11, 2001 four aircrafts were high jacked by terrorists to attack the World
Trade Center in New York and Pentagon near Washington. Two passenger airliners flew
into the World Trade Center, while one flew into the Pentagon and the fourth
crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania,
after its passengers tried to overcome the hijackers. The attacks left the
whole world shocked and the Americans traumatized. In this event media
discourse played a vital role in rallying the public opinion and even silencing
opposition in some cases.
Tragic as it
was, the causalities did not stop at the passengers who were on the planes and
those who were in the buildings, but the repercussions also led to more killing
both in the US and outside of it. In addition to the 2,996 people who lost
their lives in the attacks, hate crimes against Muslims peaked post-9/11.
Figure 1 Source: retrieved from:
Muslims do not wear name tags with their religions and ethnicity, such crimes
targeted those who looked like Muslims or Middle Eastern. On September 17,2001 Sikh
owner of gas station was shot to death in his property in an incident that The
New York Times called “Rampage” as the shooter “shot at but
missed a clerk of Lebanese descent at a Mobil station (2). Soon
afterward, he fired several shots into the home of a family of Afghan descent,
but hit no one.” It is a religious duty for the Sikhs to wear turban and
those are largely associated with Muslims so the victim was targeted because he
looked Muslim enough for the shooter who later announced that he was defending
his country saying ”I stand for America all the way”(3) . Another
incident of targeting the Muslim population in the US after 9/11 was when the Bangladeshi
American Rais Bhuiyan was shot by Mark Anthony Stroman who asked him before
shooting about his country of origin. Although Bhuiyan did not die, he lost
sight in one eye as a result of the shooting. Other aspect of this backlash
would also include vandalizing, abuse and discrimination as can be seen from
the following table (figure2) which shows the numbers of the hate crimes
committed against Muslims after 9/11 compared to those committed after the
terrorist attack of Oklahoma city
bombing in 1995(4).
Figure 2:Source: CLAIR 2002 Civil Right
internal political level, the USA PATRIOT Act was effective on October 26,2001.
The abbreviation “USA PATRIOT” stands for Uniting and Strengthening
America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct
Terrorism Act of 2001. It basically gave power to the federal government to
hunt down and deport “suspected” foreigners for no reason, given the
ambiguity of the language used in it.
incidents and laws can be seen within the historic context of the event by
following the media discourse at the time to see how Muslims were portrayed in
different media outlets including the speeches and interviews of President G.W.
Bush. Such texts are particularly important as they came from someone who held
power in the local and international community alike.
Norman Fairclough “power in discourse is to do with powerful participants
controlling and constraining the contributions of non-powerful participants”
(5), which can be argued to be the case in G.W.Bush’s several speeches
after the attacks. Bush’s post-9/11 speeches were epideictic in nature, though
some can be argued to bear some deliberative characteristics. The genre of his
speech is particularly important because they would not just affect the moment
when they were said but rather transcends that to other places and times as
well, because the exclusive tone in the discourse that circulated the media at
the time paved the way to the American War on Terror. The momentum of the
tragic events of 9/11 provided the “spatio-temporal conditions of the
moment”(6) for the utterance to incite the Islamophobic
incidents and more significantly to dehumanize and demonize the other.
Right after the attack, Bush started giving
answers to the American people explaining to them why such an attack targeted
the heart of the USA. With such statements as “America was targeted for
attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the
world,” (the Oval Office speech)(7) Bush constitutes the idea
of ‘terrorists’ targeting ‘freedom ‘, hence the epideictic genre of his speech.
The epideictic rhetoric has the “virtue and vice” themes at the
center of its messages as it is not a mere commentary on the social or historic
events in which it is used but rather steers the events in a certain way or
another, that is to say it tends to become an action on its own. However, since
genre in media discourse is used for investigating the linguistic features of
the discourse, it requires a more fluid definition, and as a result other
features of Bush’s speeches can be seen as advocacy of his policies by
manipulating people’s fears. In his press conference upon arrival at the South
Lawn of the White House, September 16, 2001, Bush described his
“war against terrorism” as a crusade against evil, “This is a
new kind of — a new kind of evil. And we understand. And the American people are beginning to
understand. This crusade, this war on
terrorism is going to take a while.”(8) The praise and blame
pair associated with epideictic genre here is also a justification for the
following actions taken by the United States to change the world scene, and
hence the deliberative quality of the utterance.
In her book Investigating
Media Discourse (2006), Ann O’Keeffe explains the functions Hall gives to
utterance as an essential factor in analyzing media discourse(9),
recreate the contexts of utterances by invoking the genres to which the
utterance typically or socio-historically belong, and secondly, we create our
own voices in relation to the expectations of their uses in relation to the
other participants with whom we are interacting.
1995:33 Quoted in Investigating Media Discourse, p.2