Today is the eight anniversary of the Iraq war.

That fact got lost in all the breaking news, most significantly, the U.S. use of force against Libya.

It reminded me of George W. Bush’s intention to remove Saddam Hussein. The term “regime change” did not surface much but that’s essentially what’s going on in Libya, right? The United States would not be leading the charge against Moammar Qaddafi if he were a friendly fellow, even if he did fire on his own people.

Lost also in the news of the last week are the horrific events unfolding in Cote D’Ivoire, where a political crisis has spiraled downward rapidly into bloodshed. The United Nations has reported incidents of people burned alive. Others have had their throats slit. At least seven women were butchered earlier this month — the video posted online showed one who had been decapitated by the power of a big gun.

Crimson rivers are flowing in West Africa — and in the East. Sudan, Somalia. Yet we hear so little in the news.

I hope that Libya does not escalate or turn into protracted war in the same vein as Iraq or Afghanistan. And while that conflict is most urgent, I hope we will not turn away from human suffering in other parts of the world.

What’s in a word?

Journalists in newsrooms across the globe have been grappling with the language they use in telling the story of the Libyan uprising.

It’s not Tunisia or Egypt. The unrest there has gone beyond demonstrations and anti-government protests. So what do we call Libyans who are opposing strongman Moammar Gadhafi. Last week, CNN began using the word rebels. So did other news outlets.

Does rebel have a negative connotation? I don’t think so — unless there is Confederate paraphernalia involved. But apparently many people, including those fighting on the streets of Libya, don’t like the word. They didn’t like that we called the opposition fighters rebels.

We also began using sentences that said Libya was inching towards civil war. When does a conflict become civil war?

This was the topic of NPR’s “On the Media” segment Sunday. How do words change the way readers perceive the conflict there?

Here’s how Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines these terms:

Rebel: one who rebels or participates in a rebellion
Civil war: a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country

Susan Chira, foreign editor of the New York Times, said the newspaper began using both terms when it became clear that there was a military conflict in Libya. But she said the paper, just like CNN, has refrained from saying it’s an all-out civil war, though it very well could become one soon.

Yes, words can change everything.

NPR host Brooke Gladstone noted this:

“Several people have told me that the moment they hear the word ‘rebel’ they begin to disconnect. The effect is compounded when combined with the phrase ‘civil war.’ Whether or not people like us on the other side of the world choose to engage or even follow the story is a decision each of us makes every day. We think we make those choices consciously, weighing the expense and time and mental energy with what we stand to gain. But often we decide without deciding. What we choose can hinge on the unrecognized power of a single world.”

There are other words, too, that we journalists use that can influence the opinions of our readers and audiences.

Take for instance, “regime.”

Merriam-Webster defines it as a government in power. But we don’t ever say the Obama regime, do we? We only use it for governments that are deemed less than worthy.

Or “revolution.” Sudden, radical and complete change — that’s revolution. But is that what happened in Egypt? Or were we too hasty to label it so?

Sometimes terms become contagious, used repeatedly by news outlets without a thought as to whether it’s the most appropriate. The fast-changing events in North Africa have made at least this journalist think hard about every word.

New hope for a son of Libya

This is Bashir Al Megaryaf. He’s holding a poster demanding the release of his father, imprisoned in a Libyan jail for two decades. Bashir was only 1 when his father was detained. He has not seen him since.

But he has new hope in his heart that the two may be together again as the Libyan uprising against strongman Moammar Gadhafi gathers steam.

Bashir was among a crowd of Libyans demonstrating in front of CNN Center in Atlanta on Saturday. I had just finished writing a main Libya story for CNN Wires and CNN.com; had watched gruesome videos and listened to the on-air descriptions by witnesses of Gadhafi’s bloody crackdown that was unfolding in Libyan cities and towns.

Writing about the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East have been overwhelming — they are such powerful stories of human perseverance and courage. I wished so many times that I might have an opportunity to cover the story from the ground.

Thus far, I have seen it only from the CNN newsroom.

So when I stepped out into the gloriously sunny and warm afternoon Saturday, accosted by thousands of people attending a hair show, a cheerleading convention and a circus, I felt compelled to walk over the waving Libyan flags and the voices that rang out the loudest on Marietta Street.

Meeting Bashir brought Libya home for me. I have been reading a new book of my father’s writings and could not imagine a life without ever knowing him. Suddenly, the idea of freedom in Libya, a nation have never visited, became very personal to me.

I hope to write more about Bashir in the days ahead. Meanwhile, you can read about Libya and the rest of the region on CNN.com

%d bloggers like this: