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Most of us here are familiar with George Lakoff's teachings regarding the importance of "framing." but there is already some framing going on regarding Iraq which we should begin addressing because if we succeed, progressives will benefit multiple times.  I am talking about the use of the term "sectarian violence" to describe "religious violence" - why we should stop using the former and why the latter is the better term below the fold.

First a quick framing refresher:

Don't think of an elephant!

It is, of course, a directive that cannot be carried out — and that is the point. In order to purposefully not think of an elephant, you have to think of an elephant. There are four morals.

Moral 1. Every word evokes a frame.

A frame is a conceptual structure used in thinking. The word elephant evokes a frame with an image of an elephant and certain knowledge: an elephant is a large animal (a mammal) with large floppy ears, a trunk that functions like both a nose and a hand, large stump-like legs, and so on.

Moral 2: Words defined within a frame evoke the frame.

The word trunk, as in the sentence "Sam picked up the peanut with his trunk," evokes the Elephant frame and suggests that "Sam" is the name of an elephant.

Moral 3: Negating a frame evokes the frame.

Moral 4: Evoking a frame reinforces that frame.

Every frame is realized in the brain by neural circuitry. Every time a neural circuit is activated, it is strengthened.
Got that?  Okay . . . let's move along . . .

The administration, the press and politicians have seized on referring to much of the violence in Iraq as "sectarian violence" for many reasons.  It has been used to differentiate many attacks from the anti-American insurgents and also as a means to avoid calling what is going on a civil war.  But, let us examine what the term means and leap forward to a frame that we should reinforce for our own benefit.

According to the primary definition in the  Compact Oxford English Dictionary, a "sect" is: "a group of people with different religious beliefs (typically regarded as heretical) from those of a larger group to which they belong." (Emphasis added.)  And, indeed, in Iraq today the so-called "sectarian violence" is actually between religious groups: whether Sunni and Shiite or competing Shiite groups.

But if "sectarian violence" adequately describes the situation, you ask, why start using the term "religious violence?"  Simple: Because religious violence occurs in other places, including the United States, and framing teaches us that we can associate the evils of religious violence one place with religious violence elsewhere! It is about teaching and strengthening those neural circuits!

Consider this: what if attacks by far right "Christian" groups on abortion clinics are characterized as "religious violence?"  What about "Christian" violence against gays?  And what if "religious violence" is already associated in the minds of many Americans with Muslim extremists? Since America has its own religious extremists (whom Markos once eloquently described as the American Taliban - which they hated) and they tend to vote republican, isn't it beneficial for us to link the religious extremism?

As the refresher course in framing from above indicates, we should stop using the term "sectarian" violence altogether and call the situation in Iraq what it is: "religious violence."  It is, in actuality something of a religious (not necessarily a civil) war, but the long term benefits, from a framing perspective, of reinforcing the frame of "religious violence" has strong appeal.

What do you think?

Originally posted to foolrex on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 09:19 AM PST.


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