Banning the words “Muslim” & “Christians” in the media lexicon: ultra-sensitivity & the desire to sanitize reality

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The Philippines seems to have joined the bandwagon of onion-skinned nations who give lots of thought on words that are otherwise innocuous. Per se, I don’t see anything wrong in using “Muslim” or “Christian” to describe a person, whether he is a criminal or saint. Adjectives make descriptions clear. If one calls a “dirty spade a dirty spade,” then that’s the honest truth. Regardless of whether the spade is sleek clean or dirty, it is objectivity that we desire in communication. Sometimes reality does bite. Risking of minor abrasion, I believe it is better to articulate truth than be restricted from using words that could be helpful in understanding.

The Philippine House Bill 100, now on its way to its third and final reading in congress, proposes to prohibit the use of “Muslim” and “Christian” or any word that indicates religious, regional, or ethnic affiliation. Violators (i.e. newspaper editors using “Muslim terrorists” to describe a convict) are threatened by a hefty fine of P50,000.

Authored by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara with Reps. Pangalian Balindong, Arnulfo Go, Luzviminda Ilagan, Bienvenido Abante, Justin SB Chipeco, Yusop Jikiri, Raul del Mar and Neptali Gonzales, this bill shows how political correctness has crept into our brain like a neuron-gobbling worm. Why have they become wimpy in describing reality?

The “criminalizaton” of specific words in our media lexicon can be a new road to curtail our basic right for free speech. It is an attempt to sanitize reality and reprogram our way of thinking—perhaps to make as feel good that we don’t offend any religious groups including those who want to harm us— even if nasty, libelous, and more vitriolic words are hurled on us in the media everyday. However good-intentioned these congressmen are, they better be specific with the words they want banned. For fairness and balance, it will serve them well to consider adding more negatively charged words in their list such “discriminatory” terms as lesbian, homosexual, mentally retarded, old, disabled, illiterate, obese etc.

Our legislators say the words “Muslim” and “Christian” create “a sweeping generalization on other members of the race, culture or region” when the words are used to describe a suspect or convict. I don’t think this is true. I believe our rational mind doesn’t think this way, unless certain neutral words are accompanied by qualifying statements that lead to a particular derogatory generalization.

The bill’s stand seems distorted by its own tunnel-vision. There is the desire for political correctness and perhaps an inclination for approval. There is that unexpressed subliminal paranoia that we might want to cast away.

As long as “brandings” only refer to the criminals or suspects, those who are unintentionally linked with them by religious or ethnic associations need not worry. It isn’t the media’s fault. The people who make unfounded generalizations and make unfair conclusions are the ones who are culpable. Guilt by association without evidence is often debunked and doesn’t hold credibility in intelligent news reporting. Our legislators must be mature to understand this.

Congressmen may want this House Bill No. 100 like a comfort Barbie doll for all, but they fail to see that many Filipinos are fair, highly discerning, less paranoid, more considerate, and smarter than they think. Rooting for political correctness and becoming hypocritical in the process, at the expense of truth, is not the way to bring peace in the world. It only adds up to the cumbersome double talk that we are too tired of hearing. In spite of our frailties, let us try to work together to build a more honest world. (Photo Credit: VanLuchi; CiudadanoPoeta)=0=

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