Elite Communication and Legitimization of Violence during Inter-Group Conflicts

Elite Communication and Legitimization of Violence during Inter-Group Conflicts

Sonia Jawaid Shaikh (University of Southern California, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9728-7.ch007
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A comparative content analysis was conducted across communication from elites involved in inter-group conflicts across two decades and from four different countries (the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and Myanmar). A thematic coding scheme was developed using themes identified in the previous literature, Susan Benesch's proposal on dangerous speech (2012) and perspectives from Social Identity Theory (1981). Coding and analysis revealed that across countries and temporal spans, elites bolster in-group and out-group distinctions and identity through their language choices, but typically avoid outright dehumanization as commonly assumed. Moreover, they excessively create non-falsifiable statements about current, past, or future events; and employ allegations against the intentions, plans and activities of the out-group. These non-falsifiable statements make a bulk of their speech or broadcasts. Several additional themes were identified as well which point to contextualization of communication.
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The following section delineates some important themes which have been repeatedly identified in the literature on communication during conflicts. Appendix 1 also details the studies.

  • 1.

    Myths and Symbolism: Scholars have suggested several characteristics that typify the communication of elites during intergroup conflicts, such as myths - which are modern versions of old stories or stories created a new, ethnic symbolism, narratives and rhetoric to fuel hatred and recruit volunteers (Bozic-Roberson, 2004; Kaufman, 2001). For instance, Serb nationalists in their rhetoric against other ethnic groups created a myth of a battle fought between Bosniaks and Serbs in the fourteenth century in Kosovo, which then was used to claim that Serb lands were invaded by Turks and made them (Serbs) into victims of violence (Mann, 2005). However, scholars believe that this was a false account used in war rhetoric; designed to create “politicization of ethnicity” – the efforts made by then Serbian president Milosevic to use ethnic identity as the basis of argumentation and identification in his political narratives (Bozic-Roberson, 2004; Mann 2005)

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