The power of Discourse: Should we believe everything we hear?

What is discourse? Discourse can purely mean a discussion, a collection of ideas but also, more importantly, it reflects the ways in which society takes certain ideas as given, as common sense. For example, when you go to the doctors, they prescribe you something, and the discourse around doctors being all-knowing ensures that you blindly believe they are right. Although this is true in many cases, there are often cases where discourses are used to shape the way in which society works.  

 

Is there a migration threat?

Historically, the movement of people is natural. Is it perhaps unnatural to have harsh borders? In a European sense, migration is construed as a security threat. Why? Although the reason is debatable and hugely subjective, some argue that the discourse of ‘migrant crises’ are purely used to maintain power. The EU can only work if borders are really strong. In order to have a liberal environment within Europe, are we illiberal in the way we manage our borders? Is this a contradiction to a ‘utopian’ EU that is striven for?  

The question we may need to ask is, if the price we pay to live like we do is to harm other people then is it really worth it? Image result for migration crisis children

Perhaps more reflexivity is needed in accepting historical downfalls in times like the colonial period, which enabled Europe to become so strong.

One argument for the prevalence of the ‘migrant crisis’ discourse is the idea that it is constructed through creating a ‘racial other’, an idea stemming from elites. If society decided to turn against the elites, they would lose power, so instead migrants are scapegoated in order to maintain power. By justifying migrants as undesirable, society believes there is a reason to stop them. What is really so undesirable about working men and women?

The hypocrisy is, some argue, that migrants are let in anyway because economically countries actually need them, but if they are let in illegally then there is justification to undermine them and pay them less money. Many criticise the dangerous trips that have to be made and the sub-class that migrants live in. Is this idea of bordering just constructed to ensure a government looks strong against an ‘enemy’? The Media exacerbates these issues by naming this the ‘migrant crisis’ embedding a sense of fear in society which is not really there at all. The spectacle of bordering is creating legitimacy.

Governments benefit from crisis narratives because they can put extreme measures in place, normal democratic processes don’t take place because we are in a ‘crisis’, but is this just a spectacle?

These spectacles try to make the illegality of migration a veritable fact and fuel anti-immigrant controversy. However, these acts are accompanied by the large-scale, unacknowledged recruitment of illegalised migrants. Since they are legally vulnerable, they are precarious, and thus easy to control forms of labour. We need to question the discourses that are taken for granted. Maybe it’s the borders that are the problem, not the people that are moving.

 

Discourse in policy making:

Discourse can be used to justify policy. Through a historical perspective, we see that the West has reduced the rest of the world to stereotypes in order to justify imperial expansions. If you say something enough, it comes to be true, and this is exactly how governments can justify international policy making. Core hegemonic states have more power over what is said and absorbed.

Mass media often influences the discourses generated in order to justify actions. Governments in the US strongly influence the nature of pro-war films to build a discourse that will in future justify their actions, films such as Hacksaw Ridge. As a society, we blindly accept the storylines and stereotypes being constructed, when in fact these are often false or amplified.

 

Post 9/11 and the war on terror:

‘The US offensive (“War on terror”) on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan following the September 11 attacks in 2001 has left about half a million people dead.’ Why was a war on terror from the US an appropriate response to a terrorist attack? How do you declare war on something that isn’t a physical entity? Why was a ‘violent and powerful’ attack deemed the most appropriate instead of reflection on the causes? Discourse has enabled these measures to be justified, and thus no one questions the response.

Image result for war on terrorWW2 saw the massive expansion of the military state, with the US currently with the highest military spending in the world. With the cold war over, the US has no other way to justify their military economy. Terrorism gave them a reason to justify foreign policy intervention. Alongside American exceptionalism, and with many subjected to subliminal messages, war is presumed the right course of action.

However, ironically, intervention actually creates more attacks. A new way of diplomacy needs to be considered. There were many ways to see through the consequences of 9/11 but we take for granted that a war on terror was the obvious response.  In fact, only serving the interests of the US economy, and not the safety of individual citizens.

For governments to show they are legitimate, they need an enemy to show they can protect us. By tightening control, people gain more support, similar to the discourse surrounding migration and Brexit. The geopolitical discourse on terror has allowed the US to take extraordinary actions that wouldn’t be accepted in other contexts. Drone strikes on people that haven’t even faced trial, on a country they are not even at war with. Here there is a breakdown of international norms. Killing people without evidence has been normalised.

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“The US used drones and manned aircraft yesterday to drop bombs and missiles on Somalia, ending the lives of at least 150 people. (…) The Obama administration instantly claimed that the people killed were ‘terrorists’ and militants- members of the Somali group al Shabaab- but provided no evidence to support that assertion. But for Americans, this is now all perfectly normalized.”