The UK’s Militarism and Deceptive Language


Liam Muir

On the 25th of June this year, 120 MPs wrote to the BBC urging them to recognise the detrimental effect that referring to the terrorist organisation as ‘ISIS,ISIL or Islamic State’ is having;

‘The Use of the titles gives legitimacy to a terrorist organisation that is not Islamic nor has it been recognised as a state and which a vast majority of Muslims around the world finds despicable and insulting to their peaceful religion.’

The term ‘Daesh’ is what those behind the letter suggest, a more appropriate name – an Arabic acronym for their name meaning ‘One who sows discord.’ The idea behind the use of ‘Daesh’ is to acknowledge what they are, and what they are not. Continual use of the phrase ‘Islamic State’ makes it much more difficult within society to suitably differentiate and draw a clear line between Muslims and Islamist extremists. A successful combat against an enemy has to begin with a sound grasp and understanding of them. Not just militarily but culturally. ‘Counter terrorism’ must involve a battle of ideas, ethics and morals.

When 38 people (30 Brits) were shot dead in Tunisia in late June this year, there was a potential solution discussed on BBC’s Sunday politics. The debate was if airstrikes against Daesh over Iraq which had been voted for 524 to 43 in the Commons in September 2014 should be extended to Syria. The defence secretary Michael Fallon said he was in favour but there would have to be a commons vote on the matter before any extension was initiated. It wasn’t much later, however, before it transpired David cameron had knowledge of UK troops being involved in Syrian airstrikes since September 2014. This was of course without the permission of the Commons who had explicitly opposed Syrian military intervention in 2013. This may have had something to do with the fact that the number one cause of death in Syria is warfare.

In a true democracy, you would think this would be enough to bring down a Government. However, in our cosmopolitan, contemporary and vibrant society that according to the state media’s narrative is the envy of the world, we remain totally aloof to the machinery operating our highly developed armed forces. This is why such a significant line can be crossed regardless of how directly or indirectly UK troops were involved, or on whose behalf they were striking. The Government the UK people elected, voting against British involvement, was not enough to stop it.

The UK’s chauvinistic militarism is so deeply entrenched in our foreign policy, it is generally accepted as completely necessary amongst our ruling classes. It didn’t matter, for example, that 15 million people came out on to the streets of over 600 cities across the planet on February 15th 2003 to oppose the invasion of Iraq. We all know how little influence that had. How those at the helm use their troops is out of our hands no matter where the ‘X’ goes on our ballot paper.

Regardless of how much tax raising responsibilities or whatever form of ‘Near-Federalism’, ‘Home Rule’, ‘Devo-Max or even ‘Devo Super-Max’ Scotland was supposed to be getting if they voted No. There was never any talk of control over foreign policy or armed forces from Westminster. Control over their armed forces? Scotland? That wasn’t even up for negotiation.

Why would it be? Especially considering the UK government has issued export licenses for Israel for a value of over £7 billion. Tens of millions of pounds worth of weaponry is being bought from the UK by Israel under the licenses provided by the UK government department for business. This isn’t exactly in keeping with Scottish (or English) public opinion. Any control Holyrood had, would likely cause disruption to this activity.

Political historian Tariq Ali describes David Cameron, in his book The Extreme Centre as;

‘..a PR confection, haughty towards the bulk of his own people while repulsively servile to Washington.’

But it would be wrong to attribute the UK’s allegiance to the US to Cameron. Ali has said the UK’s foreign policy is now ‘in tandem’ with that of the US. In 1956, the UK was told by Washington to withdraw from Egypt which it had invaded with France and Israel. While this may not mark the absolute beginning of the UK’s subordinate status to the US, it was seen as a clear distinction. It is largely agreed our invasion of the Falklands was enabled by US support also and more recently the UK stood side by side with the US when invading Iraq in 2003.

Writer Will Self talks about the jargon used to cloak the true meaning and realities of warfare in his piece ‘War, the arms trade and the abuse of language’. Words like ‘surges’ and ‘operations’ sound more like

‘..the life saving activities of Doctors, rather than the life discarding ones of warriors.’

Here, Self hits the nail on the head when observing the true extent of the evasive and often deceptive terminology we as a society have become so accustomed to when he points out the UK’s ‘War Office’ was renamed ‘The Ministry of Defence’ in 1964.

This is how the truths are avoided. We have seen this in the way these turns of phrase are used to fit an agenda whether it is dehumanising refugees by calling them migrants or generalising an entire culture with the name of a terrorist organisation.

So often, the feats of Daesh are themselves reduced to use as political weapons in the petty squabbles we endure on a weekly basis from the suits we never elect. Once you understand how much profit is made from warfare, it becomes an all too easy trait to spot.
The trigger happy ideology of the UK Government is nothing new. According to recently published research from historian Stuart Laycock, there are only 22 countries Britain have not had military presence in. We are currently 5th in the Global Firepower rankings for a reason after all.

Once a prevailing force, the sun never set on the British Empire. Nowadays, we are left clinging to our romanticised history, as former Labour MP and Deputy Leader of the SNP Jim Sillars put it,

‘The British Empire is now in its final stages of imperial decline.’

Attaching ourselves to a super power has meant and continues to mean the UK is one of the most aggressive armies in the world. In an image conscious 21st century Britain, war is part of life. Not our lives though, the lives of people on our TV screens or of our troops looking to build a life for themselves. Using the term ‘Daesh’ instead of ‘ISIS’ may seem trivial on the surface, but the language we use is how the arguments are won. After all, one person’s soldier is another person’s terrorist.


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