Obama, Watch Your Words
By Bashir Goth
The biggest foreign policy mistake that Barack Obama could make during his honeymoon will be to follow the same political discourse of the Bush administration. Bush was plagued with language disaster. One of his first slips of the tongue was describing the war on terror as a crusade. This was a loaded word that inadvertently endorsed Samuel Huntington's ill-conceived clash of civilizations and invoked a legacy of horrors in the Muslim world.
Other fluid generalizations and arrogant expressions such as war on terror and Islamic terrorism, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive', 'We shall nuke them out', have only further intoxicated the political atmosphere between the Bush administration and the Muslim world.
Precision of political language is therefore as important as precision of smart bombs. Any misstep in any one of them will end up in dire consequence.
A fable says that Confucius was once asked what he would make his priority if he was appointed as an advisor to the Emperor. He replied that the most important thing for him would be to use the correct words. The reason he said was: "If we don't use the correct words, we live in public lie. If we live in public lies, the political system is a sham."
The political disasters committed by Bush's regime prove the truth of Confucius' wisdom. Language is not only the key to mutual human understanding but it is also the key to either healing old wounds or inflicting new ones. In order to avoid any pitfalls, Obama should therefore use a language that heals the deep wounds caused by Bush administration's vitriolic language. In the same way that he united the American voters behind him and gave them hope and faith, he should also use the same rhetoric that could spread hope across the world.
The Muslim world in particular will be closely watching the language of Obama's foreign policy and how he chooses his language will either repair or deepen the political fractures left behind by Bush's administration.