to addressing the issue. Had he been speaking some 30 years later he might well have said he was going to be "tough on poverty and tough on the causes of poverty".

Bush's War on Terror is *not* merely rhetorical usage, and thus the need for the important linguistic distinction; indeed, he has deliberately conflated the metaphorical meaning ("an active struggle between competing entities") and the legal one ("a legal state created by a declaration of war and ended by official declaration during which the international rules of war apply") to allow for individuals to be seized and incarcerated as "enemy combatants" and for pre-emptive attacks to be made in a war that was never officially declared and which is to be fought against an undefined and broadly interpreted enemy.

That there are those who wish to commit atrocities against the US and its allies is not in dispute. But this does not in any way invalidate the point that the US government's use of the term "war" is a deliberate obfuscation to give them carte blanche against any and all opponents, military and political. Inverted commas are the least such dubious phraseology deserves.

  • 67.
  • At 04:36 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mary wrote:

The difference between the "war on poverty" and the "war on terror" is this:

The "war on poverty" is an ideal, whereby ordinary people (not soldiers) made positive efforts to combat poverty. The word "war" is used abstractly.

The "war on terror" does NOT involve positive efforts to combat terror and fear. It is not an abstract ideal. It is a war in the classical sense, with human beings, soldiers and civilians, dying on both sides.

However, if we accep the "war on terror" as an actual real war in the classical sense, we hit another problem - it breaches the Geneva Convention and stomps all over the UN in myriad ways.

  • 68.
  • At 04:53 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J.G. wrote:

How about the BBC using the phrase "so called global warming".

This would be consistent as this too is still disputed in the scientific community, but not at the BBC it seems.

We could also try "so called license fee" because many people would describe it as a poll tax.

and more:
"so called impartial journalists"
"so called quality BBC programmes"

Can anyone think of more?

  • 69.
  • At 05:53 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Perhaps the problem is that the US government has succeded too well in making these times seem like business as usual. A dangerous stealthy enemy has invaded our nation and clandestinely bides its time for years, even decades watching for opportunities to strike where we are most vulnerable and when we least expect it. It has no regard for any lives, no nation or population to protect. Between strikes, many even in government are lulled into a false sense of security making future attacks even more likely and devastating. To make the reality plainer to the nation and the world and to clarify the reality of the threat, we need a declaration of war by Congress and to put the nation on a war footing. This would mean a drastic change in our lifestyles and how we see the world. Questions of national security both domestically and internationally as well as all political gamesmanship would melt away. Then no one would question the government's strategy of taking the fight to the enemy or whether or not we are at war.

The “War on Terror” is a very confusing term as you have rightly suggested. Nelson Mandela used to be called a terrorist and ANC was declared a terrorist organization.

Does anyone has the courage to call Mendala a terrorist anymore?

Americans did not like the rise of China. They took advantage of the September 11 and surrounded China by invading Afghanistan. They also established bases in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Americans are trying to build an alliance against China in Asia with the help of Japan, Australia, and India.

Read More ...

  • 71.
  • At 07:37 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • GB wrote:

I sincerely hope the BBC will not allow itself to be swayed in its editorial judgements by the ignorant and ill-informed opinion of a handful of loud middle-American cretins.

The phrase 'war on terror' is a politically loaded term and of course it should be qualified.

After all, we didn't have a 'war on terror' before a certain group of terrorists turned their attention to the US, did we?

Nope, they funded them!

  • 72.
  • At 07:50 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

If you call it a war on terror someone thinks that a political point is being made: same thing if you call it “a war on terror”.
The scale of operations and the inclusion of the military or quasi military on both sides do indicate that a war is going on, and quite clearly one side is using terror tactics: perhaps both sides.
We do seem to have war on terror – no inverted commas.
The question is whether the war is also to prevent the Middle East getting into the hands of those who would like to be able to put the industries of the West onto a one day week, in the period before alternative power supplies become available; their motive being religious or political. Would that be preventing terrorist action? I think that we should take the benefit of the doubt.

