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Public Policy and Administration


Christina Spoons


Rhetorical frames are used to support political agendas, define problems, diagnose causes, make policy judgments, and suggest solutions. Following the attacks on September 11, 2001, politicians and media pundits used Islamophobia as a fear-mongering tactic to justify public policy formation. The purpose of this study was to analyze public discourse on Islamic terrorism in arguments advocating government surveillance, restrictive immigration policies, and other erosions of U.S. constitutional protections of its citizens. This study drew on the postmodern theories of Lakoff, Lyotard, and Said to critically examine U.S. political discourse on Islam and terrorism. Three conceptual rhetorical frames were examined: Clash of Civilizations, Endangered Constitutional Protections, and Islamophobia. The key research question asked how U.S. politicians and high-profile national news commentators used biased rhetoric to frame discussions of Islam and terrorism. This qualitative study used content analysis of 44 news reports of crimes that framed these incidents as Islam-inspired terrorism. Study findings suggested that defenders of the USA PATRIOT Act used a Clash of Civilizations frame that pitted Western freedom proponents against radical Muslim fanatics in struggles for social change. U.S. policy makers and news commentators described Islamic inspired terrorism as anti-American vengeance, Jihadism, and/or anti-Semitism to control national debates and information flow. Implications of these findings suggest that an alternative Islamophobic framing can be deployed to make biases explicit, quell anxieties of and about stigmatized groups, raise the self-esteem of the vilified minorities, and decrease the risk of terrorism.

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