Turn of phrase: questioning the words of war

The April 1 article "Euphemisms on the Euphrates: the war of words" adds strong analysis to that of other journalists observing the use of words in the current war in Iraq. In all the articles I have read, however, the writers avoid taking on the fundamental buzzword since Sept. 11: terrorism.

The consensus is that the attacks on the World Trade Center meet the criteria of terrorism, but the incineration of Hamburg and Dresden - of no military value during the Second World War - do not. Most media outlets seem to say that violence against Israeli troops in Gaza or the West Bank constitutes terrorism, while many Palestinians view that violence as a drive to get troops out of the Occupied Territories. When I heard one of our generals say that attacks on US military supply lines by fedayeen are terrorist attacks, I knew the word had become so distorted it may have lost its meaning. How did the Russians fight the Nazis? How did the French Resistance fight the German occupation? Shouldn't we expect that there will be patriotic Iraqis - loyal to Saddam Hussein or not - who will use such tactics against whomever they see as an invader?

If we define terrorism as attacking or threatening to attack civilians in order to achieve political goals, then we should be evenhanded when applying it. Or, we should abandon the term altogether.
Tom Baumgartel
Albuquerque, N.M.

In your April 2 editorial "Iraqis' muted welcome," you use a phrase that is in vogue but has been troubling me. Saddam Hussein has killed thousands of "his own people." Likely he would say that among the dead the Kurds in the north were not his people, nor were the Shiites in the south, but that is not my primary problem with the phrase. By continuing to emphasize the criminality of killing one's "own people," there is an implication that it is not so bad to kill other peoples. The American people have long been defensive of any injury to Americans, but in this new millennium it is time to look beyond tribal distinctions. All human life is sacred. Americans of all backgrounds, Afghans, Iraqis - they are all "our own people."
Amrita Burdick
Kansas City, Mo.

The freedom admired by Egyptian youth

I am an Egyptian youth and have some comments on your March 28 article "In Egypt, anti-US ire doesn't mean giving up your Nikes." Who said that most of the middle- and upper-class people in Egypt like the American lifestyle? I think you misunderstand our way of thinking. My friends and ordinary Egyptian youth in contact with Western people (I work with Americans and Europeans) do not admire their style of life. We admire the true meaning of certain values, like freedom. We may need many things, but not in the American way. If I had a chance to choose between American or European values, I would choose European history and civilization.
Mohamed Maher

In Chechnya, conflict not over religion

Regarding the March 31 article "Tatarstan, a Muslin oasis of calm in Russia": I reject Alexander Umnov's notion that "Middle East-style Islam" dominates the Caucasus. While some Muslims in the region have embraced radical ideologies, Russian academics and officials frequently overstate the threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Nowhere is that more true than in Chechnya, where Russian forces and the Chechen resistance are locked in a military stalemate. Ethnographer Johanna Nichols notes that the vast majority of Chechens practice a moderate form of Sufi mysticism closely tied to indigenous pre-Islamic traditions.
Christopher Swift
American Committee for Peace in Chechnya

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