A New Normal Glossary

Theodore S. Norvell

October 20th, 2001.

The New Normal

A state of being in which reality has changed little, but the interpretation of it has. One aspect of this is that old words and phrases are being used by politicians and journalists in new ways. The following is a personal and rather cynical list. It is said that the best way to deal with a bully is to laugh at him. At the same time we laugh, we should keep in mind, it is not actually funny.

Things are changing quickly and this list will quickly get out of date.

War on Terrorism

1. War on Afghanistan. Afghanistan provides a country sufficiently poor that the U.S. can bomb it with little fear of taking casualties on their own side. Furthermore, if they are poor, it is somehow "their own fault". Furthermore, Afghanistan has few White people - at least as "White" is understood in the U.S. It is an "acceptable" target. The U.S. claimed it had "gained air superiority over Afghanistan" with 3 days of bombing. In fact the U.S. gained air superiority with the invention of the airplane in 1903.

2. War on Civil Rights. The "domestic agenda" has not been forgotten. New legislation limiting civil rights has popped up so quickly, it is almost as if someone was just waiting for a good time to introduce it. Some of the main rights under attack: Right to privacy. Right to not be detained without charge. Right to civil disobedience. Immigration rights. Refugee rights.

3. War on fill in the blank. We can expect more to come. Israel is already hitching its oppression of Palestinians to the War on Terrorism bandwagon.

Act of War:

Pretext for war. The September 11th attacks were hastily labelled an act of war by the U.S. administration, contrary to common sense, which tells us it was a horrible crime. At the time, and still, there was not evidence of state sponsorship. It is now clear that the strategy was to "declare war now and figure out who to bomb later". It didn't take long.

In fact relabelling a crime as an act of war diminishes its criminality and raises the question of whether it was "justifiable". What a person does as an act of war would be a crime under any other circumstances. The bombings of September 11th can not be justified, and neither can the current bombing of Afghanistan. Both are crimes against humanity.

Islamic Extremist

A Muslim we don't like. The phrase suggests that there is something wrong with being extremely Islamic. A related phrase is "Extreme form of Islam". According to the press, James Kopp (alleged to have shot a number of health-care providers in two countries) was supported "Anti-abortion activists", not "Christian extremists". Yet anti-war protesters in Pakistan, for example, are labelled as Islamic extremists.

Saudi Arabia is a country where extreme oppression is practised in the name of Islam. However, it is an ally of the United States and you don't hear the King of Saudi Arabia being mentioned as an Islamic extremist.

Innocent Civilian

People we directly killed, but didn't intend to kill. By insinuation, military personnel, unless they are on "our side", are guilty. Guilty of what? Living in a poor country where military service is one of the few ways to feed their families. Living in a country where there is conscription at gunpoint. (See The Guardian.) In any case, the question is not asked. Nor is it pointed out that "military personnel" in Afghanistan include children. (See The ChildWar database.) While the press speculates on the number of "innocent civilians" killed by the U.S. and Britain, no one seems to mention how many people are being killed all-together. Civilians killed by the Northern Alliance are not counted. The number of people likely to die because of interruptions in humanitarian aid is not mentioned. Instead the numbers game is focussed on the relatively small number of people killed by misguided U.S. and British bombs. My heart certainly goes out to them and their relatives, but let's not forget that they won't be the only people unjustly killed by the military actions done in the name of the people of the U.S., Britain, Canada, and other western nations.

[Addendum, Oct 23rd, 2001. Propagandists on both the American and Taliban sides find that it is in their interests to ignore military casualties. The Taliban currently put the death toll at about 1000 Afghan people. However, adding up each of the reports of civilian casualties that have come out of Afghanistan, one gets approximately the same number. That is, the Taliban would like us to believe that none of "their fighters", as they call the conscripts, have died, despite heavy U.S. bombing and more recently targeting of front lines.

The American military have shown a pattern of at first denying that they killed any civilians, then calling the fact that they have "uncorroborated" (as if there were anyone other than they themselves in a position to confirm these facts), and finally admitting that they did, but that it was a mistake. But on the issue of how many people they have directly caused to die, or be seriously injured, the Americans have said nothing. Both sides find that covering up the true horror of war is in their interests. Indeed there likely would be no war if it wasn't in the interests of governments on both sides.]

Soft Target

People. In the jargon of the U.S. military, the people in the World Trade Centre, were soft targets; luckily you do not hear them referred to as such. Instead they are, quite properly, referred to as sons, daughters, husbands, wives, and loved-ones. Perhaps the U.S. military would be more honest to say that they are targeting sons, husbands, and loved-ones.

Front lines.

People. See Soft Target. Front lines are where you find conscripts. The ideologically inclined are harder to find. This is a lesson that can be taken from the war on Iraq; front lines were populated with poorly equipped conscripts, while the revolutionary guard was kept back to defend the political elite.

Afghan Refugee

A person with enough luck or money to get out. When the U.S., Britain, and other NATO countries bombed Serbia, many Kosovar refugees were transported to NATO countries and their refugee claims were expedited. No such programme is being offered to Afghan refugees.


A potential terrorist. We are being told that we in the west must tighten our refugee and immigration policies. By insinuation refugees are potential terrorists. In truth, they are more often the victims of terrorism.

North American Perimeter

Freer trade.


Demand. The U.S. pretext for its war on Afghanistan was that Afghanistan did not accede to U.S. demands. These demands were, as it happens quite reasonable ones. However, when one country make demands of another, not under international law, but with the threat of war, it is bullying and mercantilism.


Unilateralism. George Bush has said that countries are either with the U.S. or against the U.S.. This means the agenda is being set unilaterally. NATO was quick to invoke article 5, which it had never done before; but unlike Kosovo, this is not a NATO action. Why? The U.S. and Britain learned in Kosovo that NATO functions multilateraly. The U.N. was quick to condem the New York and Washington bombings; but unlike Iraq, this is not a U.N. action. Why? Again the U.S. would like a free hand.


Oil Pipeline route. This seems a very cynical definition. However, let us not forget that it is also cynical to have your Daddy's supreme court rule that people's votes should not be counted. The current U.S. administration was largely backed in its election bid by U.S. oil interests. Furthermore there are few other explanations for this attack on Afghanistan.

Punching above our weight

Being the smallest bully. This is a favourite phrase of Canadian cabinet ministers, borrowed from Boxing. Boxing is a rather brutal sport, but it does observe the principle that opponents should be about the same size and both healthy. Canada is a developed and prosperous country of about 30 million people. Afghanistan is an impoverished and war-ravaged country of about 30 million people. Canada alone against Afghanistan would hardly be a fair fight. Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia, etc against Afghanistan is a massacre.