Imagined Community, Orientalism

Imagined community, Orientalism and Moral Panic Concepts, underlying Post-9/11 US Presidential Speeches Introduction George W. Bush’s administration and American mass media mounted a sustained project in post-9/11 era to ‘save’ US intact identity and delegitimize critical thoughts about Middle East, Islam and Arabs. This project was implemented by inducing a picture of ‘Self’ or ‘White’ as of Americans versus ‘Others’ as of Arabs and Muslims. In the project, American society is surrounded by ‘borders’ being threatened by ‘Others’. Therefore, perceived threat and heightened security alerts abound in daily media coverage and also political speeches of G. W. Bush and his supporters in this post-9/11 era. Many theoretical frameworks have been applied to investigate this project. Developed by Said (1978), Orientalism is a theory which delineates the categories of rational and superior ‘West’ versus aberrant and inferior ‘Orient’. The theory was used by researchers to interpret the events of post-9/11 era. Applying the Orientalism theory, Nayak (2006) argues that the ‘Self’/’Other’ dialectic is due to the fear of ‘Self’ from ‘Others’ and also the desperate need of ‘Self’ US to a coded Islamic fundamentalism of threatening ‘Others’. There is also a correlation between the Orientalism aspect of ‘Self’ or ‘West’ as a nation and the theory of ‘Imagined communities’, proposed by Anderson (1996). According to Anderson, nations are imagined communities, where ‘the members of even the smallest nations will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them’. Another theoretical framework, applied by researchers, is called moral panic theory: a media-induced so-called perceived threat. Brayton (2006) analyses the American mass media coverage of detention of an ‘American-Taliban’ citizen, who was introduced to North America on December 1, 2001. Brayton argues how moral panic theory was used to sketch racialized physical and social boundaries between ‘Whiteness’ and ‘Others’, and questions the entities of these boundaries. (Rothe et al. 2004) examine the social effects of social construction of moral panic of terrorism. They offer analyses of media’s depiction of acts of terrorism and also state’s vested interest in social construction of moral panic, leading to increased level of fear. Although post-9/11 era has been vastly investigated by scholars using the theoretical frameworks, there is a need to investigate what specific political literature was used by Bush in his post-9/11 speeches to portray American Society as ‘Self’ or ‘civilized nation’ versus ‘Others’ or ‘terrorists’ in order to justify the implementation of the racial project of ‘Saving’ US intact identity. The objective of this paper is to explore three main speeches of G. W. Bush following 9/11: Address to the Nation September 11th 2001, United Nation General Assembly on November 11th 2001 and State of Union January 29th 2002. Applying the above mentioned theoretical frameworks of Orientalism-imagined communities and Moral panic, it is intended to analyze these speeches and argue their contribution to the emergence of the imagined boundaries between ‘Self’ and ‘Others’. Orientalism and Imagined Communities theories in Bush’s speeches As mentioned earlier, there is a correlation between the theories of Imagined Communities and Orientalism. According to Anderson (1996), a nation is ‘an imagined political community [that is] imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign’. Members of this community will not meet their fellow-members, ‘yet in the minds of each, lives the image of their communion’. As Anderson puts it, regardless of inequalities among members, they share common interests or identity as a part of a nation through ‘deep, horizontal comradeship’ within ‘finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations’. Although the theory is a fundamental basis for anthropological discussions, it is challenged by other researchers. Chavez (1994) argues the case of immigrants who may belong to multiple communities at the once, while not be readily imagined to be a part of the new community by those already living there. The imagined communities theory of Anderson would contribute us to discuss the application of Orientalism in post-9/11 era. According to Said (1979), Orientalism is a “style of thought” predicated upon the distinction between the ‘West’ (the Occident) and the ‘East’ (the Orient). He argues that ‘Orientalism is fundamentally a political doctrine willed over the Orient because the Orient was weaker than the West’, and it’s a ‘misrepresentation of some Oriental essence’. As he believes, this misinterpretation is deliberately applied ‘according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting’. As Nayak (2006) argues, the ‘Self’/’Others’ representation of American/Arab world by Bush Administration in the specific historical era of post-9/11 follows the theory of Orientalism. Applying the concept of imagined communities, I also argue that the American ‘Self’ representation of ‘West’ in that era, is the results of creating an imagined community, within which beliefs about belonging and national identity were reconstructed around race. US presidential speeches coupled with mass media coverage, implemented the project of ‘Saving’ US intact state identity in post-9/11 era. These speeches have been analyzed by many researchers in order to find clues of their underlying theories. Throughout his speech in United Nation General Assembly on November 11 2001, Bush tries to sketch an imagined community of American people and their allies as ‘civilization’ or ‘civilized world’. He frames the sketch of this imagined community of ‘civilization’ through Orientalism concept, where the superior ‘civilized world’ is being threatened by ‘enemies’. As he puts it, this ‘Civilization’ will be defended by ‘We’ who are waging a war to save it. Therefore, the two actors are the traditional components of ‘us’ and ‘them’, as can be deduced from the following statements by him: Every civilized nation here today is resolved to keep the most basic commitment of civilization: We will defend ourselves and our future against terror and lawless violence (Bush, 11 November 2001). As stated earlier, the members of an imagined community must share common interests. Interestingly, Bush implies that ’universally accepted standards of humanity’ and ’war on terror’ are two common interests of members of this ‘civilized world’: The civilized world is now responding. We act to defend ourselves and deliver our children from a future of