Metaphors, conspiracy theories and the threats of Islamisation

It is necessary to introduce some ideas regarding the connections between metaphors and Islamophobic conspiracy theories before explaining the principal trajectory of anti-Islam conspiratorial discourses articulated through the various metaphors of invasion. Conspiracy theories often feed on narratives saturated by tropes that underline, simplify and/or help build the messages that they disseminate. Tropes are a type of rhetorical device that use words figuratively such that they acquire a new meaning different from the original one. Among tropes, metaphors occupy a place of excellence (Velasco, 2005), as ‘the queen of poetic figures’ (Le Guern, 1990: 9). In metaphors, according to Torre and Vazquez (1986: 114), there is a displacement of the proper or real meaning by the figurative, based on a relation of similarity or analogy, which produces the interpretative significance. Examples of metaphors in the field that concerns us would be ‘Islam is a cancer’ or ‘Islam is like the Ebola virus’ (in Awan, 2016: 14). These examples illustrate metaphors in which there is a correspondence between the figurative terms (the metaphorising and pathologising noun: cancer, Ebola virus) and the real terms (metaphorised: Islam).

However, it has been common to consider the metaphor as a merely ornamental or aesthetic resource. In other scientific fields, such as the social sciences, recent research addresses that the use of metaphors is associated with ‘a way of thinking’ (van Dijk, 2016: 418). Among the approaches that have been considered metaphors, especially since the last decades of the twentieth century, the metaphor is also considered a ‘cognitive element that reflects in the language’ (Velasco, 2005: 35). For Lakoff and Johnson (1980: 138 and 236), in Metaphors we Hue by, the metaphor adds meaning to the form because the syntax is not independent of significance and, on the other hand, suggests that aspects such as political and economic ideology are framed in metaphorical terms. The visual metaphors of conspiracy theories have recently been studied by Caumanns and Onnerfors (2020: 441-456).

In this sense, as ideological resources, metaphors can play a decisive role in constructing social and political realities and in helping to produce new meanings (Fairclough, 1995; Velasco, 2005). This production of new meanings through metaphors as a conceptual resource is very relevant, for example, in advertising (Velasco, 2005). In that field, metaphors turn into persuasive and manipulative resources that introduce ideological elements to help create or maintain stereotypes, imaginary or social representations while driving the desire to purchase.

Returning to van Dijk (2016: 418), the fact that the metaphor is associated with ‘a fundamental way of thinking’ is not trivial. From his perspective, a mechanism that relates ‘more abstract objects with more concrete objects’ operates in the metaphor. The metaphor also contributes to framing the meanings of discourses, for which context is also essential. Metaphors need abstraction and context to establish relations of signification in which the connection between the real object and the figurative is evident, as suggested in Le Guern (1990)? It contrasts to other rhetorical figures such as the metonymy, in which one word or phrase is substituted with another.

Carr (2006) associates the conspiracy theory about Islam with the idea of Eurabia in Bat Ye’or’s book, Enrabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Ye’or, 2005, see Bergmann in this volume), where the idea of a Europe that becomes a colony of Islam as a result of migratory processes is constructed. Conspiracy theories describe beliefs such as the existence of hidden powers that manipulate the world (Knight and Butter, 2020; Thórisdóttir, Mari and Krouwel, 2020; Marwick and Lewis, 2017; Brotherton et al., 2013). Similarly, the introduction of the concept of Eurabia suggests the suspicion that there is a secret conspiracy between European politicians - in particular the cultural-Marxist left-wing - and the Arab world to Islamise Europe (for example, through multicultural policies) and to destroy Judeo-Christian civilisation. In the words of Oriana Fallaci (2006: 156), ‘it is immigration, not terrorism, the Trojan horse that has penetrated the West and transformed Europe into Eurabia’. In any case, as argued by Uenal (2016), this conspiracy theory about Islamisation has many supporters today and motivated Norwegian terrorist Breivik to carry out his attacks (Ónnerfors, 2017; Bergmann in this volume). Thus, electoral results with a clear bias towards radical right positions in different European countries do not surprise (Garcia, 2018).

The use of metaphors in narratives about the Islamisation of Europe (or in those that specifically refer to Muslims or Islam as collectives or religion alluded to in various speech acts) is common (see also Wodak, 2015). However, in this case, given that there is no clear relationship between reality (Islam, Muslims) and the figurative object (‘invasion’, the interpretation that the metaphor suggests), the metaphors disseminated usually operate by constructing and inventing the analogies and similarities directed to the audience. The use of metaphors or other linguistic resources is usual among those that spread hate speech and discriminating messages towards different types of groups and social groups, religions, etc. In the age of digital dissemination of conspiracy theories, moreover, the metaphor is easily morphed into image or combinations of image and texts such as in GIFs, pic badges or memes (Ónnerfors, 2020: 10).

In the case of Islamophobic conspiracy narratives, the production of generic negative discourses that demonise ‘them’ versus ‘us’ are common (Hamrita, 2016; ODonnell, 2018). Thus, discourses associate Islam in a biased way with harmful characteristics and ideological markers that enhance polarised, emotional and simplifying visions of social reality; this generates a strongly dualist and Manichaean view. The next examples show metaphors developed in the context of narratives that reinforce the argument that Europe is being Islamised and that the enemy already is inside. Moreover, as a logical consequence, we must defend ourselves. Besides, groups associated with Islam are metaphorically demonised. The process of demonisation seems similar in the development of different conspiracy theories when alluding to agents who claim and plot to take control (Butter, 2014; Berlet, 2004). For instance, it is usual to demonise refugees through the contemporary discourse about Islam (Gallego, Gualda and Rebollo, 2017). But not exclusively, since the construction of the negative stereotype of the Muslim has a long history. Muslims have been described unkindly as rapists, terrorists, traitors, criminals, invaders, paedophiles, violent individuals, etc. (Hamrita, 2016; Awan, 2016; O’Donnell, 2018; Gallego, Gualda and Rebollo, 2017).

Public discourses have frequently spread the idea of Islam as a threat. Huntington’s article on ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, published in 1993 in Foreign Affairs, already underlined a foreseeable confrontation of Islam with Western cultures. The invasion of Islam, it is argued, occurs in different spheres (physical, mental, cultural; see Ye’or, 2005; Fallaci, 2006). In the following sections, we describe, on the one hand, what kind of invasion it is, but also some notions of its outcome and expected aftereffects. The invasion and its expected results clearly and metaphorically support hate speech and equally discourses that enhance fear and anxiety in citizens.

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