A term invented by the George W. Bush White House in 2002, referring to those who deliberately murder civilians with bombs. The phrase carries the implication that the bomber is a Palestinian who targets Israelis and who kills him or herself in the process.

The normal term for such a person is suicide bomber, because the suicidal quality of the act is what separates it from other killers who use bombs, such as in the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park Bombing. However, the Bush administration felt that "suicide bomber" unfairly martyred the bomber in a blaze of glory sense. When a female bomber killed herself and five others in Jerusalem on April 12, 2002, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had this to say:

"The President ... convened a meeting of the National Security Council, at which point, in the middle of the meeting, the President was informed about this morning's homicide bombing in Jerusalem. ... The Saudi telethon, as they have told it to us, is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, and that isn't — no money is going to go to provide the homicide bombers with any assistance from the Saudi government."
Source: Wordspy. Emphasis added.

Most media organizations did not change their style guides, though News Corp.'s Fox News Channel and The New York Post were notable exceptions. The right-wing cable news station adopted "homicide bomber" immediately and continues to use it to this day. CNN and most newspapers stayed with "suicide bomber," as does the Associated Press.

It's important to note that the switch to "homicide bomber" is a political statement in itself, much like when abortion foes dub themselves "pro-life" instead of "anti-choice," even though the latter term more succinctly describes their position. In saying "homicide bomber," the speaker implies that he or she does not care what happened to the bomber. In other words, the bomber's life is meaningless. Or, as Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "The fact that they themselves died in the attack is simply not worth mentioning."

Dehumanizing the enemy during wartime is no new invention. In World War II, Americans called their opponents "Japs" and "Krauts," names that would seem to belong to animals.

Thus, the choice of terminology tells us much about media organizations' beliefs in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian war. Fox News and the Post can be assumed to be pro-Israel; the rest of the media is at least hesitant to support Israel, and perhaps pro-Palestinian to boot.

Edited September 27, 2003 with help from ariels.


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