ISIS happens: On the linguistic constructions of liberal intellectuals

But the word that implied a whole worldview was “fell.” According to the headline, the young men “fell” into the hands of Isis as an apple falls passively to the ground by gravitational force. The word suggests that it could have happened to anybody, this going to Syria via Turkey to join a movement that delights in decapitation and other such activities in the name of a religion—their religion. Joining Isis is like multiple sclerosis; it’s something that just happens to people.

The word “fell” denies agency to the young men, as if they had no choice in the matter. They were victims of circumstance by virtue of their membership of a minority, for minorities are by definition victims without agency.

There is a strange parallel here with how heroin addicts explained themselves to me. When I asked them why they started taking heroin, they almost invariably answered that they “fell in” with the wrong crowd, again passively, as if by some kind of natural force. By this means they denied responsibility for their situation, though it was obvious that they had not so much fallen in with as sought the wrong crowd. They knew that their explanation was bogus, because they laughed when I said how strange it was that I met many people who fell in with the wrong crowd but never any members of the wrong crowd itself.