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The Language of Terrorism
On September 11, 2001, two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, while yet another suspiciously crashed. Blasted on T.V. screens across America, were images of fire, destruction, chaos and death. Framed in colors of red, white and blue, were such headlines that read: ³America Under-Attack,² ³The War Against Terror² and ³The Attack on America²; all the while, urgent ticket taped messages flowed across our television screens and news anchors reported on the utmost of news. To sum-up the days events, President Bush addressed the nation.
It was in the President¹s initial speech to the nation following the attack on the World Trade Center that the adjective ³evil² was first introduced. Quoting from the bible, and making reference to a ³power greater than any of us,² the President reassured the American people of their safety and well-being. Within a couple of minutes, the stage was set for all that was to follow.
Since adopted by the media, the Bush administration and the American people, the religious reference of ³evil² by the President has become an integral part of the public discourse. Framing the way we talk and think about the day¹s events, and all subsequent events, including talk of Bin Laden, the Taliban and terrorism, the use of binary language in religious and metaphoric expression have become an important element in the ³war against terrorism.² And despite the President¹s and congress¹ denouncement of any reference to ³the attack on terrorism² as a holy war, it seems as if the American ideal of ³separation of state and religion,² has become suspended and/or forgotten all together.
The intent of this paper is to analysis the language used by the President to describe the September 11th events, and consequentially, its binary effects. Given the President¹s religious and metaphoric references a dichotomous framework is thought to exit. For instance, in using the term ³evil,² images of the devil and hell have been conjured up --and conversely-- images of God and heaven. Helping to demonize those responsible, the initial language used by the President and later incorporated by the press, has since served as a political weapon from which to fight ³the war against terrorism.² In that the President¹s speech evoked from his audience (most notably the American people) feelings of fear, terror, anger, and hatred, the appeal has been to the public¹s emotions and senses rather than their ration and intellect.
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Instilling a strong sense of nationalism and pride, the implications of the President¹s speech are already being felt. Laying the groundwork for all subsequent actions, the framing of the events in dichotomous, either/or language has become widely accepted and thus ³naturalized.²
Hence, it is through language, and the media¹s use of language, that certain ideologies have been maintained and perpetuated. Portrayed (i.e. encoded) as ³natural² and accepted as such (i.e. decoded), the ideologies helping to inform such ³patriotic² language have become a standardized way of thinking and talking. That is, in that the language (i.e., metaphors) adopted by the media and the public have come to be viewed as ³normal,² ³standard² and ³common-sensical² the concept(s) informing such language (i.e., freedom, democracy, patriotism, unity, etc.) have also become naturalized (i.e. Americanized). Understanding, of course, that the mass media (i.e., television, radio and newspaper) is largely controlled by the dominate society, it is not surprising that the language employed by it generally supports and depicts the dominant paradigm. As described by Kellner, ³one of the functions of the dominant media culture is to maintain boundaries and to legitimate the rule of the hegemonic class, race and gender forces² p. 62, 1995)1.
With language used as a device to elicit support and consensus from the American people and government, as well as other nations and allies, the war waged against terrorism has remained largely uncontested. Moreover, military force has been perceived as justified. And while no one is arguing the magnitude of this horrific crime, the focus of this analysis is no less on the use of binary language located in the metaphors and religious expressions, as cited by the President and press.
By employing methods of quantitative and qualitative research, a content analysis of the language and metaphors used to describe the September 11, 2001 will be undertaken. Based on empirical data gathered from a content analysis, this study will examine the language and metaphors used to frame public discourse and thought. Given the political and religious contents of President Bush¹s initial speech, particular attention will be given to the binary language (i.e., good/evil and civilized/barbaric) used by President Bush to describe the day¹s events, and its influence on all subsequent events. In so doing, this study looks at how the United States, President Bush and American ideals (i.e., democracy, freedom, patriotism) have been portrayed by the press and how this compares and/or contrasts to the portrayal of Afghanistan, Bin Laden and the Taliban. More importantly, however, the possible implications of such language is examined.
1 Kellner, D. (1995). Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity and Politics between the Modern and Postmodern. New York: Routledge Press.