When you hear the words "oppression," "genocide," "racism," or even "torture" or "rape," do you immediately recoil as you always did? I don't. While I hate those evils as much as ever, I no longer assume the term always describes the reality.
For example, the liberal press' unending preoccupation with American abuses of Iraqi detainees had a number of deleterious consequences. One was a further undermining of Arab and Muslim support for America's liberation of Iraq. But the longest-lasting negative effect was probably the cheapening of the word "torture."
It undermined the war against torture to characterize what some Americans did to some Iraqis in the Abu Ghraib prison -- actions that were indeed sick, un-American and shameful to our military -- as "torture." Labeling abuses as "torture" filled me with pity for all the people around the world who had experienced real torture.
I kept thinking about those whose bodies were burned, whose fingernails were torn out, who were hung by their arms in a way that broke their shoulders (a common Chinese communist torture), who were put into human shredders (in Saddam's Iraq) or who had burning hot steel rods shoved into their rectums. How did these poor souls react to seeing the Western media routinely describe humiliating and frightening naked men for the sadistic amusement of guards as "torture"?
A second example is "rape." In the past, when I heard that a woman had been raped, I recoiled in horror. Not any more. Now, my first reaction is, "What happened to her?"
One has to ask that question because the feminist left has redefined the word "rape" to the point where, unless you know the specifics, you don't know if a woman was violently forced into sexual intercourse or had engaged in sex that she regretted the following morning.
For the latter is one of the definitions of "rape" that the feminist movement uses and has disseminated. That is how the figure "one in four" women having been raped was derived. And while the late feminist thinker Andrea Dworkin did not actually make the statement widely attributed to her that "all (heterosexual) sex is rape," it was a sentiment that was earnestly debated in feminist circles.
Individuals and groups on the left have done the same to the word "genocide." The term originally meant an attempt to murder all members of a racial, ethnic, national or religious group. Today, it is used to describe an Israeli attack on Palestinian terrorists that also unintentionally kills some civilians, and to describe what America is doing in Iraq and even what America has done to its black population. So, when one hears "genocide" today, one immediately wants to know who is using the term and against whom.