Al Jazeera's Sue Turton had an interesting exchange recently with a Libyan tradesman named Mohammed near the front in Misurata. As they waited by a makeshift hospital, Mohammed asked Turton why she called the men (and women) battling Muammar Qaddafi's security forces "rebels." "They are not fighting men," he stated. "You need to tell the world that these men are normal people. Gaddafi has forced them to take up arms."
Mohammed's not alone in his thinking. In March, opposition fighters told Time's Abigail Hauslohner that they wanted to be called "revolutionaries" or "mujahideen," not "rebels"--a sentiment that other fighters echoed in interviews with Clare Morgana Gillis at The Atlantic in April. Earlier this week, Marc Herman explained why the rebels don't like being called rebels. They consider it "Qaddafi's term," he noted at The Atlantic, and prefer Ronald Reagan's phrase for groups like the Mujahideen in Afghanistan or the Contras in Nicaragua: "freedom fighters." Herman added, however, that the distinction only mattered for public relations reasons, since the "anti-Qaddafi militias don't speak English, but rather Arabic and Amazir--the Berber language--and call themselves thwar, which roughly means revolutionaries" (Al Jazeera Arabic, interestingly enough, seems to go with that word as well: thuwar in formal Arabic, or ثوار, which can be translated as rebels but comes from a root meaning "to agitate," having a noun form meaning "revolution"). The English-language website for the opposition's Transitional National Council, meanwhile, makes no mention of "rebels," referring instead to the "revolutionary people of Libya."