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When lies sound truthful and murder is respectable

The language used by politicians and the media colours and determines the way that we see things; it forms opinions. Thus, Western governments have refrained from calling the military takeover in Egypt a coup, from which we can deduce that "interests" are taking precedence over justice. Israel's massive brute of a concrete wall is described routinely as a "barrier" and a "fence", giving the impression that it is something innocuous, the likes of which we see around our own homes. And the biggest red-herring of them all, "terrorist", is used to describe anyone opposing Western hegemony which itself employs terror tactics to enforce its "values" around the world.

The late Nelson Mandela was, of course, a "terrorist" in Western eyes until very late in the day; he was only taken off the US "terror watch" list in 2008, sixteen years after the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Apartheid is a word that is prominent once again, being applied to Israel's internal oppressive polices and brutal military occupation of Palestine. Pro-Israel lobbyists protest, of course, but use of the word is gaining ground, especially with veteran anti-apartheid campaigners weighing in on the side of justice for the Palestinians.

In Britain, the appointment of an ex-counterterrorism officer to investigate the so-called "Trojan Horse plot" to take over Birmingham schools is an attempt to use the "anti-extremism" narrative so beloved of politicians these days to take down Muslims who have been too successful in driving up educational standards. Even independent Muslim faith schools have been ensnared by Michael Gove's ever-widening net as he seeks to settle old scores, using an Office of State to pursue an openly ideological agenda against "Islamism", "extremism" and, tellingly, anti-Zionism.

Extremism has never been defined, of course, because it is one of those words which are all things to all people; it all depends on your starting point. The coalition government in Britain is usually described as being right of centre by those who claim the centre ground; for those further to the left, David Cameron et al, especially his ideologue soul-mate the Secretary of State for Education, are right-wing, extremely so. "Moderate" Muslims are promoted by the government; they're safe because "they're the Muslims you can't see; they don't take their religion seriously enough to be seen", in the words of a veteran non-Muslim, anti-racism campaigner and educationist at a seminar in Oxford earlier this week. If you are a practising Muslim seeking a better education for your children, beware; you are probably on a watch list on a counterterrorism computer somewhere.

A constant refrain in the "war on terror" has been that "they", whoever "they" happen to be, and they're usually Muslims these days, "hate our way of life". There usually follows a list of characteristics and values supposedly unique to the West of which Muslims are envious and seek to destroy. Infamously, this ignores Western foreign policies which have caused death, destruction and chaos across the Muslim world for decades. Nevertheless, in Britain this has not stopped Michael Gove from using the school inspection service, Ofsted, to push, but never define, "British values" to the core of the education system. The irony is that such values, which have to include fairness, justice and respect for others, are being swept aside by a wave of very un-British inspection procedures in the crusade to destroy 30 years' of hard work by Muslims to get the community involved in the education of their children as teachers, managers and governors. To paraphrase George Orwell, "a fierce opponent of nationalism who nevertheless provided the English with their most convincing account of themselves", invisible Muslims good, visible Muslims bad.

Muslim schools are being told that they are not preparing pupils for life in 21st century Britain (or should that be England?) while evidence to the contrary – with many ex-pupils holding a broad range of university degrees in an even broader range of careers – is brushed aside. Differences once celebrated as being the essence of a democracy wherein minorities are respected and encouraged to be themselves are now threats to a hegemonic narrative that seeks to impose itself on everyone. The swing to the right in the Euro elections may not be the protest blip that some suppose.

All over the world, and in the Middle East in particular, the West is engaged in an ideological battle using the tactics of the terrorists to fight people who have the same aspirations as the rest of us and would quite like to be allowed to get on with their lives without Western interference. All the while we are fed Orwellian "Newspeak" to convince us that "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength." This allows Western "interests" to trump all other concerns. Good is bad; lawful is unlawful; victims are villains.

All of these things are linked by a common political and media narrative which works to convince us that Birmingham Muslims working within the law to improve their children's life chances are "Islamists". This places them within the collective public mindset alongside Nigeria's murderous "Islamist Boko Haram"; the "Islamist Al-Shabab" in Somalia; and the "Islamist Muslim Brotherhood", whose "terrorist ideology" is now the focus of a government inquiry in Britain.

"Political language…," wrote Orwell in Politics and the English Language, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." Remember this when you read about the "Trojan Horse plot" and Ofsted reports which turn "outstanding" schools into "inadequate" institutions in the space of a few months; they are part of a much bigger scenario. It is the same ideological thread which has prompted US President Barack Obama to create a $5 billion fund for "counterterrorism"; we have to be suspicious. Successive American presidents have thrown legal caution to the wind in order to fight the "war on terror", to the extent that Obama has assassinated US citizens abroad with no due process; if he can do that to American citizens and still claim that it is lawful, what hope is there for those Yemenis and Pakistanis killed by US drones? Or for Palestinians seeking freedom from occupation and justice? Or, for that matter, Muslims in Britain demonised for being too successful with their children's education? Orwell's words take on an eerie prescience. "If you want a picture of the future," he wrote in his 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, "imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever." We can't say that we haven't been warned.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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