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Just say what you mean

The last time I filled this space, I talked a little bit about my professional path —if you can even call it a path —that led me to my gig as a reporter here in Boulder City. Without going back into those weeds, the germane part for this story is that, after spending my entire adult life working in newspapers and magazines there was — starting in 2013 — a too-long detour when I was working for Apple.

While I was there, I had an odd conversation once with one of my managers. I was frustrated that I kept applying for more senior positions and getting to the point where it was between me and one or two other people and the final choice was never me. And in addressing this, she told me that the reason I was not advancing was because of my communication style. Specifically, the issue was that I did not use emoji or exclamation points in emails.


Now, this is not a diss on my manager. She’s a great manager and was trying to help. But she may have well been asking me to start speaking Dutch. Plus, what she was asking me to do was totally contrary to everything I had been taught as a journalist.

Back in the day, we were taught to always use strong language. Accurate and without frills. Avoid jargon and euphemisms. And exclamation points were to be avoided like a cancer (or a bad simile…). In other words, just say what you mean.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that principle for the past week as the world watched the horror of a terrorist attack in Israel that included desecration of dead bodies, the killing of children and the elderly, rape and hostage taking. At least 260 young people gathered for an EDM festival pitched as a celebration of peace and love were mowed down by machine gun fire after terrorists arrived on electric paragliders. Dozens of the survivors were taken as hostages.

For many of us, me included, that horror turned to shock as we watched thousands of college students and too many avowed leftists celebrating the attack.

Multiple chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America sponsored rallies supporting the “resistance” of a group that is recognized by almost every Western government as terrorists.

A Black Lives Matter chapter in Chicago put out an image online of a paraglider and the slogan, “I stand with Palestine.”

At the point when we thought that the number of dead Israelis was 700 (the actual number is more like double that and still growing), protesters in one U.S. city were chanting “700” as if it was some kind of badge of honor. In a rally in Australia, it was even more explicit as protesters chanted “Gas the Jews.”

A number of prominent academics and journalists mocked those who expressed shock at the tactics with one saying “What did y’all think decolonization meant? Vibes? Papers? Essays? Losers.”

The New York Times, after initially using the word “terrorists” in a headline, changed that to read “gunmen” after someone evidently complained.

And as the mayor of the biggest city in the U.S. spoke eloquently in support of Israel to a gathered group reported to be in the thousands, another group of thousands nearby was engaged in a counter-protest supporting the terrorists.

The catchy chant “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a great example of clear language although most of the chanters probably do not know that. The river in that chant refers to the Jordan River which is the eastern border of Israel and the sea is the Mediterranean. It’s a catchy way of saying “wipe Israel off the map.”

Which fits right into the actual charter of the group being celebrated. The Hamas charter is explicit in its call for the eradication of the state of Israel and the wholesale slaughter of Jews. Not that most of the people doing the chanting ever bothered to read that charter which also blames Jews for everything from both world wars to the very existence of drug abuse and alcoholism.

While the antisemitism that has infected a too-wide swath of the political left in the U.S. and Europe may have come as a surprise to college kids who thought they were just protesting for “social justice,” it has long been there to see if one just looked past the catchy slogans for a moment.

But it is out in the open enough now that we are all gonna have to choose a side.

Words matter. The language we use reveals much about everything from our world view to how our moral compass works. Or, in too many cases, doesn’t work at all.

The people who did this are not “gunmen.” They are not, to use the word preferred by most of the legacy media in the U.S., “militants”. They are not “fighters.” They are terrorists in service of a savage and barbaric vision of how the world should work.

Language matters. Use your words. This is not a moment for emojis. Don’t try to soften the message or couch the reality in metaphor or euphemism. When you mean “terrorist,” use the word.

This is not just something happening far away that the mystical fence protecting small-town life in Boulder City can keep away. Don’t forget that less than a year ago, BC residents awoke one morning to find parts of the city papered with flyers bearing disturbing antisemitic messages.

We are all gonna have to choose a side. Even here in Boulder City.

Terrorism is not resistance. Rape and murder are not valid forms of protest. Taking hostages is not a political statement.

There is evil in this world. As much as we don’t want to see it and might want to wish it away, it is always there.

I know which side I’m on. Do you?

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