  • 73.
  • At 07:57 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • eddie duggan wrote:

I find it interesting that so many comments on this page suggest that the BBC displays a left-wing bias and is even accused of being "anti-american". I for one (I'm sure there are others) find the BBC's news output predicatably biased towards a centrist point of view and, while the ethos of public service broadcasting calls for independence from government or political influence, I also find it predictably biased toward a representation of the interests of Whitehall, Downing Street and Washington as a norm against which other views are judged.

The people who support the BBC's line on this seem to think that to accept Bush's terms is to accept is argument. That is a non seqitur. To have everything spelt out is entirely unnecessary.

On the other hand, double standards in this treatment: the "war on poverty" vs the "so-called war on terror" create a definite and irrational impression that the former is to be trusted, the latter to be distrusted. It is double standards that are problematic.

Incidentally, just because a "war on poverty" sounds kind of positive doesn't mean it's in any way effective. It just sounds very active. So, it's not just the sarcasm towards Bush's war which is wrong, it's the free pass such slantedness gives to other abstractions which may be just as corrosive in another way.

Basically, since all such nuancing of editorial concerns has a tendancy to multiply and bewilder, they should all be eschewed as much as possible. Bush's "so called war" MUST go. Now.

  • 75.
  • At 09:54 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • John wrote:

The BBC may be correct in qualifying its references to the "War on Terror", but one wonders why it is so selective in its correctness. For example, the BBC reports without qualification that the casualties in Lebanon consist of "mostly civilians". This is repeated over and over again, even though its own backgrounder "crisis facts and figures" lists 1,109 Lebanese deaths, including 28 soldiers and, according to Israeli reports, more than 530 Hezbollah fighters (which would mean mostly non-civilians). Yet the Oct. 1 BBC report on the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon dutifully ends with this statement of uncontested fact:

"More than 1,100 people - mostly civilians - were killed in Lebanon during the war. More than 150 Israelis - mainly soldiers - were killed."

The fact that this appears, mantra-like, in almost every description of casualties, illustrates how the BBC aids and abets a propaganda campaign.

Come off the hypocrisy. You get all in a proper huff about calling something a war, even as you participate in it verbally as active combatants.

  • 76.
  • At 10:37 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • chevalier de st george wrote:

The term World war Two was also a nebulous concept which also did not define who the enemy were. It was not called for political reasons the war against the German alliance or the war against German nazism.
Why do you think that is- for the same reasons that this war is called "the war against terror".

History shows that it is seldom that we actually do not use euphemisms, when describing the other side of a conflict.

  • 77.
  • At 11:28 PM on 03 Oct 2006,
  • Mark Aston wrote:

I can't for the life of me imagine the use of 'so called' being used in conversation without it having negative conotations. This is not impartial, it's stating that you personally do not believe whatever it is 'so called' preceded.

  • 78.
  • At 12:51 AM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Alexander Alt wrote:

I wish I knew what kind of mindset, what kind of mentality at the BBC comes up with a phrase so outrageous as "the so-called war on terror."

Remember, British people - in 1940 and into 1941, the Nazis were blasting you to Kingdome Come, so imagine if the American media called it "the so-called Nazi war on England." You would have had a cow - and justifiably so.

That the BBC comes up with this time and time again is not something in a vacuum. It happens along with their anti-George W. Bush and anti-American slant to all of their stories. It is disgusting, it is offensive, and if they truly wish to continue to coddle those who murdered 3,000 people (including many Britons) on 9/11, can you keep it to yourself? Because you are really pissing off a majority of Americans who call themselves friends of England.

  • 79.
  • At 06:46 AM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Jon Hoyle wrote:

Everyone read Mike's point #22 again.

It is spot on.

"The Bush Administration's War on Terror" enables the BBC to remain neutral and avoids the pejorative "so-called".

Please change.

  • 80.
  • At 11:44 AM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • max wrote:

I've never seen the BBC use the phrase "so-called climate change". It's more of an abstract concept than the war on terror.

  • 81.
  • At 01:54 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Andy wrote:

I think many of these people that are complaining about BBC bias have been watching too much Faux News and are starting to beleive the "Fair and Balanced" garbage that is shoved down their throats at each commercial break.

Journalism is dead in America - your news is like a bag of chaff hung around your necks every evening to keep you supporting Bush, Israel and everything that is unjust in the world today.

