News brief on first anniversary of Westminster Terror attack
22 March 2018
“Five people were killed in the car and knife attack by an Islamic extremist”
Since the September 11th terror attacks, the collocation of the terms ‘terrorist’ and ‘extremist’ with the words ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslim’ is common in media discourse. Collocation is an integral part of a language that Oxford Dictionary defines as, “the habitual juxtaposition of a particular word with another word or words with a frequency greater than chance.” Baker et al. (2013) studied media corpus on Islam over a decade and found the collocation of ‘Islam’ and ‘terrorism’ to be very common. They found that, “…the term Islamic carries an extremely negative discourse prosody, heavily associated with religious and political extremism, militancy, and terror.”
The term Islamic carries an extremely negative discourse prosody, heavily associated with religious and political extremism, militancy, and terror
Baker et al. (2013)
It can be argued that linking the word ‘Islamic’ with extremism is an oxymoron as the word ‘Islam’ comes from the Arabic root word ‘Salam’, meaning ‘peace’. Despite the fact that Muslims find this collocation very troubling, the media continues to use Islam and its various offshoots with extremism and terrorism. It is somewhat concerning that the BBC, operated on the license fee and with extensive editorial guidelines, uses anti-Muslim language as such. This collocation may be explained by the perception among Western news narratives that ‘All Muslims are not terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims’.
The affect on audiences of the use of such language has been observed by Van Dijk (2000) who suggests that words and phrases used in the media within a particular context leads the audience to interpret meanings, especially in relation to minorities. Therefore, an average non-Muslim British audience who has little interaction with normal Muslims may consider that terrorism or extremism are parts of Islam. Johansson (2007) says that news not only conveys information, but through its structures, it also creates meaning which links to social and cultural contexts. Fairclough (2003) talks about ‘representation’ which deals with the relationship between the text and the rest of the world. In such instances, the writers describe the events in the way they want the world to see it. Cottle (2000) argues that the narrative approaches in news reporting, where a journalist acts as an interpreter rather than a simple reporter, is neither fair nor impartial. Therefore, what the collocation of these two terms can create is an atmosphere of fear and antagonism against innocent British Muslims.