Reply to Ron Kuzar

Paul Chilton P.A.Chilton at UEA.AC.UK
Mon Sep 17 19:42:55 UTC 2001

Dear Ron,

I am grateful that you the make points that you do, and precisely because
they come from someone in your position, a position which cannot be an easy
one. I will clarify some points about my own position, and respond to some
of the things you say in your email.

1       First,I regard the attacks on American peiople last Tuesday as acts of
horrifying inhumanity. Anyone who knows me would not expect me to condone
these acts, but I evidently do need to make this clear for others. Murder is
murder and mass murder is mass murder, whoever is committing it. I do not
compare or distinguish the different numbers or kinds of people killed by
different actors. I condemn anyone who commits murder, whether they kill one
person at a time or thousands. So I condemn the people who attacked the
American people on 11 September. I acknowledge that the acts committed on 11
September are probably unique in their impact on our minds, because of the
scale, the nature and the location of the action. I do not like using the
term "terrorist", because, as we all know, its meaning is highly contested.
If it helps us refer to the people who committed these depraved acts, so be
it for now, but it will not help us keep a clear head.

For the rest, a few more Notes:

2       You say: "The “Notes” is not only a  piece of critical discourse analysis
but also a clear act of intervention in politics. As such it is a text
liable to critique, and  so are its politics." I agree. That's always been
my view of discourse analysis. Let's not be too starry-eyed, though. Let's
not have any illusions that a few discourse analysts can influence either
state policymakers or those who plot attacks like those of last week.

3       The comments on the extract from Teun van Dijk makes the CDA position seem
very simplistic, which it is not. None the less, analysts probably should
consider carefully where their presupposed value judgments are coming from,
and if necessary make them explicit. Many people in CDA might reply to you
that the victim and agressor are objectively distinguishable via the power
differential--victims being the (relatively) powerless. Like you, I can see
that this cannot be the whole story. Ends do not justify the means.

4       Epistemology is an issue when you say: "But how do we know that Black and
female scholars have  the right knowledge of reality?  Or... how can we be
> sure that scholarly insights represent reality faithfully? The ease
> with which such assumptions about privileged access to reality pass in
> our discipline have to do with the sociology of our discipline: with
> few exceptions, linguists have often been active in progressive social
> projects."  You are right to be watchful for analysts making assumptions
that their access to reality is privileged, of course. But your own
assertions here do presuppose that there exists an objective reality to
start with, especially the first two questions above. Now, this is not the
time or place, but discourse analysis of most varieties has taken a
constructionist position with respect to the notions that the term "reality"
ordinarily evokes. Moreover, the majority of discoruse analysts are
extremely careful to avoid the ideology vs.objective knowledge distinction,
to avoid a claim to superior knowledge. I would rephrase your point and say
that discourse analysts must be sure that any claims they make of the kind
"individual or group X has type Y discourse/cognitive behaviours" must rest
on empirical and reasoned evidence. Similarly, for claims about power
differential. I agree with you, however, that CDA theorists probably need to
rethink the concept of power and its logical consequences.

We are in an epistemological minefield here. But I would also want to say
that I do not find acceptable the extreme relativism of some forms of
deconstructionist DA. After all, my concern in writing these notes comes
from what I know is real harm to real human bodies and minds (whether they
are Americans, Afghans, Israelis, Protestants, Catholics, Jews or
Muslims...). I say that this harm is real, and I also say that different
discourses, constructed by individuals and groups, can disguise or hide that
real harm. When it comes to it, I assert that the discourse that says this
harm happened and is morally bad is objectively true, and that a discourse
that says otherwise is both false and immoral. There is more to say about
this philosophically, but not here.

5       Ron, you also say "Although we do not know for sure who these terrorists
> it is quite clear that they also have a discourse that justifies such
> acts. Should this discourse also be subjected to critical discourse
> analysis, or should we ignore it, since it is the “perspective” of the
> “knowledgeable” victims of the wicked. " You seem to think that I believe
that the discourse of the attackers and those like them should be ignored,
and thus appeased. (I think that in political terms it is "appeasement" that
you see as my politicaltransgression?) Yet section 2.3 of my Notes is
clearly headed "Understanding the attackers' script". I said clearly,
especially in the last paragraph of 2.3,  that it is important, and now I
also say it is urgent, to analyse the discourse of indiscriminate
politically and ideologically motivated non-governmental aggressors (if
you'll pardon the circumlocution). That discourse is not easy for the
western mind to comprehend or even describe. analysis of it will include
critique of it as politics and as human action. If such discourse says that
young men should sacrifice themselves in order to destroy other individuals,
I condemn it morally. If such discourse seeks to legitimise the killing of
Israelis, Americans, Afghans I condemn it.

