This book is about the public language of the 'war on terrorism' and the way in which language has been deployed to justify and normalise a global campaign of counter-terrorism. It explains how the war on terrorism has been reproduced and amplified by key social actors and how it has become the dominant political narrative in America today, enjoying widespread bipartisan and popular support. The book also explains why the language of politics is so important and the main methodological approach for analysing the language of counter-terrorism, namely, critical discourse analysis. Then, it provides the comparison drawn between the September 11, 2001 attacks and World War II and the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of the most noticeable aspects of the language surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001 is its constant reference to tragedy, grievance and the exceptional suffering of the American people. The book focuses on the way in which language was deployed to construct the main identities of the protagonists. It demonstrates how terrorism is rhetorically constructed as posing a catastrophic threat to the American 'way of life', to freedom, liberty and democracy and even to civilisation itself. The book analyses how the administration's counter-terrorism campaign has been rhetorically constructed as an essentially 'good' and 'just war', similar to America's role in World War II. Finally, the book concludes that responsible citizens have a moral duty to oppose and resist the official language of counter-terrorism.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is about the public language of the 'war on terrorism' and the way in which language has been deployed to justify and normalise a global campaign of counter-terrorism. The book has two primary goals. First, it seeks to explore the nature of the overarching narrative or story of the 'war on terrorism': its main themes and appeals, its forms and expressions and the kinds of cultural and political myths that it encompasses. Second, it explains how the language of the 'war on terrorism' has become the dominant political paradigm in American foreign policy since September 11, 2001, and the different kinds of reality-making affects that the adoption of this language has.
This chapter explains how the 'war on terrorism' consists of both practice and language, or discourse. Then, it suggests that discourses form the foundation for the practice by establishing the underlying assumptions, beliefs and knowledge. There are important and unambiguous connections between the language and the practice of counter-terrorism; critical discourse analysis permits people to analyse both the specific features of the language and the deeper relationship between discourse and the exercise of power. The chapter explores how the discourse affects the practice of the 'war on terrorism', particularly, how the language of counter-terrorism has consequences for the moral community, for democratic participation and for the practice of counter-terrorism. Additionally, the 'war on terrorism' as a geo-political and strategic project is as much driven by the internal logic and effect of the discourse as it is by concrete political events.
One of the most noticeable aspects of the language surrounding the attacks of September 11, 2001 is its constant reference to tragedy, grievance and the exceptional suffering of the American people. A significant aspect of the discourse surrounding September 11, 2001 is the way in which the events were discursively linked to a number of popular meta-narratives. It is quite common for politicians to make use of historical analogies to try to explain current events. This chapter demonstrates that there is a deliberate and sustained effort to discursively link September 11, 2001 to the attack on Pearl Harbor itself. The September 11, 2001 attacks provided officials with a readymade and exceptional grievance. The focus on American victim-hood and grievance sets the basis for military retaliation and a global 'war on terrorism' that resulted in tens of thousands of civilian deaths and the systematic abuse of thousands of terrorist suspects.
The 'war on terrorism' as a political discourse has both unique and generic characteristics, as well as continuities and discontinuities from previous counter-terrorism approaches. This chapter considers the discourse as a totality and looks at the forest rather than just individual trees. The role of the media is critical to the success of any political discourse because in modern societies it is the main transmission belt or conduit between politics and society. At one level, the power of the discourse is due to its internal construction; it is a coherent, appealing and reassuring narrative for Americans which restores the confidence and sense of purpose which was so severely undermined by the terrorist attacks. On another level, political discourses only rise to prominence in this way when other social actors reproduce and amplify the language across the wider society.
This chapter examines the way the threat of terrorism facing America since September 11, 2001 has been constructed discursively and the reasons it is so crucial to the prosecution of the 'war on terrorism'. It then examines the discursive construction or 'writing' of threat and danger. Following this, the chapter also examines the reasons it is necessary for officials to construct threat and fear. The 'reality effect' of terrorist violence induces an anxiety that no amount of rationalising can counteract; the visual pictures of violence are far more powerful than any counter-factual statistics could ever be. Although threat and danger is ultimately a matter of perception and perceptions can vary greatly from person to person, it would still be possible to present a range of perspectives and information which would allow a less hysterical assessment of the situation.
This chapter focuses on the way that senior policy-makers discursively constructed the 'war on terrorism' as a 'good' war. It examines the ways in which the discourse of the 'good war on terrorism' manages its inherent tensions and contradictions. The power of the 'good (new) war' construction lies in the fact that from within the confines of the discourse itself, it is virtually impossible to deny the legitimacy of the war or to suggest any kind of non-military alternative. Even if the Bush-led 'war on terrorism' is sometimes poorly executed, it is extremely difficult to argue against the rightness and justice of the overall counter-terrorist war. Two main discursive constructions can be observed in the official discourse about the war's cause: first, that it is a legally defined defensive war; and second, that it is a war to secure justice and to defend freedom.
This chapter explores the unique and particular ways in which identity has been discursively constructed through the official language of counter-terrorism. It focuses on the strategies used to differentiate, demonise and dehumanise the terrorist 'other'. Establishing the identities of the primary characters, the heroes and villains or the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys', was a key element in constructing the overall narrative of the 'war on terrorism'. In a media-saturated society, establishing the identities of the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys' was essential to making the national story of America's war understandable to the wider public. In direct contrast to the terrorists, Americans are discursively constructed first and foremost as Innocent' victims; even the Pentagon casualties and the soldiers fighting in Afghanistan are remade as 'innocent Americans'. In addition, Americans are discursively reconstructed as 'heroic' and 'united'.
This conclusion presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the preceding chapters of this book. The book details the causes of political violence. Through a careful analysis of the official language of counter-terrorism, it argues that the discursive strategies employed by the American and British administrations to construct the 'war on terrorism' were the same as those used by leaders and political entrepreneurs in these other conflicts. Importantly, the observation that large-scale political violence is a discursive construction is more than simply ontological; if a campaign of violence like the 'war on terrorism' can be socially and politically constructed, it can also be deconstructed. And, the discourse of counter-terrorism is vulnerable and full of instabilities; it contains contradictions, moral hypocrisies, deliberate deceptions, fabrications and misconceptions which can be exploited.