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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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Comment Preferences

  •  Good Point (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    weeping for brunnhilde

    Ok you've convinced me.  Framing is everything in  debate like this.  I've been trying for years to get people to stop referring to the anti-choice crowd as "pro-life" because they're anything but that.  Yet we keep on using their term.  Next thing you know we'll start using pro-abortion to define ourselves!

    As for religious violence, I've been thinking about this issue for the last few days in a new light.  Two triggers - one was the season opener for the show 24, in which they show a young kid strapping on a suicide belt.  To see the hate and fury in the eyes of the lead terrorist made me realize that zealots like him - radical fundamentalists are terrizing others NOT because their own faith is strong and sure.  It's because they're unsure of their own faith so they want to force others to adapt to their faith to ensure that it endures and survives throughout the coming years.

    If they were sure in their own faith they wouldn't worry about what others think, or how they relate to their own higher power.

    The second was a Fresh Air show on NPR yesterday.  Terry Gross was interviewing three women who'd just written a book called (I think) The Faith Club.  One woman grew up in the Catholic faith, another's a Jew and the third a practicing Muslim.  Their discussions helped them understand each other's faith, and helped them to define their own faith in the process.

    I'm now looking at fundamentalists (from all walks of life) in a new light.  Their insecurity where their own faith is concerned leads them to prostelizing (sp?) and - sometimes - violence against non-believers.  They're threatened by others who choose to relate to their own higher power in a different way because of that insecurity.

    Like I said - if they were sure in their own faith, they wouldn't be threatened by mine - or by an athiest.  Same holds true for those who are threatened by gay marriage.  If they were sure in their own marriage, they wouldn't be threatened by a gay couple's union.

    Sorry if this is a bit off topic, but I needed to put all this into words!

    •  Fundamentalists (0+ / 0-)

      For me, it was reading Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" that convinced me of the dangers of fundamentalist mindsets.  Although the book focuses on some polygamist Mormon groups, Krakauer's observations about how fundamentalists belief that they have the "truth" directly from God allows them to rationalize all sorts of horrible and often violent behaviors.  We need look no further than the 9/11 hijackers, Iraq today or abortion clinic bombers.  That is the point here . . . religious violence is religious violence, no matter what the faith.

      When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart. - Emerson

      by foolrex on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 12:22:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "framing" is not a debate tactic... (0+ / 0-)

    ...but rather a matter of epistemology.

    I worry that, in discussions of framing, the implicit premise is that there's only an arbitrary correspondence between the frame and the picture, the substance within it.

    Framing is really about analytical precision and as such is not something to impose for strategic purposes, but rather is something that emerges from observation.

    I'm an historian and I like to think that the writing of history amounts to more than just arbitrary frames, but that those frames indeed shed light on the truth and reality of a given set of data.

    ...But Achilles, weeping, sat down at a distance far from his companions, beside the whitening waves, his eyes fixed upon the boundless sea.

    by weeping for brunnhilde on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 10:36:37 AM PST

    •  Line from a song . . . (0+ / 0-)

      "History is written,
      To say 'it wasn't our fault,
      wasn't our fault.'"

      • Sam Phillips, "Martinis and Bikinis

      While there are attempts to make history "more than just arbitrary frames," I think that from the time of Livy, Caesar, et al most history is "framed" in a manner that reflects the prejudices and view of the reporter/historian.

      If you read Lakoff's work, I think you will see that while ideally framing might emerge from observation, the right wing has strategically manipulated the frame and we need to be able to exercise the same strategy in self defense.

      And, speaking of framing emerging from observation, that is how this diary came to be!  It was my wife who, while watching the News Hour, started asking me why they don't call what is going on in Iraq "religious violence" since in her mind, that is what it is.

      When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the purity of its heart. - Emerson

      by foolrex on Tue Jan 16, 2007 at 12:17:15 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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