  • 82.
  • At 02:24 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Max wrote:

Absolutely agree with the use of 'so-called War on Terror' as opposed to re-iterating political propoganda terms, however this would not have become an issue if the BBC had consistently used it for the past 5 years instead of introducing it recently with the change in direction of the wind.

  • 83.
  • At 02:27 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Annya_X wrote:

Stan asks why there was no opposition to the "War on Poverty". The difference is simple - "war" in that case was used metaphorically, nobody was dying as a result of the "war" (maybe as a result of the poverty, but that's obviously not the same thing).

The problem with the "War on Terror" is that rather being a metaphorical war waged on a concept we have a literal interpretation of the word. We have a physical and literal war being waged on an abstract concept. In this case the concept isn't even defined - does "Terror" mean terrorism, fear, the ideology behind terrorism, the people who propogate the ideology? We just don't know.

That's why the metaphorical, and almost purely linguistic "War on Poverty" didn't raise quite so many questions and objections as the literal war, in which people die, on an undefinable concept. It's nothing to do with which societal ill is more worthy of resistance.

  • 84.
  • At 02:52 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

The so called "journalists" at BBC, the so called "news organization" is the best thing to happen to pro socialist anti American propagandists since the demise of Radio Moscow. In fact, in some ways, BBC is far more effective knowing much more subtle and insidious ways to sell its political dogma by skewing reporting of the news and commentary and telling outright lies very convincingly. Congratulations BBC, you are as I see it, the most powerful mouthpiece in the media for Eurosocialism in the English speaking world today.

No, Jon, it is not "The Bush Administration's War on Terror". It is the US governmennt's War on Terror. And calling it something other than it is will not allow the BBC to "remain neutral". The BBC is not neutral. It never has been. Right now, it is famously anti-American but this is a very unwise policy. When blogs did not exist, it was possible for the BBC to get away with a lot, but now its every broadcast can be checked for bias. At some point, exposure of BBC bias will become too much for the corporation to support and it will change its posture. That's the power of the new media, for you.

World War II? I certainly hope and expect that such a hideous Americanism doesn't appear anywhere in the BBC style guide - if it does then standards really are slipping. For the record, this country fought in the second world war, not a Hollywood sequel. As for the war on terror, it's a slogan, not a fact. They aren't fighting 'terror' because it isn't something that can be fought. They are fighting people they don't like, but that doesn't sound quite so snappy, does it?

  • 87.
  • At 03:51 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Peter wrote:

Several people have tried to untangle the qualification of the phrase "war on terror" with the justification for actions under that banner. I'd also like to try to separate the issue from whether or not the actions are effective.

There certainly does seem to be a war, in the same sense as there were wars in Korea or Vietnam, whether or not there were "legal justifications" or UN approval. And there also seems to be a great number of immoral actions being taken by the US in this war. And the term may be used to disguise these actions, or the failure of these policies. But it's still a war in the popularly understood sense.

The objections raised to the term are pedantic and prescriptivist (can't wage war on a concept, etc.) - the meaning of the term is clear enough, and it does synch with most people's understanding of what a war is. Just because the war is ineffective, unjustified, incompetently run, etc., doesn't make it not a war.

I would suggest that part of the BBC's justification for qualification is to avoid the even greater criticism they'd likely endure if they dropped the qualification, and still disagreed with certain actions taken by the US/UK side. Nobody wants to oppose the government during a real war, but it's probably ok to do so during a "so-called" war.

However, you can see the BBC's in for criticism in any event. Drop the qualifier, and continue to report on the problems in the conduct of the war (on every side). It's clear enough what the problems are in the conceptulaization and prosecution of the war without linguistic nitpicking.

  • 88.
  • At 04:33 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • to #76 wrote:

I dont think it is wise to trust quotes about the casualtes on other side, especially when they are comming from agressor (Izraeli this time)

I am sure Hitler could give us some funny quotes about casualties of WWII and holocaust too, if he was alive

  • 89.
  • At 08:32 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • anon wrote:

Why is name calling directed at right wingers allowed but constructive criticism of Islam/Muslims isn't?