fear. We choose the dignity of life over a culture of death. We choose lawful change and civil disagreement over coercion, subversion and chaos. These commitments -hope and order, law and life- unite people across cultures and continents (Bush, 11 November 2001). Orientalism and imagined communities concepts are also embodied in Bush’s State of Union speech in 2002, where he again uses the term ‘Civilized world’ at the beginning of his speech: The civilized world faces unprecedented danger. Yet, the state of Union has never been stronger (Bush, 29 January 2002). Interestingly, while he is highlighting the common interests of this imagined community as ‘justice’ and peace, his statement simultaneously follows the property of Orientalism theory, in which the rational and superior ‘us’ is facing the inferior and aberrant ‘them’: Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives. First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice. And second we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological weapons from threatening United States and the world (Bush, 29 January 2002). Aside from Orientalism and imagined communities theories that were framed by using ‘us’/’them’ or ‘civilized world’/’terrorist’ dialectics, the theoretical framework of moral panic could also be used to analyze post-9/11 speeches of Bush. Moral Panic theoretical framework Following 9/11, the American public has been inundated with perceived threats and heightened security alerts by political speeches and media coverage, resulting in what is called moral panic. The concept of moral panic was originally developed by Cohen (1972) as a media-induced exaggeration or distortion of some perceived threat or deviant activity. As he puts it, moral panic happens when a ‘condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests’. According to Brayton (2006), three actors need to exist for a moral panic to take hold. First, individuals who are responsible for deviant or criminal behaviour and are threatening the social order should be constructed as ‘folk devils’. Second, ambiguously defined terms such as ‘rap’, ‘rave’ or ‘enemies’ should be deployed. As the third actor, Brayton mentions the term ‘moral entrepreneur’, originally introduced by (Becker 1966) as those such as politicians, media and rule enforcers who start the panic when they fear a threat. The atrocious nature of 9/11 attack provided an excellent opportunities for mass media coverage and also the speeches of politicians to call it a threat. In his immediate speech right after the 9/11 attack, Bush declares: Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. … ] Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. [… ] America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time (Bush, 11 September, 2001). Clearly, Bush, as a ‘moral entrepreneur’, applies the ambiguous terms of ‘terrorists’ or ‘enemies’ and introduces them as the actors or ‘folk devils’, responsible for this catastrophe of 9/11. However, he doesn’t break down specifically who the ‘enemies’ are and where they are located exactly. In order to implement the project of ‘saving’ US intact identity, throughout his speech, he repeatedly refers of the ‘America/’terrorists’ as a different version of ‘Self’/’Other’ dialectic. According to Rothe (2002), ‘A call to war and legislative responses’ is the most significant part of this created moral panic. He refers to role of mass media, another member of ‘moral entrepreneur’ group, and their headlines such as ‘War at Home’ (The Dallas Morning News 9/11/2001) and ‘ITS WAR’ (Daily News, 9/11/2001), coupled with the presidential speeches to justify the need for the upcoming global war. Yet, the theory of moral panic still applies to another speech by Bush. In Bush’s State of Union speech on January 2002, he sticks to the previously started scenario of moral panic by reintroducing the existing threat to the American society when he is addressing American public and Congress: As we gather here, our nation is at war, our economy is in recession, and the civilized world faces unprecedented danger (Bush, 29 January, 2002). He reminds the intensity of threat to ensure that the large proportion of US public accepts this moral panic unquestioningly: What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning. [… ] Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes are now spread throughout the world like tickling bombs, set to go off without warning. (Bush, 29 January, 2002). He is also trying to justify his intention of global war against ‘enemies’: These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are (Bush, 29 January, 2002). Apparently, the scenario of generating an exaggerated and induced public fear of terrorism in terms of moral panic theory and also the application of ambiguous terms of ‘our nation’ versus ‘enemies’ contributed to implement the project of ‘saving’ US intact identity in post-9/11 era. Conclusion: The catastrophe of 9/11 attacks to world trade centers in New York provided American politicians and mass media with a cause to implement the project of ‘saving’ the US intact identity. In the project, the ‘Self’/’Other’ dialectic is numerously applied in different formats to discriminate between ‘West’ or ‘Americans’ and ‘Others’. US presidential speeches played a key role in biasing mindsets of American public in regard to the events of post-9/11 era. The objective of this paper was to analyze three significant US presidential speeches through applying the theoretical frameworks of imagined communities, Orientalism and moral panic. I argued how the application of some key words such as ‘civilized nation’ or ‘America’ by Bush in his speeches represented the imagined community of American population, united on ‘war on terror’. In the framework of Orientalism, I pointed out how his statements about his war policy could fit into the Orientalism theory framework, where superior ‘west’ is facing inferior ‘orient’. Eventually, I investigated the literature used by Bush to intensify and induce the public fear of terror in terms of a moral panic. Although I focused on only three speeches of G. W. Bush, providing more concrete proofs on the underlying facts of his speeches and better understanding them need more research on his other speeches and statements. Moreover, in order to investigate the reapplication of such theoretical frameworks on social and political events other than those of 9/11, it’s necessary to compare Bush’s literature and his policies with those of new US president B. Obama.

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