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Enemy Construction and Canadian Media Complicity

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Enemy Construction and Canadian Media Complicity
   © 2009, Global Media Journal -- Canadian Edition  ISSN: 1918-5901 (English) -- ISSN: 1918-591X (Français) Volume 2, Issue 2, pp. 7-24   Discourses of Dehumanization:Enemy Construction and Canadian Media Complicityin the Framing of the War on Terror  Erin Steuter  Mount Allison University, Canada  Deborah Wills Mount Allison University, Canada  Abstract:   This paper examines the Canadian news media’s coverage of the wars inAfghanistan and Iraq. In particular, Canadian newspaper headlines are examinedfor the way in which an image of the “enemy” is constructed and framed indominant media discourse. An analysis of the data reveals a pattern of dehumanizing language applied to enemy leaders as well as Arab and Muslimcitizens at large in the media’s uncritical reproduction of metaphors thatlinguistically frame the enemy in particular ways. Particularly, the paper arguesthat the Canadian media have participated in mediating constructions of Islam andMuslims, mobilizing familiar metaphors in representations that fabricate anenemy-Other who is dehumanized, de-individualized, and ultimately expendable.This dehumanizing language takes the form of animal imagery that equates andreduces human actions with sub-human behaviours. This paper argues that therepeated use of animal metaphors by monopoly media institutions constitutemotivated representations that have ideological importance. The consequences of these representations are more than rhetorical, setting the stage for racist backlash,prisoner abuse and even genocide.  Keywords: Muslims; Media; News; Dehumanization; Enemy Construction; Waron Terror  Erin Steuter  and Deborah Wills  8  Résumé: Cet article fait l’examen de la couverture médiatique canadienne des guerres enAfghanistan et en Iraq. En particulier, les manchettes de journaux canadiens sontanalysées pour déceler la manière dont une image de “l’ennemie” est construite etencadrée dans le discours médiatique dominant. Une analyse des données révèleun modèle de langage déshumanisant appliqué aux chefs ennemis ainsi qu’auxcitoyens arabes et musulmans en général dans la reproduction des métaphoresdans les médias, qui encadre linguistiquement l’ennemi d’une façon particulière.Particulièrement, cet article soutient que les médias canadiens ont participé à lamédiation des constructions de l’islam et des musulmans, en mobilisant desmétaphores bien connues dans des représentations qui façonnent un ennemi, ou“l’autre”, qui est déshumanisé, désindividualisé, et ultimement consomptible. Celangage de déshumanisation prend la forme d’une imagerie animale qui met surun pied d’égalité et réduit l’action humaine à des comportements bestiaux. Cetarticle soutient que l’utilisation répétée de métaphores animales par le monopoled’instituts médiatiques constitue des représentations motivées qui ont uneimportance idéologique. Les conséquences de ces représentations sont plus querhétoriques, elles préparent le terrain pour des répercussions racistes, pour lemauvais traitement de prisonniers et même le génocide.  Mots-clés:   Musulmans; Médias; Déshumanisation; Construction d’Ennemi;Guerre Contre le Terrorisme  Introduction Amid the highly-charged milieu of post-9/11 discourse, many Western government and militaryleaders called for unquestioning, patriotic support for retaliatory wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.Under a variety of pressures, wartime news media, writing within the context of what wasquickly labeled a War on Terror, often employed the language of military and state discourse in away that later critics have identified as, at best, unreflective and at worst, propagandistic(Dimaggio, 2008; Kellner, 2003; Kamalipour & Snow, 2004). Contemporary North Americancoverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as in the broader coverage of the war on terror,points to media complicity in reinforcing the broader political framing of a Muslim enemy. Thispaper suggests that, in their largely uncritical reproduction of metaphors that linguistically framethe enemy in particular ways, the Canadian media have participated in mediating constructionsof Islam and Muslims found in other forms of social and cultural expression, mobilizing familiarmetaphors in representations that fabricate an enemy-Other who is dehumanized, de-individualized and ultimately expendable. While many Canadians—who assume that diversity,multiculturalism, and inclusivity are at the forefront of our national identity—might imagine thata public body of metaphors marking the racialized Other as sub-human would be primarily anAmerican phenomenon, our research shows that the Canadian media’s reliance on thisdehumanizing discourse is surprisingly systematic and coherent.  