Armed conflicts and collective identities: a discursive investigation of lay and political accounts of the wars in Iraq and Lebanon
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This thesis investigates how and why various Iraqi and Lebanese politicians and laypeople account for the armed conflicts, which they have been living through, and the involved sides of these conflicts. In both of these countries people have been exposed to major international and civil wars. Both nations are also cosmopolitan societies that contain multiple ethnic, racial, and religious groups, which make the issue of identity of great importance. How wars should be examined is a subject of much debate within psychology. On the one hand, the majority of psychological studies of war rest upon the assumption that war is primarily a destructive experience. Thus, the focus has been traditionally on investigating lasting psychopathological effects of war. A Large number of previous studies have reported that a significant segment of people who were exposed to the experience of war developed psychological problems, especially post traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, a growing number of psychology researchers contend that most people maintain their psychological equilibrium in the face of almost all types of traumatic experiences, including war-related affairs. These researchers have shifted the focus toward examining and explaining this finding. Within this vigorous debate, limited attention has been paid to the question of how and why people account for their experiences as well as the various aspects of war in their own words. Currently, a limited number of studies indicate that people can and do present the same war in significantly different ways, as a means to attain certain ends. Furthermore, a significant body of research suggests that people’s collective identities play an important role in relation to their understandings, descriptions, preferences and behaviours in relation to war. The war rhetoric is also reported as an important issue that can influence the people’s understanding of war, as well as war’s course of events. Hence, through adopting a discursive psychological approach to analysis, this thesis examines several important issues simultaneously. Accounts of the wars and collective identities are approached as communicative resources that are constructed and deployed as a means to accomplish social actions. This thesis examines, specifically, how different Iraqi laypeople and politicians construct the 2003 American and Allies intervention in Iraq, with focus on collective identity. It also examines how various Lebanese construe the events of the 2006 war and the civil strife that occurred during and afterward this war. The data is taken from three sources. The first one is represented by semi-structured interviews conducted in Lebanon in October 2006. The second source is TV interviews conducted and broadcasted live with Iraqi politicians and decision makers in the period from 2003 to 2008 and with Lebanese politicians from 2006 to 2008. The third source is an open-ended question distributed in Basra City, Iraq in May 2005 as part of an extensive questionnaire. This study has several practical and theoretical implications to psychology in general and in particular to the study of armed conflicts. The first contribution is highlighting the importance of analysing laypeople’s rhetorical accounts of wars, as directly involved people can and do present surprisingly different discourses from the outsiders’. I argue that to gain a realistic and applicable understanding of the discourse of war, its function and its potential implications, it is necessary to study the general public’s versions of such experience in addition to the elite’s discourses. The analysis shows that different participants have constructed different action-oriented accounts of the same war. Within these various accounts the participants invoked and incorporated a number of different stimulating notions, such as dignity, nationalism, religion, resilience and victory as part of the rational of the war. These accounts have important practical and discursive functions, such as establishing, warranting, rejecting, and promoting specific views of the war, the involved sides, and the appropriate course of action. Secondly, this study contributes to the theoretical understanding of the role of rhetorical collective identity during armed conflicts. The analysis shows that collective identities attain their meanings and their functions from, by, and through the accounts they are situated within. Thirdly, the findings of this thesis highlight the complex and consequential role of rhetorical accounts in relation to wars and to violence and the relevance of qualitative analysis. I argue that discourse of war can obscure its destructive effects, which in turn can contribute to maintaining people’s psychological equilibrium but, also, prolong the conflict. Thus, exposing the rhetorical strategies that legitimate war and warrant killing other people can be an important step toward making war unconditionally morally unacceptable.