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This piece will analyse the discourses constructed and reproduced through western reports of the middle eastern unrest which began in February 2011. It will focus primarily on a report from the Economist published on 17.02.2011 called Bloodshed in Bahrain. Bloodshed in Bahrain outlines the history of the Bahreini protests against the ruling Al-Kalifa family (The Economist, 2011). It frames the unrest in Bahrain within the wider unrest in the region which serves to give it meaning and entrench it within an established discourse. Despite focusing on Bloodshed in Bahrain this piece will also draw upon the wider news media to exemplify its claims made on discourse.
Primarily discourses are understood as "systems of significance" (Milliken, 1999, p.229). Actors cannot know reality independently from discourse, rather discourses give meaning to reality and shapes how actors understand it (Milliken, 1999, p.229). Drawing on Derrida DTA examines how oppositions are created between discourses giving them meaning against a wider structure (Derrida, 1981 in Miliken, 1999, p.229).
Discourses are creative, they give meaning to the world, define its constitutive elements, make it possible to understand and outline appropriate behaviour towards it (Milliken, 1999, p.229). Discourses provide actors with their relationship to a particular element of reality defining how the balance of power plays out and who has authority (Milliken, 1999, p.229). They also provide a "common sense" way of looking at the world (Milliken, 1999, p.237), and so by defining who can speak on a subject and how it should be viewed they effectively marginalise and make unintelligible alternative ways of seeing reality (Milliken, 1999, p.229).
Regarding news media cultural values determine what is reported removing objectivity from knowledge of events (Caldas-Coulthard, 2003, p.273) . Equally news "recontextualizes" events according to our cultural understanding, for instance "negativity" "meaningfulness of cultural proximity" and "continuity" are all elements that determine whether something is reported (Ruge, 1965, cited in Caldas-Coulthard, 2003, p.277). These aspects cause particular stories to be presented and affect the way they are reported.
DTA questions the common sense views which society holds (Milliken, 1999, p.237). In Bloodshed in Bahrain the discourse of US involvement in the middle east is reproduced. The article suggests that the Bahraini king is backed by the US because of Bahrain's strategic position; accommodating the largest US navel base in the region. This not only recreates the discourse of US presence in the middle east which is continually recreated through media reports (see for example, The BBC, 2010 and MacAskill & Walsh, 2011) but serves to construct a common sense view of US hegemony and undermines middle eastern state's national sovereignty by reiterating their failings. The meaning which audiences draw from this is that middle eastern states a chaotic and poorly governed compared to their western counterparts. With this common sense discourse of US hegemony in mind we can further examine how the discourse of 'the middle east' is created. Caldas-Coulthard suggests that news media reproduces a feeling of 'us' and 'them' and sets cultures against one another by drawing upon stereotypes and ill-founded "recurrent themes" which give the country meaning to a foreign audience (Caldas-Coulthard, 2003, p.280).
Bloodshed in Bahrain reproduces the discourse of 'the middle east' as a unified entity in opposition to 'the west'. This discourse is created by highlighting cultural differences such as Bahrain's monarchic political structure as opposed to our 'democratic' society. The implication is that it is this political structure that caused the riots and that the rioters are demanding a better system by calling for "constitutional reform" (The Economist, 2011). The suggestion is that our system is superior, since it is represented as desirable . This discourse reproduction serves to bolster representations of the east west divide and imply an implicit bias, western governments are stable, middle eastern governments are unstable, western governments are representative, middle eastern ones despotic.The binary opposition is reproduced in further references to the ruling Al-Khalifa family which are portrayed as poor decision makers, their actions towards the protesters are "questionable" which further creates an east/west division since by saying eastern governments are incapable it implicitly implies western governments are capable.
The east/west divide isn't necessarily real, for example categorizing the region as "the middle east" pays no heed to the cultural and political difference between Bahrain and Egypt in the same way as grouping western countries together ignores the vast difference between France and the US for example. The middle east is not a cohesive unit in the way the EU is, by reproducing this discourse the article creates a false similarity. The discourse of western superiority over the middle east's political model is recreated by other reports such as Al Qaeda the loser in Arab revolutions (Bergen, 2011) which refers to the positive role western businesses such as Facebook and and Google played in the protests as well as suggesting that it is western liberal values that demonstrators are calling for. This further highlights the idea of western societies as "good" in opposition to oppressive middle eastern governments.
Drawing on Milliken particular accounts are "subjugated" in text or speech (Milliken, 1999, p.243). Bloodshed in Bahrain gives an in depth account of the actions and views of the demonstrators with quotes and descriptions, for instance their calls for "constitutional reform" and "revolution" as well as their actions as "volunteers" handling "traffic" and "lost property" (The Economist, 2011) but ignores the voices of the elite. The demonstrations are only described from the position of the public not from the law enforcements perspective, this means the alternative perspective is silenced. What this silencing produces is a skewed representation of the security forces, the main discourse surrounding them is their "brutality" through their liability to murder (The Economist, 2011). This framing leads the reading to side with the protesters, because it is the protesters who are calling for 'good' western values.
Furthermore voices other than those of the demonstrators are marginalised by the fact that it is the demonstrators who are are given the role of authorised speakers. Quotes from the demonstrators are given, outlining their jubilation and demands but no response is offered. This silencing serves to further delegitimise the role of the government and state institutions. Further more despite the reference to "The Arab Protests" the bloodshed in Bahrain is created by a violent state against a non-aggressive public, they are a "crowd" rather than protesters "volunteers" and one man interviewed is described as an "enthusiast" which implies non-violence.
The power dynamic that is constructed in Bloodshed in Bahrain between the authorities and the public serves to undermine the actions of the ruling class and legitimise the protesters. By using the phrase "The Arab protests at last reached the gulf" the article creates a discourse of the unrest being a unified force sweeping across the region, when it could be alternatively constructed as the idea of freedom spreading or a number of small groups that suddenly feel empowered (The Economist, 2011). This new discourse shapes our understanding of the conflict and our reality, through creating a new concept. The concept of "The Arab protests" is then given a place in reality with its relationship to other discourses as it is set against the discourse of the authorities. The authorities are undermined by phrases such as "[the protests where] too much for the ruling al-Khalifa dynasty , which decided to squash the protesters" (The Economist, 2011). Equally by constructing the protesters as copying Cairo, a protest which successfully toppled Egypt's ruler, the suggestion is that, like Mubarak the Bahraini rulers have lost legitimacy.
To conclude, after outlining the concepts behind DTA and introducing the author's influences this piece began by questioning the common sense view of U.S hegemony and influence in and over the middle east. In then went on to analyze the discourse of 'the middle east' itself and showed how this was constructed in opposition to the west and how the west is seen as desirable whilst the middle east is something 'other'. With this divide established the analysis then examined how the voice of the rulers is silenced by giving the role of authorised speaker to the protesters, this shows a western bias as it is desire for western values which the protests call for. Perspectives that are not familiar to the west are omitted entirely. Finally the idea of a unified group of protesters in the middle east was questioned. From this report we can see how Bloodshed in Bahrain within the wider context of news media creates and recreates discourses which shape how actors make sense of the world and relate themselves and their culture to others. It has shown that the middle eastern protests could have been interpreted differently and indeed the entire context in which they are placed in could have been represented another way.