On the abuse of language

Tony Judt on linguistic subterfuges practised in Europe and America.

Tony Judt

In America the misuse of language is usually cultural rather than political. People will accuse Obama of being a socialist. Italians would say magari – if only. However, no one takes this very seriously. What we have instead in the US is cultural communities policing what can and can’t be said, and that shapes how we define difference. The idea is that you can’t have an elite, since elitism is undemocratic and unegalitarian. Therefore, you always make the point that people are in some important way the same. If they are badly disabled like me, they are ‘differently abled’, which I find very amusing. It is not a ‘different’ ability: it is no ability. But since it’s politically uncomfortable to distinguish between people who can do things and people who can’t, the latter are described as separate but equal. There are numerous things wrong with this: first, it is lousy language; second, it creates the illusion of sameness or achievement in its absence; third, it conceals the effects of real power and capacity, real wealth and influence. You describe everyone as having the same chances when actually some people have more chances than others. And with this cheating language of equality deep inequality is allowed to happen much more easily.

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The Haitian Revolution

Even if you have been watching Democracy Now’s outstanding coverage of the Haitian tragedy, the despicable neglect with which the United States and other rich countries have treated the disaster-struck nation, you still can’t fathom the depth of outrage the Haitians feel unless you put it into the context of its tortured history. Here is an excellent overview from C. S. Soong’s Against the Grain.

It was a cataclysmic event, the first and only successful slave revolution in the Americas. In 1791 brutally exploited slaves on a small Caribbean island rose up and eventually won emancipation. Their story, a legacy that has inspired and instructed people and nations for centuries, is told in Laurent Dubois’s Avengers of the New World.

France: ‘Defying Rules on Arms Sales to Israel’

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Sarkozy and Olmert

IPS’ David Cronin reports on French arms sales to Israel, which are “in total contradiction” to European Union rules on the defence industry according to a new study.

Between 2003 and 2007 France issued licences worth more than 446 million euros (623 million dollars) for arms exports to Israel. This made France by far the largest supplier of weapons to Israel in the EU.

Patrice Bouveret from the French Centre for Research on Peace and Conflicts (CRDPC) in Lyon says that these sales are at variance with the Union’s decade-old code of conduct on weapons exports. Formally declared legally binding by EU governments last year, the code forbids weapons sales in cases where they may exacerbate regional tensions or where there is a strong likelihood they will be used in violation of human rights.

Speaking at the launch Thursday of his new report on Israel’s involvement in the arms trade, titled ‘Who Arms Israel and Hamas?’, Bouveret dismissed repeated assurances from the French government that the exports in question are generally only components of military goods rather than complete weapons systems. “Even if they are only components, they are used directly by the Israeli army,” he added.

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