I remember when sitting in a fourth year seminar class here at Carleton, listening to students engaged in a discussion on contemporary issues that arose from the Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa/Maghreb (MENA). One thought I couldn’t keep out of my mind was: why is it called the “Arab Spring”? Afraid of speaking up and revealing my foolishness on seemingly conventional knowledge, I never asked. I now know that this may not have been such a silly question.

Perusing Google, I came across Maytha Alhassen’s work in The Huffington Post asking us to “Please Reconsider the Term ‘Arab Spring’”. Alhassen states that “it is worth critically examining the way we in the West have come to describe these revolutions, resistance movements and uprisings in the region” and that “Even esteemed MENA academics and some Arabic press have disappointingly re-appropriated the term”.

At the core of Alhassen’s argument is misrepresentation and miscommunication. To understand these issues further, I recommend reading the entire article.

Taking Alhassen’s suggestion, I started seeing similar patterns, where Western media gives a unique spin on the names associated to social movements internationally. For example, Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution in 2014, and Fishball Revolution in 2016. Of course, these movements are about much more than just umbrellas and fishballs. They’re tied to regional cultural, historical, political, and economic issues. But just as with the Boston Tea Party, the popular nomenclature of events and movements are catchy and entice viewers to read more and thereby (hopefully), understand more. These names may not be politically correct per se, but they are definitely more eye-catching.

But again, this is all part of the framing processes that organize social movements in order to give them instant public recognition. If all social movements and revolutionary names had to be politically correct, we would have a difficult time differentiating them by name, unless they were categorized by date – but that wouldn’t excite headlines, right? There may be some individuals who read the Umbrella Revolution and assume Hong Kong is fighting over a shortage of umbrellas – but honestly, I think they’ll Google it and see for themselves.

Image URL: https://blog.library.villanova.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/11.11.01-arab-spring-image-small1.jpg