  • 90.
  • At 08:41 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Anna-Mary Hold wrote:

For the American posters who are comparing the BBC's coverage to that in the USA: I have found that news reports in the US are right-of-centre, which may explain why the BBC seems to be slightly left. In my opinion, the BBC is as neutral as it is possible to be. Without being too critical, it does seem that the US media reports from a super-patriotic, 'God bless America' angle, while the BBC is a lot more objective. And, as stated in some of the above posts, the BBC is a British organisation and just because it doesn't come out in flag-waving approval of everything America does, that doesn't make it biased.

The majority of people in the UK and America understand the meaning of the phrase "The War on Terror". To me the phrase allows the sense that there are actions against all forms of terror, for example, actions against yobs and other life-spoilers in our community. The word "War" gives a stronger sense of anger than the word "Actions". We tend to know the difference between the two words.

How many people would know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

  • 92.
  • At 11:35 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Janice wrote:

I think it's very wise to qualify it in this way. Historically, a war has a beginning and an end, and definable opposing "sides". What we're actually seeing here is the rise of terrorism as a means of protest and resistance. It's a trend in methodology... albeit a hideous one. This is why it is immoral... and a non-sense... for the US (or anyone else) to detain people on suspician of links to terrorism, and deprive them of all rights until a theoretical end of hostilities... It could be 50 years from now... or never! If terrorism is becoming a way of the world, innocent people could be detained indefinitely. Also, if the US states that so called "enemy combattants" are NOT soldiers and have NO rights under the Geneva Convention governing wartime, then there IS NO WAR. If we're "combatting a concept", let's say so, or if we ARE actually at war with someone, let's clearly define who. But let's not mix messages, manpiulate minds and sew the seeds of cognitive disonnance by talking in terms of "war". No wonder responsible organizations use "quotes".

  • 93.
  • At 03:15 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

I find it irritating to hear the Americans constantly go on about how 'bias' and 'anti american' the BBC is.

You go anywhere in the world where people have there media controlled by the government or are in a war situation and need to get the news. Where do they go? The BBC every time.

This slander from right wing yanks is really getting up my nose the BBC is, by far, the most independant impartial and fair news organisation in the world, and the vast majority of people in the world share this view including the British public who pay for the BBC in the first place.

So in short if your a right wing American who has got his balls in a knot about the BBC maybe its time to ask yourself weather maybe just maybe the BBC isn't being anti American maybe its just that you Americans keep doing lots of bad things that get reported accurately.

And if you can't handle that? Then don't watch/listen/logon to the BBC becuase you don't pay for it anyway and should consider yourselves fortunate to have free access to accurate news that isn't subsidised by corperations that have a politcial agenda like cnn and the like.

  • 94.
  • At 04:26 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Chad Henshaw wrote:

1984 was famous for several of its lines, my favorite of which is "Oceania is at war with Eurasia, Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia" (or East-Asia, depending on how far you've read).

The Brilliance of "the war on Terror" is, you dont need to rewite the article when you change targes from "Eurasia" to "East-asia", you simply declare the enemy "The Terrorist" and thats it... Winston Smith and the rest of MiniTrue are out of work.

I agree that using "So Called" has the perception throwing bias into the line, but "President Bush's war on terror" doesnt, just like "King Richard's Crusade" as opposed to "The Crusade" doesnt change the amount of bias in the statement, or throwing the name of the celebraty host into a TV show doesnt change the content of the show, just highlights the host.

Other than that, I've found that the BBC has mostly kept to the facts in "President Bush's war on Terror", providing equal condemnation for both sides.

When you're looking to the right, the middle of the road appears to be on your left.

  • 95.
  • At 06:11 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

The BBC has an impossible task in trying to please everyone; especially in view of its massive and diverse audience.
The BBC image suffers very badly if a journalists expresses a personal opinion instead of keeping to the facts: this does not happen very often but it has a disproportionate effect.

  • 96.
  • At 10:07 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Jon wrote:

Peter said " .. and still disagreed with actions from the US/UK" and Chad Henshaw "...providing equal condemnation for both sides" But surely it is not for the BBC to agree or disagree with anyone. The BBC is supposed to bring us the news nothing less and nothing more. It is elected governments that must agree or disagree not a media organisation funded by the public.