Well, you may say, why concentrate on the powewrful and on the US government
in particular? Because, last week and indeed now, there is a serious
probability that the US and its allies will take military actions which will
burn, crush and maim very many people who by any criterion are innocent. I
can see no political point or human morality in causing more innocent
deaths. I think, from my reading of Amrican history and policy that there
are individuals and groups within the US polity who will access scripts,
discourses, concepts that would legitimise actions that would result in more
innocent deaths. This position is not just about ethics, but about politics
(if the two are in fact different)--for it requires little historical
evidence to show that violent retaliation in this kind of a situation is
going to cause more inhumane violence against people living in states whose
governments are percived to be violent oppressors. And incidentally, for the
US to cause the risk of such retaliation is no way to protect its own
citizenry. As a matter of fact, one thing that makes me angry is that the
entire American security apparatus has singularly failed, with its
containment, deterrence, SDI and missile defence to provide physical
security for the thousands of its citizens who have just been slaughtered,
and failed to give mental security for the rest.

6       On harboring and harborers. Look--if Mr X is paying for the housing, food,
guns etc. of Mr Y and knows full well that their support will make it
possible for Mr Y to comit a murder, murders or a mass murder, then I say
arrest or if necessary kill Mr X. However, if you do kill him you won't
necessarily stop Mr Y doing his murder, and he may live to kill another day.
But what I am concerned about is that it could be thought justifiable to not
only kill Mr X but also to ("collaterally") kill totally innocent children,
women and men, thereby provoking increasing numbers of Mr Y's disciples.
Incidentally, you will observe, that I am not opposing military force per

To discourse analysts it is pretty clear that the referent of "harborer" is
contestable, but that some, perhaps many people, will be content to
semantically extend it without reflection. But you really don't need to be a
discourse analyst to see this, so let us not give ourselves airs. What is
really disturbing is that what I called metonymic thought--damning people by
association-- really is taking place. Racist attacks and racist discourse in
the UK and US, fire bombs thrown at a mosque in Canada, American talk-show
callers wanting Afghanistan "nuked" because the ordinary people of that
country are deemed guilty by association...

7       Ron, your paragraphs starting "The Western world hastened to make a
connection between the two arenas, to the detriment of the Palestinians.
Everything that Chilton is afraid
> of as a potential US behavior has already been under way in the occupied
> territories."  and the report of Gush Shalom that you quote--these
paragraphs make many of my points much better than I could. Please help
scholars in the west to understand the complexities and the connection
between what you call "the two arenas".

8       Then there are your paragraphs including the sentences: " But this cannot
be said about the Palestinian Authority. The strategic decision to blur the
distinction between terrorism and a struggle for liberation (despite
occasional re-statements of this distinction)
> amounts to a governmental decision to harbor terrorism." This is the sort
of analysis we surely need more of. I mean, we need reasoned arguments and
accurate information that enable us to assess, whether particular
governments have responsibility for acts of terror. Why should I or any
discourse analyst be reluctant to do this? You and your colleagues are in a
position where you can help us to do so. My own concern about the
"harboring" rhetoric, and I am not the only person concerned, is that quite
guiltless people could get slaughtered as a result (in part) of its use.

