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  • Writer's pictureSumbella

Defuse Bullying: The Power of Words

[#defusebullying] I once experienced toxic behaviour directed at me. At one point, I heard that someone had been calling me an ‘animal’. They had used the Arabic word, and I came to learn that it carries a very nasty meaning.

At the time, that person probably wanted me out, like others before me had left.

This week, I’ve watched some news refer to Palestinian people as animals, whether outright or implied.

For example, I read a Tweet from the Prime Minister of Israel, who referred to this “war” in Gaza as a battle between children of lightness and darkness. Between people of humanity and people of the jungle.

I had a pain in my chest and lump in my throat as I saw such words.

I know well that to refer to people as animals is a step to demoralise and dehumanise them.

After all, animals are slaughtered. Not humans.

I suppose it makes sense:

It’s easier to rationalise killing a person if you believe they are an animal.

As I unpacked this amidst the collective punishment and horrors unfolding in Gaza, I found more cases of language being used to dehumanise people.

Take a look at some of them, and consider my suggestions or add your own:

1: Gaza: an “open air prison”:

Referring to people being in open air prisons implies they committed a crime.


Hostages in a concentration camp. A UN authorised one at that.

2: Ethnic cleansing.

This inherently implies that the people being targeted are dirty.

Instead: ethnic murder. Or: genocide.

3: Honour killings.

Where is the honour in murder?

Instead: just ‘murder’.

4: An animal.

Instead: A person. A child. A colleague.

5: Evacuation.

Eg: ‘civilians were told to “evacuate” the hospital before it was bombed.’

Evacuation is too neutral. They were sent a death threat.

All this to say:

Words used strategically, often enough, can condition you to start condemning an entire people to suffer, without even realising it.

So let’s fix it.

Let’s notice language.

Let’s recognise the nuances.

Let’s call out this kind of bullying.

Let’s question the choice of certain words.

Especially in that of any media we are relying on.

Perhaps I am extra attuned to this aspect of the crisis because I know how horrible it felt to learn someone had called me an animal.

And maybe I’m naive, but I think collectively we can do better for humanity at large if we can pick up on the subtle bullying that happens through words.

By doing so, it helps.

Because it means you are conscious.

That is what‘s needed now. For us to be conscious. And discerning. And pathetically optimistic.

Every positive thing matters for the people of Gaza, who have no iron dome or US backed army to protect them from these atrocities and the relentless bombing, let alone against subtle linguistic bullying.

A few words from Malcom X bring the point home:

“If you're not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”

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