  • 97.
  • At 10:27 AM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

With regard to comments criticising the BBC’s alleged anti-American left-wing bias, I think the issue is not the BBC’s reporting, but the generally very poor standard of American TV news. The American TV news services (ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News) provide viewers with a superficial and narrow domestic agenda which is presented with a truly staggering sense of self-importance. Many Americans who watch BBC News do not regard it as an alien presence, but actively seek out BBC News on PBS and the increasingly successful BBC America because they regard it to be superior to American TV News. Many Americans on the thread about the shootings in Pennsylvania have praised the BBC for its measured and sensitive approach to covering this story.

Furthermore, you do not need to look at the BBC to see the difference between American TV news and international news services. Witness the ever-increasing gulf between the style and content of CNN’s domestic service in America and CNN International.

  • 98.
  • At 10:58 AM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Ian wrote:

I'm posting somewhat after the event because I've changed my mind on something I wrote earlier.

I wrote

I'm somewhat in agreement that it is inconsistent not to similarly qualify 'the Prophet Mohammed'".

Perhaps I should say that I'm sympathetic to the view, but I now think that (as others have already said) that this is unnecessary, because the word Prophet is being used as a title here, not as a description.

To argue that one should write 'so-called Prophet Muhammed', one would also have to write 'Jesus, the so-called Christ'. But again, here the word Christ is being used as a title so we know which Jesus we are discussing. Very few people would be led uncritically into believing that Jesus is the saviour of the world simply by the use of the word Christ associated with his name.

This fundamentally is why the case is not comparable to 'war on terror'. The latter is a manipulation of language in an attempt to lead people into believing uncritically that the Whitehouse's campaign is indeed a war and that terror is something against which someone can wage war.

There must be a word for this kind of manipulation of language. It is very common but sadly we let it past all too often.

  • 99.
  • At 02:49 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Raavi wrote:

What amazes me is that if the US Government called this campaign they are waging a 'War' then they would have to abide by the rules governing the treatment of prisoners, as established by the Geneva Convention - something that Guantanamo Bay prison definitely does not do.

Likewise the systematic torture/humiliation (call it what you will) of prisoners in Iraq.

Not to mention Rendition flights.

So, I'm guessing that the US Government is probably happy that it is being referred to as a 'so called' war on terror.

  • 100.
  • At 04:37 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Mark E wrote:

In response to Ian, this is a essentially a Christian country, and a key part of the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus is "the Christ".

In the Christian holy text Mohammed is not even mentioned let alone considered a Prophet.

To the Christian faith the teachings of Mohammed are blasphemy (the Muslim faith teachs that Jesus is not the son of god).

I very much doubt that you will hear Jesus called "the Christ" in a Muslim country, so why should Mohammed be considered a Prophet in a Christian country?

I feel that if the BBC is going to refer to the "so-called War on Terror" on the basis that the "concept in itself is disputed" then by the same logic they should reply to the "so-called Prophet" Mohammed.

After all I think you would find many people in this country would dispute that Mohammed is a Prophet.

  • 101.
  • At 06:15 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • paul wrote:

The problem with "The War on Terror" is that it is by definition a euphemistic concept, not a description. This is why the BBC and everyone else seems to have problems with it. Stripping the euphemism to its real meaning would give something along the lines of:
"The global conflict between the Western liberal democracy and radical Islam."

George Bush (as a politican) couldn't really say this directly and the liberal western media (ie the BBC) have great difficulty with the concept of the American right fighting to protect liberal freedoms. Thus we get "the so called war on terror" as a double euphemism, meaning something along the lines of:
"The global conflict between Western liberal deocracy and radical Islam, that we don't really support because it is being done for the right reasons by the wrong people".

  • 102.
  • At 06:29 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Tom wrote:

As an American I would first like to apologize for the moronic trolls and, most of all, for allowing the head moron to be occupying the White House.

The poster above who defended Bush as a highly educated and accomplished person is all wet. He was actually rejected by the University of Texas, not exactly the paragon of educational excellence. The reason he got into Yale and Harvard is because of his daddy. Those colleges reserve a certain number of slots for people just like George, who come from monied families but are intellectual lightweights. He was a C student at best, and anyone not drinking the neocon Koolaid can see at a glance that he's a peabrain. Just watch him speak! My god, it's embarrassing.

