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.
Even the left in Israel, the nation that arose from the ashes of the most organized genocide in history, misuses the word. For example, professor Israel Charny, director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: "We (Israelis) have never committed an act of genocide. We have perpetrated a few acts of genocidal massacre against a small number of people."
"Genocide" against a small number of a people? What, then, is not "genocide"?
No term is more often used by the left than "oppressed." American women are routinely described as "oppressed," as are America's blacks, Hispanics and all poor people. But if American women, the freest women in human history, are oppressed, what term is left to describe the treatment of women in Arab and some other Muslim countries?
And then there is "racism." Being aware of the racism of those who lynched blacks in America and the racism of Nazism, I grew up believing no doctrine was more evil. Yet today, I yawn when I hear a member of the left use the term -- such as when Sen. Harry Reid characterized the Senate's proclamation of English as America's official language as "racist," or when whites and blacks who oppose race-based affirmative action are called racists.
One more example will have to suffice: The left regularly charges America's conservative Christians with wanting to make America a "theocracy," being "fascists" and/or being "anti-Semites." They are none of those things, and as a result, the battle against real theocrats (Muslim fundamentalists), real fascists and real anti-Semites is compromised.
The tragedy of all this is that when evils are defined down, good people are left verbally unarmed when the real evils present themselves. It is yet another way in which the left, intentionally or not, undermines the battle against evil.