The Satanic Usages

"How best to govern the state? First rectify the language." – Confucius

And how best to corrupt the state? First corrupt the language. Salman Rushdie takes up the cudgels against the polluters of thought in the Bush Regime – the heir and extenders of a long, dishonorable tradition. Here are some excerpts, from the Sydney Morning Herald (via Buzzflash):

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language last year was "extraordinary rendition". To those of us who love words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive.

"Extraordinary" is an ordinary enough adjective, but its sense is being stretched here to include more sinister meanings that your dictionary will not provide: secret; ruthless; and extrajudicial. As for "rendition", the English language permits four meanings: a performance; a translation; a surrender - this meaning is now considered archaic; or an "act of rendering"; which leads us to the verb "to render" among whose 17 possible meanings you will not find "to kidnap and covertly deliver an individual or individuals for interrogation to an undisclosed address in an unspecified country where torture is permitted"...

"Final solution" is a further, even more horrible locution of this Orwellian, double-plus-ungood type. "Mortality response", a euphemism for death by killing that I first heard during the Vietnam War, is another. This is not a pedigree of which any newborn usage should be proud. People use such phrases to avoid using others whose meaning would be problematically over-apparent. "Ethnic cleansing" and "final solution" were ways of avoiding the word "genocide", and to say "extraordinary rendition" is to reveal one's squeamishness about saying "the export of torture"....

In the beginning is the word. Where one begins by corrupting language, worse corruptions swiftly follow. Sitting as the Supreme Court to rule on torture last month, Britain's law lords spoke to the world in words that were simple and clear. "The torturer is abhorred not because the information he produces may be unreliable," Lord Rodger of Earlsferry said, "but because of the barbaric means he uses to extract it."

"Torture is an unqualified evil," Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood added. "It can never be justified. Rather, it must always be punished."

The dreadful probability is that the US outsourcing of torture will allow it to escape punishment. It will not allow it to escape moral obloquy.

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