When the media call a terrorist a 'militant'

I'd like to know your editorial policy vis-à-vis the use of the word "terrorist."

In one article ("How 'November 17' was foiled," July 22), the author refers to that violent, leftist Greek group as terrorist.

Yet an Aug. 5 story ("Arms trump words in mideast") refers to the bombing at the University in Jerusalem, in which five innocent, noncombatant Americans were killed, as being "... in retaliation for Israel's assassination of a Palestinian militant in Gaza on July 22. The militant, Salah Shehadeh, was a leading member of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Members of the organization, known as Hamas, immediately made it clear that retaliation would follow...."

Why is the "November 17" group "terrorist" yet Hamas "militant"? Both groups have killed innocent Americans. Yet Hamas, an organization that's dedicated to the genocide of an entire country, that hates America, and is on the State Department's terrorist list, is referred to as "militant."

Here's how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the words:

• terrorist: [an advocate or practitioner of] "the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion"

• militant: "engaged in warfare or combat"

These two word are mutually exclusive. A "militant" attacks military targets and a "terrorist" attacks civilian targets. The description of Hamas obviously falls under the latter. Rather than use Orwellian wordplay, the media must a have clear moral focus when it comes to murder. The mainstream media's editorial game-playing when it comes to defining terrorism turns into hypocrisy when it comes to Palestinian terrorism.
Chris Morgan III
New York

Editor's reply: We try to use terms like "terrorist" sparingly and following only the most widely accepted definitions. Generally, we think thorough reporting tells readers what they most need to know and we use labels for efficiency, not to set moral markers. Even so, we have in fact applied the term "terrorism" to the acts of Hamas. In the article in question, we quoted President Bush using that term and had no need to repeat it.

Also, we do not view "terrorist" and "militant" as mutually exclusive categories. All terrorists are militants, though not all militants are terrorists. For a discussion of the political uses of the term "terrorist," see the article "In Mideast, one weapon of choice is a loaded word" by Cameron Barr in the Monitor dated July 31, 2001 (www.csmonitor.com/loadedword).

Russian designs on Belarus?

"Russia faces EU's new frontier" (July 23) cites Kaliningrad governor Mikhail Tsikel as saying a "transit corridor" through Lithuania would "allow all Russian people, goods, and services to move freely between parts of Russia." However, a closer look at the map shows that such a corridor would need to be extended through Latvia or Belarus in order to join Kaliningrad to Russia.

Is this a mistake in geography on the part of this official, or something more serious, since the Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov made a similar statement in an interview published in Izvestia earlier this month? The 10 million inhabitants of Belarus Republic are in danger of being swallowed up by Russia through the formation of a definitely unequal union with it. Do the statements regarding "corridors" by high Russian officials indicate that they consider the annexation of Belarus a nearly accomplished fact, and the Russian border already moved westward?
Walter Stankievich,
Monmouth Beach, N.J.
Former Director of RFE/RL Belarus Broadcast Service

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