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  • Natalie E. Terry Gutierrez

Sample: Academic Content/Cultural Criticism

Updated: Apr 25

This is an introduction for a piece called "American National Identity: Post 9/11 Intersections of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Colonialism".

The narrative of September 11 according to the Bush Administration and mass media is formed as much by what is excluded from the analysis as what is included. The Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), a department created to control the dissemination of information related to September 11 and the war, was created in the Pentagon shortly after the attacks. Its purpose was to mold public opinion about the war on terror. Williams quotes a Washington DC university professor who commented on the administrations’ plans to dominate all levels of representation and information about the war on terror: “’According to defense analyst William Arkin, the Bush strategy lays out goals for information warfare that pursue D5E: ‘destruction, degradation, denial, disruption, deceit, and exploitation’”.


Such blatant manipulation of information is highly unnerving, but what should really make us nervous is the fact that an actual government office in the United States was created for that purpose alone! According to Williams, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld freely admitted while on a plane to a meeting of defense ministers that the policies the OSI had envisioned would continue although it officially closed within a week of creation. Rumsfeld allegedly told reporters:


‘And then there was the Office of Strategic Influence. You may recall that. And ‘oh my goodness gracious isn’t that terrible, Henny Penny the sky is going to fall.’ I went down that next day and said fine, if you want to savage this thing fine I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have’ [44] (Williams 9-10).

Just as disconcerting is the fact that no major media outlets reported Rumsfeld’s remarks. This means that planting disinformation and concealing intelligence that could potentially challenge justifications for war went virtually unnoticed and unheard. In essence, the Bush administration’s dominance over the media was allowed to continue at the cost of vitally important participation and discussion among those who are affected.


This raises a wealth of questions. What is the nature of this framework that employs power, deception and control to glorify some representations and narratives while suppressing others? What are the basic assumptions in the official responses to September 11? How do they preclude a thorough analysis of how U.S. policy and action is implicated in aggression and violence in the Arab world and elsewhere? Naomi Klein asks us to consider, for example, how issues of U.S. involvement in the Arab world—that are not discussed in American mainstream media—nevertheless have implications both inside and outside the United States. The Bush Administration certainly abstains from contextualizing the ways in which the American government has supported Saddam Hussein and the Taliban as well as maintained a presence in Saudi Arabia and Israel. The fact that most of this news is not covered adequately allows for the perpetual ignorance of the American public regarding international affairs, and makes it possible for harsh policies to exist without much criticism in dominant representations. Klein claims,


Americans don’t get daily coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are they treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects of economic sanctions on that country’s children. After the 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for a chemical weapons factory), there weren’t too many follow up reports about what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease prevention in the region (par. 7).

Foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes cites several other grievances on behalf of Arab and Muslim nations in an effort to provide a more broad perspective on U.S.’s relationships with these countries’ citizens. Zunes claims that there are a number of problems with current foreign policy: firstly, the United States’ government’s history of supporting repressive, pro-American regimes makes nonviolent resistance in developing countries very difficult. Indeed, the United States has reduced—or maintained at low levels—its economic, military and diplomatic support to Arab countries that have experienced substantial political liberalization in recent years while increasing support for autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco (par. 24). The U.S. has maintained consistent military presence in Saudi Arabia (which is considered sacrilege to many Muslims who hold this land to be sacred), and has supported consistent Israeli occupation not only of Palestine but also of Lebanon (Zunes pars. 14-17). Manifestations of such poor policy are apparent today in the rise of the Taliban and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan. Zunes reminds us:


Washington armed extremist Islamic groups in Afghanistan during the 1980s during the popular uprising against that country’s communist regime backed by Soviet occupation forces. Some of the most notorious terrorists today-including many followers of Osama bin Laden-originally received their training from the CIA during that period” (par 10).

Despite the presence of the U.S. in these areas, there is a tendency for the U.S. government to explain away the lack of “democracy” and “human rights” in the Arab world on account of culture or religion rather than colonialism. This Eurocentric account is a prime example of the “civilization versus barbaric” binary that justifies the exertion of such power. Because racial relationships draw on gendered relationships and vice versa, the hierarchical structure of gender cannot be ignored. This thesis deals with the discursive and representational practices of government and mainstream media, rooted in both colonial and gendered hierarchical relationships, that in turn justifies the Bush Administration’s violent war on terrorism.


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