Tuesday, August 01, 2006


Throughout this current assymetrical conflict, the English language has rarely had such a hardy test. Quite apart from the shocking, disproportionate, murderous, careless campaign waged on Lebanon by Israel, the terms used by politicians and military have been interesting.

One particular example is the use of the word 'regret'. It's the current Israeli buzz word. It's clean, efficient, statesmanlike. Maybe that is why Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, likes it. Following the indiscriminate shelling of Qana and the killing of more than 60 civilians, the antiseptic word 'regret' was used by Olmert. There was, however, no 'sorry' forthcoming from the man.

'Regret' is a term with an insurance policy attached. When used by those who bomb, kill and maim with rampant aggression, it reads: "Damn, we got caught. Hands up. We've goofed. Next time, we'll just try a little harder not to blow our cover. In the meantime, let's remain steadfast and bomb more."

'Regret' contains just enough emotion to persuade casual observers of contrition, particularly when your enemy can be easily characterised as a 'terrorist.' Yet 'regret' gives the user enough latitude to continue its own barbarism unchecked. It's been the most slippery, dangerous term of this war, and one we should all pay deep heed to.

And yes, I know other Israeli ministers used "sorry" - but the mere fact that Prime Minister Olmert didn't use it in the immediate aftermath of this atrocity speaks volumes about his view of Lebanon's southern Shi'ites, and how his government's policy will remain unchanged in this most brutal of campaigns. One can infer, from just one little word, exactly how much ordnance is still to enter Lebanon while the rest of the world watches. Through his 'regret' Olmert may as well have just shrugged and said: "The southerners of Lebanon are all just Hizbullah anyway." Which again brings us to the all-time favourite word: "terrorist". But we've been over that one before, haven't we?

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Great observation. There's an interesting level of 'sterilization' in the political media-shuffle that's intensified of late. It succeeds in saying 'yes, it's all happening and it's terrible, and yet not really, but really not at all'--all in one go. It's harder to point fingers when you a) don't admit to wrongdoing and b) still show empathy--a technique I presume the forthcoming UN resolution will be guided by.