Discourses of Dehumanization: Enemy Construction and Canadian Media Complicity in the Framing of the War on Terror  9 This paper focuses on Canadian print news and, in particular, newspaper headlines,which represent especially influential components of print journalism. The results reveal adehumanizing frame that has both political and ideological force, especially when it spreads fromspecific antagonists such as the 9-11 terrorists or enemy leaders like Saddam Hussein to thepopulace of an entire nation, region or religion. The Canadian newspaper headlines collected inthis paper metaphorically position not just enemy soldiers, but increasingly all Arabs or Muslimsas animals, insects and diseases, reinforcing the broader political discourse of essential, hostiledifference and, more gravely, potentially laying the groundwork for the language of eradicationand annihilation that is the logical corollary to metaphors of the enemy as vermin or virus. Thedehumanizing metaphors found in these headlines are so persistent as to form a coherentsymbolic language in which, in the war on terror in general and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistanin particular, pursuit of the enemy is rhetorically figured as a hunt, with the capture of the enemyportrayed as “snaring” prey and imprisonment as “caging” the captured animal. Military actionsare figured in metaphorically consistent ways, reinforcing the equation of the Arab or Muslimenemy with animal, an equation so persistent it has, almost without popular notice, become anew culturally dominant force.As critical race scholars have noted, the rhetorical framing of the West’s response to theOriental Other draws upon long-standing binaries by which the West defines the East as alien toits norm; the barbaric East is seen, through its essential nature, as fundamentally opposed to thecivilized West, locking the two into a relationship so innately hostile that it precludes anysolution other than a bifurcated crusade-or-cleanse model in which, as in the historical crusades,difference is eliminated through either conversion or destruction. Within this model, differenceitself, whether racial or cultural, is seen as inimical. The threat of difference is exaggerated andemphasized in times of war; scholars of propaganda agree that images emphasizing theOtherness of the enemy are fundamental to wartime discourses because they create thepreconditions necessary to military action. With respect to racially-Othered enemies, theconstruction of difference is often more blunt; for example, Japanese opponents in World War IIwere treated much more harshly in Allied propaganda than were Germans.The Canadian media are currently reprising this aspect of enemy-construction,collectively and largely uncritically reproducing a historically-freighted frame of the enemy asdebased animal—a frame arising from this binary-driven sensibility. This dehumanizing frame,while emerging in the field of the representational, has direct consequences in lived experience.These include a subtle, but significant re-casting of Muslim-Canadian identity, evidenced, forexample, in cases of the media calling Canadian Muslims suspected of terrorist activities“Canadian-born” or “home-grown” rather than simply “Canadian”, insinuating that Muslim-Canadians are not authentic citizens. This paper suggests that this kind of revocation of citizenlyidentity is prefigured and enabled by symbolic revocations of human identity through the processof the enemy constructions that the Canadian media, like those elsewhere in the world, havehelped to fabricate. The Role of the Media In the months following the events of 9/11, the North American media evinced in heightenedform the structural flaws that critical media scholars have for decades identified and analyzed.Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky (1988) influentially decoded the subtle operations of media frames and filters—those potent, systemic influences grounded in “money and power”  Erin Steuter  and Deborah Wills  10 that shape, distort or censor journalism, “marginalizing dissent” and “allowing government anddominant private interests” to establish their perspective through an apparently neutral network of media. As a result, mainstream, for-profit news media are frequently enmeshed in discursivetactics that are closer to propaganda than to journalism (Altheide, 2006).While external pressures arise from media realities such as monopoly ownership and theincreasing power of advertisers over content, internal pressures and the structural workings bywhich media manufacture consent create constraints that are “built into the system in such afundamental way” (Herman & Chomsky, 1988) that they operate more subtly, more indirectlyand, therefore, more profoundly than obvious forms of pressure and control. In the climate of anxiety following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, government and military filters became less tacit andmore overt, flourishing in an atmosphere in which the twin modalities of fear and patriotism notonly permitted, but encouraged journalists to set aside their traditional appearance of objectivity.In this atmosphere, many U.S. news anchors functioned less as reporters than as “icons of sentimental patriotism” (Center for Social Media, 2002), broadcasting in front of imposing, over-sized graphics of American flags and openly declaring their desire to line up behind theirCommander-in-Chief.Robert Jensen sees this kind of public patriotism as antithetical to effective journalism.He argues that it is precisely in times of war, when “a democracy most desperately needs acritical, independent journalism working outside the ideological constraints of the culture”(2003), that commercial mainstream news media is most likely to “fail profoundly” (Ibid). Thisfailure has occurred on multiple levels in the mainstream media’s coverage of the War on Terror.In some instances, it takes the form of suppression, omission or under-reporting, as in theminimal coverage devoted to anti-war protest and activism or civilian death tolls, a topic theWestern media avoid. Such omissions constitute ideological interventions even on the part of news organs widely seen as reputable and objective. It is through such tactics, argue critics suchas Kenneth Payne (2005) and Norman Fairclough (1989), that media discourse plays such apowerful role. Payne asserts that contemporary media are “indisputably an instrument of war”,helping governments win “domestic and international public opinion”, a task as essential