9        Finally, I'm baffled to hear that I use a "framework" that is
"anti-intellectual". And as I've tried to show above it is just not true
that what I am doing with discourse analysis "chooses to side with the
victims no matter what they think or do".  I fear there is a kind of binary
fallacy here, which is very familiar. I knew it well in the cold war period,
when peace activists who criticised NATO and the west were branded as
communists and soviet sympathisers. Its re-appearance is perhaps
understandable, but it bodes ill. The fallacy is to assume that because one
criticises one side, one is therefore supporting (condoning, lending succor
to, perhaps even "harboring"?) the other side. Refusing to take sides is

Let us, all of us scholars and intellectuals, work together on these things,
since it is the least we can do.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: Critical Discourse/Language/Communication Analysis
> [mailto:CRITICS-L at NIC.SURFNET.NL]On Behalf Of Ron Kuzar
> Sent: 14 September 2001 09:45
> Subject: Response to Paul Chilton’s “Notes”
> Posted to the lists where Chilton’s text has appeared.
> Excuse multiple posting.
> Response to Paul Chilton’s “Notes on 11 September 2001”
> Paul Chilton’s “Notes” is a fascinating analysis of the discursive
> framing of US response to “the events of 11 September 2001”. It is
> fascinating from two angles: first of all, it is a fine analysis of the
>  discursive framing used by agents of the hegemonic ideology in the US
> to “the events”, using the theoretical framework of cognitive
> linguistics. I would have utilized a different framework to do this,
> but by and large I do accept much of Chilton’s critique of hegemonic US
>  discursive practices and their ominous consequences. But Chilton’s
> “Notes” is also interesting from a different angle: in the subject line
>  of the mailing to the Critics-L, DISCOURS, and LingAnth lists Chilton
> labels his mailing a Critical Discourse Analysis response: “CDA and the
>  events of 11 September 2001”. Since I find it to be appropriately
> categorized as such, the “Notes” provides a good opportunity to observe
>  CDA in action at the very junction which is so critical to CDA, the
> meeting point of academic and political work. The “Notes” is not only a
>  piece of critical discourse analysis but also a clear act of
> intervention in politics. As such it is a text liable to critique, and
> so are its politics.
> In the cover letter to the “Notes” Chilton states: “It seems to me that
>  only a radical critique, and transformation, of the discourse
> environment in which powerful states operate will resolve issues of
> international security and conflict”. This statement represents the
> position that critical discourse analysis should be aimed at the wicked
>  forces in power, and should side with the suffering underdog. This has
>  been clearly stated by van Dijk (1993: 252–254):
> "[Practitioners of Critical Discourse Analysis] should deal primarily
> with the discourse dimensions of power abuse and the injustice and
> inequality that result from it... [They] take an explicit sociopolitical
> stance: they spell out their point of view... Their perspective, if
> possible, is that of those who suffer most from dominance and inequality.
> Their critical targets are the power elites that enact, sustain,
> legitimate, condone, or ignore social inequality and injustice. That is,
> one of the criteria of their work is soli~darity with those who need it
> most. Their problems are “real” problems, that is the serious problems
> that threaten the lives or well being of many... Their critique of
> discourse implies a political critique of those responsible for its
> perversion in the reproduction of dominance and inequality... The 1990s
> are replete with persistent problems of oppression, injustice, and
> in~equality that demand their urgent attention... They guide the choice
> of topics and relevancies. Thus if immigrants, refugees and (other)
> minorities suffer from prejudice, discrimination and racism, and if
> women continue to be subjected to male dominance, violence or sexual
> harassment, it will be essential to examine and evaluate such events and
> their consequences essentially from their point of view. That is, such
> events will be called “racist” or “sexist” if knowledgeable Blacks or
> women say so, despite white or male denial... One crucial presupposition
> of adequate critical discourse analysis is understanding the nature of
> social power and domi~nance. Once we have such an insight, we may begin
> to formulate ideas about how discourse contributes to their reproduction.
> To cut a long philosophical and social scientific analysis short, we
> assume that we here deal with properties of relations between social
> groups."
> While the achievements of CDA in pursuing this program are undeniable,
> some problems inhere in it as well. Power elites have ideo~logies, or
> as van Dijk calls them here, “perversions” of discourse, which have to
> be analyzed and exposed by critical discourse analysis practi~tio~ners.
>  The oppressed minorities, however, have a “perspective”, a “point of