H.L. Mencken was an astute and caustic journalist in the Twenties, who was prescient enough to recognize just what's happened with the USA today:

"As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron." ---July 26, 1920, H.L. Mencken in The Evening Sun.

A last word about the BBC: Millions of people around the world look to the BBC for accurate reporting. Those who complain about its bias remind me of Stephen Colbert's comment that "Reality has a liberal bias." With the media controlled in the USA by a few rightwing corporations, many of us take solace in the fact that at least once a day we can tune into the BBC for some decent news. Many thanks! Please do your best to disregard the wingnuts who castigate you for being sane.

  • 103.
  • At 11:15 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Rainer Schmid wrote:

In light of the Senate report on the linkage of Weapons of Mass Destruction ( or lack thereof), and the lack of involvement of Al-Queda with Iraq..I find it stunning that a recent poll still finds that 40+% of Americans still think Hussein was involved with 9/11.
The ignorance of Americans seems to be boundless, and the rest of us ( I'm Canadian)had best always keep this in mind whenever our governments have the urge to follow their lead. ( Such as our man Harper)

  • 104.
  • At 04:49 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • Chris Godfrey wrote:

I'm close to printing out post 102 and hanging it on my wall. Best post ever.

Well done.

  • 105.
  • At 09:16 PM on 25 Jan 2007,
  • mario lopez wrote:

"War on terror", well for most of us, outside of the US, is a slogan that justifies aboiding International Law.
It is just about why the US can invade, treath and murder people just because they can. It is also a way to sell to the american people why transfer terrorism to any other country but the US. All these is fine for the USA people, what I do not understand is why other first world coutries follow these nonsense, particularly britain?

The Beeb gets a lot of its news material aired over here by PBS and NPR (the closest parallels to the Beeb the American public has). There are many, many Americans and Canadians who turn to it, as has been mentioned previously, for a saner reflection of reality than the corporate terrestrial or cable networks provide.

But, even without its presence (the PBS/NPR audience is far smaller than the commercial stations combined) Americans themselves are increasingly dubious about the "war on terror". Even previously loyal Republican senators and representatives are ditching Bush's "war" in view of standing any remote chance of re-election next year.

It has, fortunately, gone the way of the "War on Drugs", no-one believes in it, no one knows how to go about conducting it effectively and no-one can be heard trumpetting its victories.

Because there haven't been any.

  • 107.
  • At 01:16 AM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • pippop wrote:

Islam is having tremendous problems about coming into the 21st century or rather leaving the 8thC behind.

This was an internal struggle which was too painful to resolve and for decades now the Islamic fundamentalists have diverted attention from their possible reformation to vilify the West. And why the West in particular? Well, it's not exactly free from criticism but for the Islamic fundamentalists it is particularly dangerous and threatening, far more so than Christianity or Judaism.

The West and its democratic secularity threatens the gender based power of the Mullahs and imams and this is for them terrifying, so they have retaliated in kind, by using terror.

Who didn't find it terrifying when they saw the Twin Towers blown up, the Bali Club, the Spanish railway, the London Tubes and Bus, etc.? Who thinks we are all scary cats for being scared about those things? You must be very big boys with very big trousers not to be scared by these things and the degree of 'out-of-controlness' of the perpetrators. But then you are boys, as a woman I've been aware of the sexual terror these Islamic societies perpetrate on their females young and old, but you don't bother yourselves about that because if these Islamists get a grip on our culture you'll be Ok. I wont. So yes, I hope there is a conceptual war on terror that makes it quite clear that I as a woman do not intend to be pushed back into the 8th century. Been there, done that, got the etching and didn't much care for it, not going back, never, OK! Got the message.

  • 108.
  • At 10:24 PM on 26 Jan 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

No such thing as "War on Terror

Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald on the "war on terror":

"London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, 'soldiers'. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a 'war on terror', just as there can be no such thing as a 'war on drugs'."

  • 109.
  • At 03:11 PM on 26 Mar 2007,
  • chris wrote:

linguistic nonesense pesonnified

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