Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The "War on Terror" and the Social Construction of Reality

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The "War on Terror" and the Social Construction of Reality

Article excerpt


Terrorists shocked the world on 9/11 by attacking the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. that killed more than 3,000 innocent people. The Bush administration, in response, launched a "war on terror," which is still going on in different parts of the world. Apart from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, parts of Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia are frequently targeted by drone strikes that kill al-Qaeda's terrorists. Drones also kill innocent people in these areas who are dubbed as collateral damage. Just in Pakistan, an estimated 3,581 people have been killed in 366 drone strikes since 2004, according to London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

The dramatic events of September 11, 2001 left people in general and Americans in particular looking for ways to describe and make sense of what happened. In a situation like this people generally need to find a way to conceptualize the event. And narratives provide a means to do just that by structuring our perceptual experience (Hodges, 2007). Narratives are important in the construction of social reality (Riessman, 1993; Johnstone, 2004), as they help establish identities of the people that populate the perceptual experience.

Out of the tragedy of 9/11 emerged the discourse of "war on terror," a lens which scholars argue distorted the U.S. foreign policy and its domestic politics (e.g. Hodges, 2007; Hodges & Nilep, 2007; Mamdani, 2008). The 9/11 attacks also triggered an interest among scholars and common people to understand Muslim extremism. How can we understand Muslim extremism? One way is to explore how Muslim extremists construct their social reality in their narratives. These narratives are found in the text that extremist organizations produce in their publications and other communication.

Extremists structure their own perceptual experience through the use of narratives to comprehend the reality of the 9/11 attacks, the ensuing 'war on terror' and establish identities of the Self and of the 'Other'. The aim of this paper is to explore the narrative construction of reality in the 'war on terror.' At issue is how enemies are defined and identified as discursive products, knowing that language plays a primary role in the construction of social reality.

In the following pages, first I will review literature on narrative. I will also discuss, in the light of existing scholarships, the narrative construction of the 'war on terror' in the U.S., followed by how Muslim extremists construct their own reality of this war. Then, I will discuss concepts and linguistics tools that are used by antagonists for the construction of identity of 'us' in relation to an 'Other'. As a case study, I will analyse the discourse of daily Islam newspaper, which is published by a pro-alQaeda organization in Pakistan. Finally, I will conclude with major takeaways and future implications.

Narrative and the narrative construction of reality

Narrative has been a major theme in humanistic and social scientific thought since the mid-twentieth century (Johnstone, 2004). Bamberg (2004) notes that the terms narrative and story are often used interchangeably, because they have many common characteristics, such as chronological order and thematic ordering of events. But other scholars argue that it is important to make a pragmatic distinction between the two (e.g., Halverson, Goodall & Corman, 2011; and Reismann, 1993 among others). When related events, which are situated in the past and are recounted in a particular sequence for rhetorical or ideological purposes, they form a story. Halverson, Goodall & Corman (2011: 11) suggest that narrative is a coherent system of interrelated and sequentially organized stories that share a common rhetorical or ideological desire of a group of people or a nation. The individual stories serve as units of proof in support of a narrative that is itself employed to achieve a particular goal (Noll, 2006). …

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