> view”, which is to be adopted. Unlike perverted ideology, the point of
> view of minorities emerges either from “knowledgeable Blacks or wo~men”
>  or from one’s own “understanding [of] the nature of social power and
> dominance”, or from “insights” into “properties of relations between
> social groups”. But how do we know that Black and female scholars have
> the right knowledge of reality?  Or in the second case, how can we be
> sure that scholarly insights represent reality faithfully? The ease
> with which such assumptions about privileged access to reality pass in
> our discipline have to do with the sociology of our discipline: with
> few exceptions, linguists have often been active in progressive social
> projects.
> This distinction between ideology and knowledge was uncritically
> inherited from other disciplines. But it can no longer be maintained.
> Neither members of underprivileged groups nor progressive scholars have
>  direct access to reality. The 1996 public debate about Ebonics
> (Af~rican American Vernacular English) which was recognized by the
> Oakland School District as a language on its own, not a dialect of
> Eng~lish, cut across racial lines. There was no “Black perspective” in
> this debate, no “knowledgeable Blacks” to rely on, since some of them
> vehemently supported it, e.g. Maulana Karenga, Afrocentrist scholar of
> Black Stud~ies, while others, notably the linguist of creole languages,
>  John McWhor~ter (1997), were opposed to it. Similarly, the internal
> disputes in the fe~minist camp between different schools of gender
> studies, viewing gender problems through different prisms, such as
> “male domi~nance”, “gender differences”, or “gender diversity”, testify
>  that there is no genuine “fe~male insight” into these issues. In short,
>  nobody has privileged recourse to social reality, hence the distinction
>  between ideology and knowledge has to be discarded.
> But beyond the epistemological issue, I find this approach
> anti-intellectual
>  and politically damaging, and I think that Chilton’s text is a glaring
>  example.
> In “the events of 11 September 2001”, tens of thousands of people were
> killed, people whose direct contribution to the wicked acts of American
>  wickedness (be it capitalism or global-imperialism) at most amounts to
>  as much as being a professor in an American university, thus part of
> the American ideological state apparatus (a definition which nevertheless
>  doesn’t cover by any extension the lives of the passengers of the
> planes used as live bombs). Chilton expresses his “sincere sympathy” to
>  them, but he does not condemn what he calls in an elegant circumlocution
>  “the events of 11 September 2001” as a brutal act of unjustifiable
> terrorism. Although we do not know for sure who these terrorists are,
> it is quite clear that they also have a discourse that justifies such
> acts. Should this discourse also be subjected to critical discourse
> analysis, or should we ignore it, since it is the “perspective” of the
> “knowledgeable” victims of the wicked. Note Chilton’s (covert) take on
> this:
> It is almost trivial to speak of discourse analysis in the circumstances.
>  But remember – what happens next will be the outcome of talk and text
> (cabinet meetings, public statements, media representations, individual
>  utterances
), and the text and talk will be governed by cognitive and
> interactive habits. Under stress pre-wired patterns of thought come
> into their own. Policies and the orders to execute them are linguistic
> acts with psychological, social and ethical underpinnings. These we can
>  at least try to be aware of as potential impediments to just and
> effective response.
> In other words, the future will depend on what governments and their
> agents do (“cabinet meetings, public statements, media representations,
>  individual utterances
”), therefore they should be subjected to
> discourse analytic critique, but what terrorists do and say is of no
> importance.
> This brings us to the delicate issue of political and social forces
> “harboring terrorism”. Chilton says:
> "The other, and extremely dangerous, conceptual strategy is another
> essentially metonymic mental and discursive move. President Bush already
> on 12 September stated that the US would “make no distinction between
> the terrorists who commit these acts and those who harbor them”. This is
> a discourse move of the utmost significance, one that seems designed to
> adjust conceptualisations. It was repeated by several spokespersons,
> including Colin Powell, during the day of 12 September."
> If the premise is the metonymic mapping of perpetrator onto person(s)
> harbouring the perpetrator (the latter notion awkwardly lexicalised
> during the discourse as "harborer"), then the entailments are very
> serious.
> The issue is complex because this critique and warning is first of all
> valid. Slipping into an overextension of “harborer” is very easy under
> the current discursive atmosphere. But does this mean that harboring
> does not exist, both physically and discursively? And if it does exist,
> is it still to be ignored, just because these organizations or political
