Monday, October 06, 2014

The strange case of Obama's problem with words
 
What is it with President Obama's problem with language? I remember the greatly missed Norm Geras puzzling over this issue as well. As in here, for example:

"I wouldn't want you to get the idea that I'm obsessive or anything - not that you possibly could get such an idea - but here is another FKATWOT update. If the three reports I'll be linking to in this post are to be believed, serious thought is being given by President Obama's national security team to the question of how to rename the war on terror (please forgive the crudity). In case you might be hoping to find out from them why it needs to be renamed, don't. It's the same bunch of irrelevancies as before. Like:

After all, "terror" or terrorism is a tactic, not a country or some other identifiable foe to be targeted, confronted or defeated.

And:

Critics have long decried the use of the phrase "war on terror" on the grounds that terrorism is a tactic, not an identifiable enemy.

I have news for these guys: perceptive as they are in this matter, crime, drugs and poverty are also not countries or identifiable foes or enemies in the sense they intend, and yet metaphorical wars have been fought against all three. The president himself seems at a loss for a good reason for ditching the phrase. He is quoted as saying:

I think it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations... But that those organizations aren't representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community.

So for him it is a battle or a war, and against identifiable enemies at that, the 'interpreters' who preceded him here notwithstanding. But the terrorist organizations against whom this battle or war is being fought aren't to be thought of as representative of all Arabs or all Muslims. Indeed not. 'War on terror', however, doesn't say anything to the contrary, since what it says is, not 'Arabs', not 'Muslims', but 'terror'. I think I'll contact Obama's security team to suggest 'the struggle formerly known as "the war on terror"'. Meanwhile, in these words just quoted from the president we have the wherewithal for FKATWOT 9."

 These days we see another linguistic oddity from the change&hope President: his refusal to name, to provide a proper title, to the campaign against ISIS. This lacunae has some pundits (Not Peter Beinart, though) scratching their heads in befuddled mystification. What can it mean? Why the reluctance to define a project by a short and to-the-point name?

Obama, who seduced the entire world by the magic of his words when he ran a campaign to be elected or re-elected, is at a loss for words? There are not two or three words he can put in the proper sequence to provide clarity of purpose and action for an American military operation at one of the world's most combustible regions?

Is Obama engaged in a war on language? Refusing to name the obvious?

Albert Camus is reputed to have warned that: "Mal nommer les choses, c'est ajouter au malheur du monde." 

But Obama's eccentric refusal to use language to communicate clarity of meaning goes beyond "malnommer". He refuses to use language at all, as if the very absence of a name or a title will impact a course of the rapidly developing events to the better. As if, to channel Camus again, he is de-facto saying "There are no rats in Oran". Remember Oran, Camus' doomed seaside town whose houses were built to face away from the sea?

Once there was an Iranian blogger, Selma, who wrote on a blog she named "With love from Tehran". She was a poet and a translator and she went silent when she applied for a teaching job at the university. Before she made the momentous decision to erase her words from the Internet, she wrote:

poor poor, poor words
butchered so bad
lucky, lucky, lucky words
pampered so well

What shall we name Obama's fear of words?

A phobia is a name for a mental condition that is associated with irrational, paralyzing fear. These   fears  have acquired names, like agoraphobia., In some cases, the naming of phobias has become a joking game, as in  a 1998 humorous article published by BBC News.

Can we name Obama's phobia Logosphobia or Nominophobia?

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