towinning modern wars as “defeating the enemy on the battlefield” (Payne, 2005: 83). Media’srole as an instrument of war, argues Payne, is “true regardless of the aspirations of many journalists to give an impartial and balanced assessment of conflict” (Ibid). Winter (2006) echoesPayne’s indictment of the media’s instrumental role in supporting the wars in Middle Eastarenas, noting specifically that “mainstream Canadian media, like their American counterparts,have adopted the role of stenographers to power. Although this performance has served theestablishment well, it is a disservice to the public, the troops, and to the victims in Afghanistan”(Winter, 2006). For example, criticisms of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are under-reported;when covered, protestors are often treated with media hostility or scorn: a former  National Post   columnist, who resigned because of heavy-handed editorial policies, observed that the paper’s“hostility to critics of the [Iraq] war was simply childish. . . There wasn’t a peace movement.There was a ‘peace’ movement, quote unquote” (Pearson, 2003, April 19: A19). While sucheditorial choices about things like punctuation may be subtle, they have a powerful cumulativeeffect, eliding the distance between speaker and content so that the newspaper’s voice comes toseem neutral, commonsense and obvious rather than ideological.One of the least visible but most ideologically-charged choices in the Western media’scoverage of the Afghan and Iraqi wars is its “consistent disinterest in nonviolent Muslimperspectives” (Gottschalk & Greenberg, 2007). As Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg point  Discourses of Dehumanization: Enemy Construction and Canadian Media Complicity in the Framing of the War on Terror  11 out, moderate voices from the Muslim community are routinely omitted from news coverage, anabsence that confirms public stereotyping of all Muslims as extremists. While this omission pre-dates September 11, it has intensified since; domestic news sources “seldom mention the terms‘Muslim’ or ‘Islam’ except in the context of conflict, violence, and bloodshed” (Ibid: 10). Constructing the Enemy Media coverage of the events of 9/11 and the subsequent coverage of the wars in Afghanistanand Iraq are critically shaped by pre-existing, Islamophobic frames that reflect neo-colonialassumptions (Henry & Tator, 2002; Kellner, 2004; Norris, Kern & Just, 2003; Nacos, 2002;Paletz, 1992; Picard, 1993). Karim argues that a coherent set of journalistic narratives haveemerged regarding “Muslim terrorism” (2003: 81) narratives that reinforce stereotypes of murderous Muslims and advance limited and often inaccurate information about Islam. EdwardSaid (1997) similarly argues that the image of Islam in Western media is laden “not only [with]patent inaccuracy but also expressions of unrestrained ethnocentrism, cultural and even racialhatred” (Said, 1997: ii). He notes that “malicious generalizations about Islam have become thelast acceptable form of denigration of foreign culture in the West; what is said about the Muslimmind, or character, or religion, or culture as a whole cannot now be said in mainstreamdiscussion about Africans, Jews, other Orientals, or Asians” (Ibid: 12). Journalist David Lambconcurs, noting that Arabs are now “caricatured in a manner once reserved for blacks andHispanics” (cited in Lester & Ross, 2003: 76).Elizabeth Poole observes that in the media’s discussion of the War on Terror, anti-Western violence is “seen to evolve out of something inherent in the [Muslim] religion” (Poole,2002: 4). As several studies have documented, after the events of 9/11, North American mediaintensified their depictions of prevailing stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims (Pintak, 2006;Inbaraj, 2002; McChesney, 2002). Pintak contends that the bias in American media after 9/11constitutes “jihad journalism”, adding that such slanted coverage became “the hallmark of thepost-9/11 era” (Pintak, 2006: 42-44). The media’s dominant narrative, according to McChesney,portrays “a benevolent, democratic and peace-loving nation brutally attacked by insane evilterrorists who hate the United States for its freedoms” (McChesney, 2002: 43). Its chief messageis that the U.S. “must immediately increase its military and covert forces, locate the survivingculprits and exterminate them” in order to “root out the global terrorist cancer” (Ibid). Thisdominant narrative’s reliance on disease metaphors points to one of the key features of NorthAmerican and European media coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the War onTerror in general: the patterned and systematic dehumanization of Muslims (Kuttab, 2007; Esses,Veenvliet, Hodson & Mihic, 2008).Philip Knightly’s (1975) and Sam Keen’s (1991) pioneering work on enemy constructionanalyzes the persistence of animal images of the enemy in media propaganda. The constructionof the enemy as a dehumanized Other is much more than a representational strategy performedby the news media; its results can be global in reach. Said’s work lays much of the groundwork for current analyses of the media’s fabrication of the enemy-Other; it argues that colonial andimperial projects depend on the way we characterize those we see as deeply and oppositionallydifferent from ourselves. Over time, these characterizations are systematized and grouped into anorganized body of thought, a repertoire of words and images so often repeated that it comes toseem like objective knowledge. Orientalism, the distorting lens created by this process, offers aframework through which the West examines what it perceives as the foreign or alien,
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