18/05: The name of the rose


By Huma Yusuf

The oft-quoted phrase about roses by any other name smelling as sweet sometimes bears recollection. Indeed, synonyms, euphemisms, and metaphors can make reality a tad more palatable, but language cannot alter the facts. And so it was with international media coverage of the events that unfolded in Karachi over the weekend. Actions that were initially being described as rallies, demonstrations, calls for democracy, activism, protests, and initiatives for democratic participation were soon identified more accurately as clashes, showdowns, and, simply, violence. When stripped of its rhetorical and politicised garb, the mayhem that left 41 people dead, paralysed the city for three days, damaged urban infrastructure, and compromised press freedom, can only be referred to as unfettered, senseless violence. In this context, I would argue that there's a value to depicting things exactly as they are. After all, speaking in tongues never helped anyone fumble towards moral clarity or sound judgement.

Student activists at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, recently exemplified the idea that describing something for what it was could lead to increased fairness and ethical decision-making. The Alliance for Justice in the Middle East (AJME), a student group, is campaigning against Harvard's policy of admitting and hiring people who boast public, well-documented records of war crimes and human rights abuses. The students are calling for the university to screen for human rights violations as part of its admissions and hiring procedures. As of now, AJME's website identifies seven "abusers" who are -- or soon will be -- in a position to describe themselves as "Harvard-trained".

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