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The power of words in geopolitics

Abdul Wassay

People mourn victims at a hospital after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua
People mourn victims at a hospital after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

People mourn victims at a hospital after an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 5, 2024. /Xinhua

Editor's note: Abdul Wassay, a special commentator for CGTN, is a freelance researcher of strategic and contemporary issues from Islamabad. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

"Words are containers of powers. You choose what kind of power they carry," said Joyce Meyer, the U.S. bestselling author.

CNN staff recently have criticized the network, claiming that its pro-Israel bias amounts to "journalistic malpractice." Insiders reveal that pressure from top management has led to uncritical reporting of Israeli claims and the suppression of Palestinian viewpoints, creating a skewed coverage of the conflict in Gaza. The presence of power is evident in various aspects of CNN's conduct.

In the kingdom of international relations, words are not mere bunch of letters we use to spit out of our mouths; they are the catalysts of power that shape destinies. They can ignite or extinguish the flames of any and every conflict. As the Palestinian struggle against Israel and atrocities persist, the contemporary superpowers and the mainstream media of these states are wielding their linguistic arsenal aptly against them. Rhetoric, propaganda, and diplomacy join in a high-stakes battlefront where every syllable counts. Words carry a weight and are now weaponized. This linguistical warfare is costing humans loss of life and states and loss of their power in the longer run.

Since October 7, 2023, besieged Palestinians have suffered one of the most brutal atrocities that is being justified by the committing state Israel and its supporters. Palestinians were already deprived of necessities, such as food, clean drinking water, and better life opportunities in the apartheid state. The U.S., the UK, France, Germany, and many other states, despite knowing that Israelis are brutally killing Palestinians, are not pushing for a ceasefire.

Words are influential in molding geopolitical actions, perceptions, and policies. They can frame any narrative, proliferate rhetoric, and evoke emotions to influence decision-making. The 2023 Israel-Palestinian war is a pertinent example of this.

It started as an armed conflict and is now being stretched using words. This is done by the choice of words to describe the events of October 7 and what should happen after that. For instance, referring to it as a "war" implies a certain level of legitimacy and equality between the two sides. However, this is not the case because Hamas and Israel are not at the same level; one is a non-state actor, while the latter is a state actor.

Similarly, the word "surprise attack" is being used to support the killing of innocent Palestinians. This word evokes a sense of threat and justifies an offensive by the Israeli military, but that attack against Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was a result of more than 70 years of brutal Israeli occupation and atrocities.

Although the act of killing any innocents is wrong, the international media is just focusing on what happened on October 7 and has turned a blind eye to what IDF has been doing since then. They are censoring what is actually happening in Gaza, how innocent civilians are being killed on point-blank range. They are even censoring what IDF is doing to the journalists who are protected under international law. No Western state has condemned that, yet they criticize other states. This is the ultimate test of their morality.

Palestinians inspect the debris of a building after Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 3, 2024. /Xinhua
Palestinians inspect the debris of a building after Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 3, 2024. /Xinhua

Palestinians inspect the debris of a building after Israeli airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, February 3, 2024. /Xinhua

Words are not just descriptors; they are tools that can shape perceptions, influence policies, and drive actions. The major powers are using their media by creating specific rhetoric that "Palestinians are terrorists" to justify why they are giving their taxpayers money to fuel a war. The rhetoric of leaders of these major powers can sway public opinion and influence international relations.

Major powers often use language as a strategic tool to advance their geopolitical interests. They carefully craft their speeches, official statements, and media narratives to frame issues in a way that supports their stance.

Under the pretense of the word "self-defense," Israel is justifying its brutality, and the major powers are supporting its cause. These states are weaponizing the words, but when their actions are compared to what happened to Jews in the 1940s, they term it as "Antisemitism," which is now being misused and always taken out of context to degrade people who point out any valid criticism of Israeli state.

U.S. President Joe Biden termed Hamas' retaliation as an "act of sheer evil," this portrayed every Palestinian as a "terrorist" and dehumanized them. The Western governments also did not condemn any attack on the hospitals in Gaza that Israeli airstrikes did and killed hundreds of innocent children, women, sick, and elderly. Still, they were fast to condemn small damages done to Israel in retaliation by Hamas.

Since October 7, most of the mainstream news channels have asked every commentator if they "condemn" Hamas' actions, but they never ask if Israel's actions are condemnable. This has portrayed to the audience that only Palestinians are responsible for the state of affairs.

This rhetoric by several states and the statement of major powers are helping the Israeli government sidestep the accountability process due to the diplomatic language being used. Palestinians are often labeled as "dying" instead of being "killed" by Western media. Terminology patterns that have developed throughout the previous 75 years of Israeli statehood and occupation – game-like language, systematic oppression, dehumanization of Palestinians, and dehistoricization of Palestine as a state – all contribute to this normalizing of violence.

In the Israel-Hamas conflict, around 1,000 Israelis were killed in the original attack, but in the aftermath, Israel killed more than 27,478 innocent Palestinians, most of them civilians, including more than 10,000 children. At least 152 UN staff and more than 122 journalists were also killed, but there are no proper words of condemnation by the states supporting Israel; instead, they are aiding Israel with more and more weapons and hardware that IDF is using to dislocate and murder innocent Palestinians.

In conclusion, words wield immense power in shaping geopolitical outcomes. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is no different. The ongoing Palestinian struggle against Israel is being suppressed using specific rhetoric, propaganda, and diplomatic language by the states that support Israel's disproportionate reaction to the attack on October 7. By selectively framing events and using specific words and terms to justify illegal actions against innocent civilians, major powers perpetuate the narrative that serves their interests at the expense of justice and truth.

In this linguistic battlefield, every word is a warrior, every sentence a strategy, shaping not just narratives but nations. The cost of this linguistic battle is not just ink on parchment but blood on soil, power in jeopardy, and humanity hanging in the balance.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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