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Rhetoric of Terrorism. Introduction to the On-Demand Lecture Matt Bonham Professor of Political Science Maxwell School of Syracuse University Specializations : international political communications and applications of computer technology to the study of policy decision-making . Slide 1.

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Rhetoric of Terrorism

Introduction to the On-Demand LectureMatt BonhamProfessor of Political Science Maxwell School of Syracuse UniversitySpecializations: international political communications and applications of computer technology to the study of policy decision-making

Slide 1


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. Review of my lecture on figurative language2. Role of figures of speech in everyday life3. “The War on Terrorism”: Background4. Semiotic Analysis of “Terrorism”5. The Rhetoric of “Terrorism”6. The War on Terrorism as Political Communication7. Figurative Language8. Extension of the Metaphor9. Examples: USA, UK, Russia, and Japan

Outline of the Lecture

Slide 2


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. Growing acceptance of the rhetorical component of knowledge2. Empiricist forms of social science are less dependent on the referential theory of meaning that distinguishes betweenliteral utterances and the figurative3. Alternative philosophies of social science (phenomenology and constructivism) construe knowing as “active meaning.”4. Figures of speech are not just adornments but contribute to the cognitive dimension of meaning


Slide 3


Rhetoric of Terrorism

Example: Address by President Bush on September 11th“Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”The literal meaning: “Terrorists can not harm America”


Slide 4


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. Figures of speech are familiar and easily recognized.2.Evoke the recognition of equivalences to which we are committed, e.g., the “war on terror,” or3.Suggest new more challenging equivalences, e.g., the “Axis of Evil.”


Slide 5


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. The carefully planned and coordinated terror attack of September 11, 2001 was the bloodiest attack on the American mainland in modern times2. Live TV coverage where CNN had the standing title of “America under attack” enabled the whole world to witness the unprecedented catastrophe

The “War on Terrorism: Background

Slide 6


Rhetoric of Terrorism

President George W. Bush said among other things: “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts… These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”1. This is how President Bush put the “war on terrorism” on the international agenda2. But how does one make war on terrorism or any other “ism”?

President Bush on September 11, 2001

Play Excerpt of the Speech

Slide 7


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. A major problem for the coalition fighting terrorism is how to define what they are fighting against.2. If there is no agreement on the term, oppressive regimes will add their own separatists, insurgents, and dissidents to the list of “international terrorists”

Defining Terrorism

Slide 8


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. One of the problems is that the “ism” suffix is usually associated with an ideology, such as Marxism or communism2. But “terrorism” is not an ideology3. Instead, it is regarded as a method that is used against civilian targets

Terrorism as an “Ism”

Slide 9


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. The term is used to designate people who are doing things to others, the victims, for a wide variety of reasons2. Here both the perpetrators and the victims are important in the definition. 3.The perpetrators are members of non-governmental organizations and the victims are civilians

Slide 10


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. To help clarify this problem we can turn to thecontinental semiotic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure2. Saussure was born in Geneva in 1857. His contribution, Course of Linguistic General, was published after his death in 1916

A Semiotic Approach

Slide 11


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. For Saussure, a sign consists of a signifier and a signified2. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is referred to as signification3. This is represented in the Saussurean diagram by the arrows 4. The horizontal line marking the two elements of the sign is referred to as the bar

A Semiotic Approach

Slide 12


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. The word 'Open' (when it is invested with meaning by someone who encounters it on a shop doorway) is asign consisting of the following:2. A signifier, the word “open” 3. A signified concept—that the shop is “open” for business4. A sign must have both a signifier and a signified. You cannot have a totally meaningless signifier or a completely formless signified

Example: “Open”

Slide 13


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. The same signifier (the word “open”) could stand for a different signified (and thus be a different sign), if it were on a push-button inside an elevator (“push to open door”) 2. Similarly, many signifiers could stand for the concept “open” (for instance, on top of a packing carton, a small outline of a box with an open flap for “open this end”)— again, with each unique pairing constituting a different sign

Example: Open (continued)

Slide 14


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. In the case of terrorism, the signifier, “terrorism” is used widely by many including the governments of the USA, Russia, and Sri Lanka 2. But the signified, the perpetrators and what they do are quite different: Al-Qaida, the Chechens, and the Tamil Tigers


Slide 15


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. Because the designation of signified depends upon the speaker, the concept of terrorism is seems to be subjective and fluid.2. The signified switches radically both by context and over time3. The only aspect that is stable is the signifier, “Terrorism”



Chechen Rebels

Tamil Tigers

Slide 16


Rhetoric of Terrorism

1. The rhetoric of terrorism is being waged with weapons that are loose, diffuse, and highly flexible2. The signifier is clear-cut, but the signified is not.3. Thus, the “war on terrorism” is largely a rhetorical instrument—a form of political communication that packs an emotional punch

The War on Terrorism

As Political Communication

Slide 17


Rhetoric of Terrorism

The Japanese Understanding

Of the “War on Terrorism”

Neither the signifier nor the signified are clear cut

Slide 18


Rhetoric of Terrorism

The Japanese Understanding

“Fight against terrorism” (テロリズムとの戦い)

“War on terrorism”(対テロ戦争)

“Terror” or “Terrorism” (テロリズムとの闘い)

Slide 19