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Victims or Terrorists? A Critical Analysis of Western Media Discourse in the Depiction of Iraqi Refugees (2007-2017)

Dua’a Taher Matrood

Faculty of Linguistics, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran

Corresponding author: Dua’a Taher Matrood, Faculty of linguistics, Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Iran. Email: duaataher1994@gmail.com


Introduction: Iraq has faced many dogmatic, circumspect, and social plights throughout a long and troubled past. Serious problems arising as a cause of these plights have caused a large population to seek sanctuary and protection in other countries. As a result of this condition, the increase of refugees currently inhabiting Eastern and Western countries has become a focal point of the media. The way these refugees are depicted and perceived by the public as terrorists or victims in the host and non-host countries is heavily influenced by media reports, and as such, they have a crucial role to play. The aim of this paper was to highlight the most significant linguistic choices coupled with the ideological point of view of the participants. Methodology: To achieve this goal, the researcher analyzed British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) news reports employing critical discourse analysis. Accordingly, Wodak’s (2001; 2009) discourse-historical approach and van Leeuwen’s (2008) sociological categories of actor representation approach were employed. Results: The findings have revealed that Iraqi refugees are portrayed as victims targeted by hostile laws in the Netherlands, while they are portrayed as terrorists that threaten society in the USA. Furthermore, the way the media depict Iraqi refugees is attributed to the use of generic references. Despite the negative representation of Iraqi refugees by the Dutch government, USA policies, and the Iraqi government, the BBC media coverage continues to represent them in a neutral light. Conclusion: The findings of the current study indicated that the most prevalent topoi found in the selected texts are victimization, danger, threat, and terrorism.


Media provide people with news about worldwide events (Barker, 2012). O’Keeffe’s (2006, p.1) view that media can be conventionally known as a broad term to show how reality is printed or broadcasted to a large number of people, from television to newspapers. Accordingly to Malkawi (2012, p. 22), media is “a window through which we can view the world and live the events as real. It has the power to influence readers by all means since it is an effective mechanism for affecting individual perceptions of reality.” Thus, the majority of the world’s population is recently affected by media discourse (Macdonald, 2003; Talbat, 2007). Media studies are intertwined with cultural studies, conversation analysis, linguistic anthropology, psychology, cultural geography, sociolinguistics, sociology, cognition, pragmatics, and tourism studies. However, media discourse is considered one of the salient genres of discourse that has been studied from a critical discourse perspective to reveal the entrenched ideology and power within its linguistic structures. Thus, “media discourse is a multidisciplinary field” (Talbat, 2007, p.3). A critical approach to the study of discourse was developed in 1979 by a group of linguists and literary theorists such as Gunther Kress, Robert Hodge, Roger Fowler, and Tony Trew. This approach is called Critical Linguistics (henceforth CL). It is based on the concepts of Halliday’s theory of Systemic-Functional Linguistics (SFL). SFL is a linguistic theory that associates language with aspects of social life (Fairclough, 2003).

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