Language occupation

Language never stands still and is therefore never devoid of political context. It is never innocent and the use of certain expressions and formulations in certain contexts "produces" and shapes those contexts

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Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate
Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Language, as we all know very well, is the scene of ideological and political battles. And in different variants. Language can be the subject of explicit political interest and the desire to dictate to people how to use it, in accordance with ideological preferences, often muted by supposedly scientific motivation. In addition to these clearly visible policies, there are countless others whose degree of visibility varies, often depending on how ideologically successful they are - how natural their outcomes seem to us. Language never stands still and is therefore never devoid of political context. It is never innocent and the use of certain expressions and formulations in certain contexts "produces" and shapes those contexts. The choice between seemingly neutral synonyms often politically coats and interprets the situation that the chosen synonym is trying to describe.

All the multitude of expressions that we use on a daily basis and in politically charged language also belong to political language archaeology. In certain expressions and words, we can find layers of meaning and connotations that have largely evaporated, and were prevalent 30, 50 or 70 years ago. Depending on what political function they performed - from cohesive for a certain community to a clear signal of authority - these expressions were also tied to the fate of that community or authority. Some, like for example Marxist jargon, have completely disappeared from use, are considered relics of the past and completely unusable for encompassing contemporary reality, and some, like the more universal ones such as freedom or the state, have simply "dropped" some connotations and "filled" to others.

Sometimes these processes last for a longer period, and sometimes they can be monitored in so-called real time. The difference mostly depends on the intensity of the political conflict, of which language is an integral part. We are currently living in a moment where language choices have been brought to the point of existential risk. It is, of course, about the "conflict" in Gaza. The use of quotation marks suggests that the very choice of term for what is happening in Gaza is a political act on which the "tonality" of the most basic description of the event depends. All terms that circulate, whether in the function of summarizing description or individual aspects, such as occupation, war, genocide, terrorism and the conflict itself, almost automatically carry with them the consequences of interpretation and political classification.

Therefore, terms and phrases are treated both as established ideological blocs, but also as arenas of struggle for definition. However, there is another dimension of the war in language, and it concerns the contestation of the authenticity of expressions and phrases and the acquisition of political legitimacy by those who utter them. The liberal-conservative forces that want to challenge the left's right to participate in the discussion in general, and to completely neutralize their views as if it were a matter of technical terminology, are most inclined to it. The authenticity of the terms it resorts to in order to "process" the context in which the latest episode of the conflict took place is being challenged on the left. So an article appeared in the New York Times in which a whole series of "leftist" terms for the events in Palestine are put under quotation marks: anti-colonial, apartheid regime, indigenous people and open prison. These terms are diagnosed as products of academic jargon for local American needs now used in a completely inappropriate context. The mere accusation of academic jargon is enough to deny those who use the terms a touch with reality. The left, therefore, invents concepts again and has no contact with real life. A touch of persuasiveness of that accusation stems from the weakness of the left in recent decades and the real processes of "museum" preservation of traditional terminology, often precisely in academic departments. However, the "job" of the terminology is not to testify to the political strength of the option that uses it, but to the adequacy of the understanding of the situation. Try explaining to someone in Gaza that they are not under occupation because some American professor uses the word occupation.

In addition to disputing the authenticity of the language of political opponents, there is also a evasive legitimization of one's own racism. For well-known reasons, this procedure is the most prevalent in Germany, but the rest of the so-called Western world is not immune to it either. The goal of the procedure is to allow speakers to achieve racist effects without being accused of racism against Palestinians and Arabs. A few days ago, the German Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach, otherwise from the social democratic ranks, shared on a social network a clip of the British far-right journalist Douglas Murray, who compared the Nazis and Hamas. And the comparison says that the Nazis were more humane because they were sincerely sorry for carrying out the genocide, while the members of Hamas do not feel that way at all, on the contrary, they enjoy the massacres. The minister initially set up a couple of fences when spreading the clip, but he also recommended it, and later deleted it. The example is somewhat extreme, but by no means alone: ​​the search for means of dehumanizing the Palestinians and opening space for a more nonchalant use of language is ongoing. Using the supposed moral compass of Nazi ancestors to normalize racist language today only suggests how far things have gone. And how important is the battle for the legitimacy of each expression or term. Language is both a tool and an object of occupation.


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