Taking 'Cides
Fox News should drop the term "homicide bomber."

OpinionJournal.com, Monday, August 11, 2003

"Thirteen people were killed and nearly 150 wounded after an apparent homicide attack on a Marriott hotel in downtown Jakarta," Fox News Channel's Web site reported on Tuesday. "An apparent homicide attack": a curious locution, that. If 13 people were killed, isn't it self-evident that the bomber committed homicide?

But that's not what Fox means. In the spring of 2002, at the height of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, the network began using the term homicide bombing to refer to what everyone else calls a suicide bombing. In a FoxNews.com column, Reagan defense official and Shakespeare scholar Kenneth Adelman made the case for the new nomenclature: "Someone committing suicide does so alone, without any inkling to harm anyone else. Here, . . . the goal is not to kill oneself but rather to kill others."

It's hard to argue. But while Mr. Adelman is on the right side, homi- is the wrong 'cide. Timothy McVeigh committed 168 homicides, but nobody calls him a "homicide bomber." What sets a "homicide bomber" apart from an ordinary homicidal bomber is that the former takes his own life in the process. In short, a "homicide attack" is one in which the attacker commits suicide.

Aside from this confusion, this use of homicide as a dysphemism for suicide obscures the singular depravity of suicide terrorism. It's not just that terrorism is deadlier when the perpetrators are unconstrained by the imperative of their own survival, though that's certainly part of it: The suicide hijackers who attacked America two years ago killed 500 times as many innocent people as the mere murderers who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993.

Suicide itself has traditionally been viewed as an immoral act, and for good reason. Taking one's own life does in fact harm others. If you killed yourself tomorrow, imagine how it would devastate those who love and depend on you. To be sure, there are situations in which it's noble deliberately to end one's life. The soldier who falls on a grenade, or the security guard who interposes himself between a suicide bomber and a crowd, is sacrificing his life for the greater good.

Islamist suicide terrorism, too, is an act of self-sacrifice, but for the greater evil. It is based on an ideology that not only approves of the murder of innocents--whether out of sheer hatred or as a means toward a political end--but actually regards mass murder as a goal for which it is worth giving up one's own life.

Murdering the innocent is evil enough, but ennobling it by perverting the notion of sacrifice compounds the evil and deforms the soul. In a normal society, the suicide of a child is the worst fate that could befall a parent. Islamism transforms a tragedy into an aspiration. Thus we periodically hear stories of Palestinian Arab parents rejoicing rather than grieving when their own children become "martyrs." The word homicide is wholly inadequate to convey the monstrousness of such a culture.

Many news organizations, supposedly to avoid the appearance of taking sides, have adopted what amounts to a pro-terror editorial line, referring to terrorists by such euphemisms as militant and activist. Fox News means to correct this tendency, but unclear language obscures the truth, no matter in whose interest one employs it. It's time to retire the phrase homicide bomber.

Next article: Left Behind (12/8/03)

Previous article: Politicians Go Online (8/6/03)

Go to main list