The politics of naming

One of the first political phenomenon I am concerned with is the time (and resources etc.) dominant actors spend on finding suitable categories to define (or give meaning to) their various political actions. In addition to the fact that naming gives significance or the illusion of substance in perceiving the enemy, the symbolic act of naming Hizbullah a “terrorist” organization opens the door for so many different legal as well as diplomatic dispositions that has concrete material effect (in the same way the beefing up of an army has material significance):

United States lawmakers are stepping up pressure on the European Union to declare the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

A House of Representatives’ panel is to highlight Wednesday the importance of Europe as a fundraising base for the group, long held responsible by the United States for anti-U.S. and anti-Israel attacks.

Some European countries have resisted an EU designation of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, arguing that it is better to engage the group given its large role in Lebanese politics.

What is important here is to notice how, generally, legal appellations and social norms are all based on this categorization principle. In this case, the creation of significance is a political process embedded in institutions in place (governments, parliaments, courts, etc.) that serves to create disciplined subjects and the ‘other’.


6 Replies to “The politics of naming”

  1. Note also, how naming an organisation or movement ‘terrorist’ also deprives it of its political character. The organisation might be ascribed political motives or aspirations, but its actions are rendered less than political. There is a common conviction that, either one is a political actor with whom negotiation and compromise (politics) is possible, or one is a terrorist actor: illegitimate, apolitical, ‘other’. Such naming (as well as the actions that often accompany it) is thus not merely creative of particular forms of subjectivity, but also produce a realm of sanctified means of engagement (between and among individuals, groups and institutions) that are understood to be political, and other forms of interaction that are considered less than political, illegitimate and/or even irrational. (One question to be posed in this respect is: what is politics?)

  2. naming HA a “terrorist organization” isn’t only a symbolic act – it can be actively used to change the “market structure” of political affiliation. each of these different groups (whether US, HA, EU, ad infinitum) market different ideas / actions / services that aim at either holding together their constituencies or increasing loyalty / amount of followers / etc. Of course, trying to change this “market structure” has all sorts of implications that can’t be predicted with certainty …

    on another note, this is very similar to the act of trying to morph public opinion (in the 70’s and 80’s) towards Syria, by using constantly calling it a “Terrorist Regime” (as is happening now). My memory may fail me, but I believe Patrick Seale has an excellent chapter on this in his book on Asad.

  3. Thanks Leonie, this helps in the formulation. You’ve nailed it with this ‘depoliticization’ process. More on that later on.

    M, I think we are referring to the same process but in two different language. if I am not wrong, you use a political economy perspective with all the jargon this entails. Thanks for putting it this way.

  4. categorising and name-giving is a classical example of how governance operates. This not only in relation to “terrorist organisations”, but also by describing certain movements as “radical”, distinguishing between the “normal” and “abnormal” etc… Foucault in its best…

    I guess whats interesting here, is not only to see how the word of “terrorism” is being used to disqualify certain movements and marginalise them, but also how this functions as a reiteration of the state-monopoly of violence, by distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate forms of violence. While “state-violence” is legitimate, violence from “others” is deemed illegitimate, terrorist etc… Depicting violence from “others” as terrorist, is a means to sustain ones monopoly over violence.

  5. unfortunately for hizballah, they don’t have Rafic Harriri running around trying to keep their name off terrorsit lists any more.

  6. Possibly anonymous, although I’m not sure that Hariri’s influences applies to all of European countries. But this is partly why since Hariri died things have spiraled downward on the security level.

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