The Real Paul Jones

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Hood v Lawrence

As it happened on university campii, people with very different passions and backgrounds cross paths and a spirited discussion ensues. Thus it was, dear readers, on Thursday as I walked with John Hood who was coming to talk to my class about The John Locke Foundation and virtual community.

Our paths crossed with that of scholars of Islam, Carl Ernst of UNC and Bruce Lawrence of Duke. Bruce was visiting with Carl.

After introductions, talk quickly turned to Iraq. I wish I could capture the phrasings here, but as the rhetoric esculated I was as Sufis and others might say “in the moment.” What we ended on. Or rather what Bruce and John ended on was a debate, however brief and informal, over the use of the word, “insurgent.” Each told the other to “look it up!” I don’t know that either did, but I have and both are right. Isn’t English wonderful?

John Hood used insurgent to mean:

a person who takes part in an armed rebellion against the constituted authority

But he left out the part that Bruce was trying to be sure were also included:

1. insurgent, insurrectionist, freedom fighter, rebel — (a person who takes part in an armed rebellion against the constituted authority (especially in the hope of improving conditions))
2. guerrilla, guerilla, irregular, insurgent — (a member of an irregular armed force that fights a stronger force by sabotage and harassment)

Definition source WordNet 2.0

In saying this, I don’t mean to say that Lawrence triumphed over Hood, but to point out how not just words but how restrictive the definitions can be or how expansive. This harkens back to Cori Dauber’s readings/writings about the way the Iraq War is reported and the use of “terrorists.”

For the record, my mental picture of “insurgents” had the fighters surging in from somewhere else; that is, insurgents as invaders. Wrong by definition but powerful by the imaginative power of words and sound.

Addition: John Hood’s take on the discussion from his blog.


  1. I just blogged about the same incident, but read the result entirely different. There is no definition, first or second or on down, that supports Professor Lawrence’s argument, which was preposterous. An insurgency is not a foreign infiltration, necessarily or in common usage. Remember that he was suggesting the president was “lying” because he attributed the violence in Iraq to “insurgents” instead of “dissidents.” Sounds like a semantic deal, but that is precisely what he was arguing — the semantics suggested an intent to mislead. No, it just means that the good professor was, and probably is, confused.

    Thanks for the invite, by the way. Great class, great experience.

  2. thanks for the correction. i have to admit, as i did, that the choice of ‘insurgent’ over other words allows the imagination to conjure up ocean
    surges. imagine: what if you or bruce had used the cognate – freedom fighter!

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