> parties, or states are the victims? Don’t these harboring factors share
> some of the responsibility for giving the US government the opportunity
> to implement the discursive practices the Chilton is right in critiquing?
> And doesn’t our future also depend on a critique of the discourse of the
> underdog? Or do we only have to understand the metonymic processes by
> which buildings are targeted, and human beings are ignored?
> I have to admit to some provincialism. My more immediate fears and
> concerns – as an Israeli –  are centered around the fate of the Middle
> East. We don’t know yet, to what extent and how exactly the two arenas
> are related. However, in our region here, the issue of terrorism is not
> new, and it is much more complex than the kind of terrorism that we
> witnessed in the US. It is more complex, because in the
> Israeli–Palestinian context we are looking at a real struggle for
> liberation from occupation, whereas in the US context, if there is a
> connection between the two, we are talking about the global framework of
> the struggle, about the role of US policies in the local dispute (unless
> the two arenas are totally unrelated). In what way does this make a
> difference? It does, because of the question of legitimate and
> illegitimate practices of resistance. The discursive battlefield over
> the terms “terrorists” and “freedom fighters” covers the exact same acts.
> The Western world hastened to make a connection between the two arenas,
> to the detriment of the Palestinians. Everything that Chilton is afraid
> of as a potential US behavior has already been under way in the occupied
> territories, with Israel taking advantage of both the shift of focus
> away from our region and the discursive atmosphere supportive of the
> struggle against terrorism. A report of Gush Shalom, a radical Israeli
> peace organization, describes this as follows (Internet 13.9.2001):
> "This night the Israeli army continued the invasion and penetrated
> deeply into the  town of Jenin and destroyed the local police station.
> In this and other attacks by the IDF (and in one case by settlers) a
> total of eleven Palestinians were killed - one of them a nine-year old
> girl. Israeli forces still impose a strict siege of Jenin with its tens
> of thousands of inhabitants, preventing even the passage of medical
> crews and patients, and in the process violating the "A" areas which
> according  to Oslo should be under exclusive Palestinian control. At any
> other time, all of the above would constitute a major news item on CNN
> and BBC, and international diplomatic initiatives would already be afoot
> to ease the crisis and get the army out of the Jenin area. Now, the
> world looks elsewhere and Sharon feels himself to have carte blanche. We
> face days of unchecked rampage, with bloodshed unnoticed by the world."
> On the same day Sharon called Arafat “Bin Laden” and the implications
> are clear. On the 13.9.2001 Ma’ariv, an Israeli tabloid, pointed out
> “the rare opportunity to turn international public opinion Israel's way”,
> since “The world is horrified by the ideological alliance between Arafat
> and Bin Laden”.  This, the paper believes, makes it possible for Sharon
> “To seize the moment and use against terrorism the kind of means which
> hitherto he did not dare to use for fear of international reaction”.
> Yet even under these circumstances I feel that as a discourse analyst I
> am obliged to observe and critique all discourses relevant to the
> situation. If changing the discursive environment can change the world,
> then all participant in a debate are subject to critique, in order to
> most effectively change the world. This includes the need to make a
> clear ethical distinction between acts of liberation and acts of terror.
> Of all the Palestinian political and military organizations actively
> involved in the struggle against Israeli occupation I know of only one,
> The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, headed by Naif
> Hawatma, that has a straightforward policy: the active forces of
> occupation, i.e. soldiers and settlers in the territories, are justified
> targets in the struggle. This is both stated and practiced by this
> organization.
> Palestinian society is very diversified, and I know many Palestinians
> who would condemn the suicidal attacks on Israeli citizens inside Israel
> proper. But Palestinian society is also no doubt under siege and under
> brutal attacks by Israel, a condition which is not favorable for
> internal debates and struggles for democracy. Nevertheless, within
> Palestinian society there are journalists, intellectuals, and human
> rights activists who risk their lives trying to democratize their own
> society, although they operate in an oppressive, despotic, and corrupt
> environment of the Palestinian Authority as led by Arafat. I would never
> put myself in the position of judging Palestinian intellectuals for not
> being able to publicly voice their views. I prefer them alive and still
> teaching in universities in the West Bank, do quiet educational work
> with their students.
