Strategic Terms for Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter ProtestMany people have pointed out how the label “terrorist” becomes a useful tool for some to demonize an opposing group, so it should not be a surprise that a few have tried to label the Black Lives Matter movement as terrorist. While the label “terrorist” carries significant emotive weight in contemporary society, other terms and labels that may be less obvious also can be strategic tools for authorizing and deauthorizing groups. We need to be equally alert to those less obvious authorizing and deauthorizing moves, even when individuals and groups with whom we sympathize employ them.

This issue came to my mind when reading a commentary (“Civil Rights Activists, Not Terrorists”) that describes an encounter with a police officer who initially dismissed a complaint about a stolen Black Lives Matter banner with the suggestion that the movement had been labeled terrorist. While the frustration at such a use of the label is significant (notably, the officer backtracked when he could not demonstrate that it is actually on any list of terrorist organizations, making me wonder if someone is suggesting this equation to police officers), the commentary from the minister of the church whose banner was stolen engaged in mounds of authorizing labels. Continue reading “Strategic Terms for Black Lives Matter”

Speaking Strategically About Religion

A large chess set outdoorsOver the last week, many have written about the labeling of ISIS as religious or not, as Islamic or not, both in response to last week’s summit on violent extremism and the recent Atlantic article on ISIS. Defending his administration’s refusal to label ISIS/ISIL as Islamic radicalism or extremism or a religious terrorist group, Obama asserted that he wanted to avoid connecting Islam with groups such as ISIS for strategic reasons, because he does not want to reinforce their self-descriptions that frame the conflict as religious and their ideology as true Islam. Rather than rehashing arguments about ISIS, the question that interests me is the role of strategic notions embedded in all discussions employing labels (really any words) to describe oneself or some other. In many respects, any description reflects particular moves in the chess game that is human society. Continue reading “Speaking Strategically About Religion”

The Contexts of Classification Matter

Margaret ThatcherUS President Ronald Reagan’s administration put Nelson Mandela (who died at 95 earlier this week) and the African National Congress (ANC) on a U.S.’s “terror watch list” in the 1980s.

President George W. Bush repealed the ANC’s terrorist designation — but only in 2008, a decade after Mandela had finished serving as President of South Africa (from 1994-1999) and two decades after the South African government itself had lifted the ban on the ANC.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher described the ANC as a “typical terrorist organization” in the late 1980s. Continue reading “The Contexts of Classification Matter”