Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Stop Abusing the Word ‘Coward’!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th December, 2007

Predictably, both George Bush and Gordon Brown have condemned the recent assassination of Benazir Bhutto, each describing the act as ‘cowardly’. Condemnation is indeed appropriate. The killing was disgusting, shameful, appalling and (to use an unfashionable but singularly apposite word) dastardly. But ‘cowardly’? Surely not. Is an assassin or a suicide bomber in a large crowd a ‘coward’, knowing that at best he will blow himself up or be shot, or at worst be torn to pieces by the crowd, or arrested and tortured? Indeed, objectively one might argue that it is far more ‘cowardly’ to sit in the comfort of one’s office in the White House or 10 Downing Street and order ‘shock and awe’ bombing of cities, knowing full well that hundreds if not thousands of civilian men, women and children are likely to be killed or maimed as a result.

This is not just a matter of semantics. By dismissing assassins and suicide bombers as ‘cowards’, critics appear to absolve themselves of the responsibility of trying to understand why any man — or woman — should be driven to commit such a terrible crime. And as long as people fail to analyse the reasons behind such atrocities, there is little hope that they will discontinue. So, Mr Bush and Mr Brown, condemn where condemnation is indeed due. But please stop talking about ‘cowards’!  

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