> But this cannot be said about the Palestinian Authority. The strategic
> decision to blur the distinction between terrorism and a struggle for
> liberation (despite occasional re-statements of this distinction)
> amounts to a governmental decision to harbor terrorism. The result is a
> constant erosion in the relatively ethical discourse that accompanied
> the Palestinian Authority in earlier phases of the struggle. An
> immediate result of this policy is the behavior of the masses. Inciting
> or controlling the masses depends on the general atmosphere in a
> particular society. The Palestinian mob celebrated the attack on the US
> while the Egyptian mob did not, although fundamentalist Islamic forces
> are active in both societies.
> The Palestinian Authority’s attitude to fundamentalist Islamic terrorism
> against civilians within Israel proper is in this respect identical to
> Afghanistan’s attitude to Bin Laden, even if the former is involved in a
> just struggle for liberation. The policy of turning a blind eye to
> terrorism is not only morally deplorable but also ineffective. It has
> distanced Israeli public opinion from the just cause of the struggle,
> has strengthened national unity, and has given Sharon the opportunity to
> carry out further atrocities. On the other hand, the struggle against
> soldiers and settlers in the Occupied Territories goes hand in hand with
> a growing movement of conscientious objection within Israel. It is
> effective in that some settlements are reported to have been deserted by
> 30-50% of their inhabitants.
> But within the Israeli peace forces there are many who have the same
> kind of blind eye attitude, which is an honest bur inexcusable outcome
> of their solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinians. While it is
> understandable, I still find it wrong.
>  Chomsky’s response to the events (Internet 12.9.2001) is a little more
> honest in that he calls the events “atrocities”, but observe the quick
> shift to discussing the US:
> "Today's attacks were major atrocities. In terms of number of victims
> they do not reach the level of many others, for example, Clinton's
> bombing of the Sudan with no credible pretext, destroying half its
> pharmaceutical supplies and probably killing tens of thousands of people
> (no one knows, because the US blocked an inquiry at the UN and no one
> cares to pursue it). Not to speak of much worse cases, which easily come
> to mind. But that this was a horrendous crime is not in doubt. The
> primary victims, as usual, were working people: janitors, secretaries,
> firemen, etc. It is likely to prove to be a crushing blow to
> Palestinians and other poor and oppressed people. It is also likely to
> lead to harsh security controls, with many possible ramifications for
> undermining civil liberties and internal freedom.
> "The events reveal, dramatically, the foolishness of ideas about
> "missile defense." As has been obvious all along, and pointed out
> repeatedly by strategic analysts, if anyone wants to cause immense
> damage in the US, including weapons of mass destruction, they are highly
> unlikely to launch a missile attack, thus guaranteeing their immediate
> destruction. There are innumerable easier ways that are basically
> unstoppable. But today's events will, nonetheless, be used to increase
> the pressure to develop these systems and put them into place. "Defense"
> is a thin cover for plans for militarization of space, and with good PR,
> even the flimsiest arguments will carry some weight among a frightened
> public. In short, the crime is a gift to the hard jingoist right, those
> who hope to use force to control their domains. That is even putting
> aside the likely US actions, and what they will trigger -- possibly more
> attacks like this one, or worse. The prospects ahead are even more
> ominous than they appeared to be before the latest atrocities."
> Conclusion: by using an anti-intellectual framework which only critiques
> the power elites but chooses to side with the victims, no matter what
> they think or do, Chilton’s text in fact supplies an academic umbrella,
> under which these acts can go on uncriticized. This is defective
> political practice that leaves out important contributors to the debate,
> and therefore is not likely to be socially transformative.
> ----------------------------------------------------
> For an alternative progressive discourse analytic framework, go to:
> For a case study based on these principles, go to:
> (Written in
> 1999. Politically somewhat outdated).
> For a fuller critique of CDA, see:
> Kuzar, Ron. 2001. “Sorry Prof. Sokal, but You Have Missed the
> Poststructuralist Train”. RASK 14.
> See abstract at:
> ====================================
>                  Dr. Ron Kuzar
> Address:   Department of English Language and Literature
>                  University of Haifa
>                  IL-31905 Haifa, Israel
> Office:       +972-4-824-9826, fax: +972-4-824-9711
> Home:       +972-2-6414780, Cellular: +972-5-481-9676
> Email:        kuzar at
> Site:ý
> ====================================

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