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Islamophobia in the West: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Imran Khan’s UNGA Speech

School of Media and Communication Studies, University of Management and Technology, Lahore 54770, Pakistan
Faculty of Languages and Linguistics, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 50603, Malaysia
Department of Applied Linguistics, Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore 54000, Pakistan
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2022, 13(4), 284;
Received: 18 October 2021 / Revised: 15 March 2022 / Accepted: 18 March 2022 / Published: 25 March 2022


The tragic and horrendous attack on the World Trade Center also served to construct an unmistakable shape to Islamophobia in the West. It worked as fuel for the already-lit fire of Islamophobia and aggravated the situation with numerous indiscriminate attacks on Muslims. The situation worsened with George Bush’s unequivocal statement: “either you are with us or against us”. This was the call for a cultural war between the West and Muslims framed by the Us versus Them schemata. This research has analyzed the speech of Imran Khan which he delivered at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, employing van Dijk’s Ideological Square Model with a specific focus on NVivo 12 Plus to inspect the magnitude of the impact of linguistic memorandums from authoritative institutes. The researchers have investigated the lexicalization of Khan’s speech to explore how he uses language to sketch the picture of the West as “them” parallel to “us”. His rhetoric is critically examined through the micro and macro-strategies of the Ideological Square Model. The findings reveal that instead of challenging and interrogating the Us versus Them schema that permeates Islamophobia, Khan himself uses the very same schema to show ideological differences between the West and Muslims.

1. Introduction

Although Islamophobia is a term that has been used frequently over the years, it still needs to be unpacked carefully. The term is an amalgamation of two words: “Islam” and “Phobos”. The former refers to the religion “Islam”, while the latter is a Greek word meaning fear. Ergül (2017) argues that Islamophobia means fear of Islam. It can also be understood as prejudice against Muslims, or depiction of Islam as a religion of radicals. In the same way, Islamophobia is not just a word, but an ominous feeling that has been brewing for some time. According to the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia in the Runnymede report, Islamophobia refers to the “dread or hatred of Islam—and, therefore, to fear or dislike of all or most Muslims”. The Western media has played the role of a lynchpin in portraying an obscured image of Islam by labeling Muslims as illiterate and radical, and 9/11 has served to strengthen this image. As a result, the world in general acts accordingly, by taking the presence of Islam in their areas as an existential and life threat to the whole Western community (Reilly 1981).
In hindsight, during the chaotic time against the USSR in Afghanistan, the UK painted the image of Muslims as heroes of the day and anti-Soviet warriors (Kelley 2013). However, the post-9/11 world witnessed a 180-degree paradigm shift in Western policies. Yesterday’s heroes were today’s villains. Enmity towards Muslims living in the West and a belligerent attitude towards Muslim countries became prevalent. In the same vein, EU countries considered Islamophobia is more justified in the post-9/11 era. (Allen 2004). Many writings, videos, and pictures started surfacing against Muslims to reinforce the notion that they were responsible for the destruction of the world in general and the West in particular. This created significant challenges for Muslim countries.
The mantra of “Us vs. Them” became evident in media and literature, and led to the representation that the Us (West) is superior to Them (Muslims). This mantra became more prominent when Samuel P. Huntington wrote an article in 1993 on Foreign Affairs, titled “The Clash of Civilizations?”, which was later on turned into a book. Islamophobia is an extravagant sort of enmity and hostility towards Muslims that sprouted from the negative stereotyping, bias, discrimination, marginalization, and exclusion of Muslims from social, political, and civil life (Ali et al. 2011). This not only causes harm for an individual but also wreaks havoc on society.
Steuter and Wills (2010) note that in the post-9/11 world, Arabs and Muslims were dehumanized in the Western media. Metaphors such as animal, vermin, or metastatic disease were used for the enemy, i.e., Muslims and Arabs. Sultan (2016) also shed significant light on the role of the media as a manipulator, and the way Islam was linked with terrorism in the Western media, while Muslims were framed as terrorists. Similarly, Bazian (2019) focused upon Trump’s xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric during elections campaigns. Trump used Islamophobia as a tool to muster support in the elections, and explicitly made comments regarding women of color, e.g., “send her back” (Bazian 2019).
In a speech at the 74th session of the United Nation’s General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, gave serious attention to the phenomenon which has caused much pain and suffering. His speech aimed to present his side of the story to establish the fact that there is no radical Islam, countering the perception of Islam as a radical religion, and in its stead, positing the West as culpable for creating a schism between itself and the Muslims. The objective of this research is to study how Imran Khan uses language to comment on the critical state of Muslims around the world and reveal how Islamophobia is a Western construct. In this regard, this study will investigate what kinds of discursive strategies Imran Khan employs in his speech to criticize the Western rhetoric of Islamophobia. It is important to carry out an analysis of the speech delivered at the 74th session of the UNGA by Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan as he delves into the issue of Islamophobia and raises his voice against such forces bolstering hatred against Islam. Imran Khan’s speech in 2019 rang bells in the world because he highlighted the facts from history that there are radicals in every society. His speech is a magnum opus in the current time, ergo, in this research, the speech delivered would be kept in focus while discussing Islamophobia in the West.

1.1. Islamophobia across the World

Islamophobia is not a phenomenon that has developed overnight, and the hatred against Muslims is not only limited to language; in the contemporary era, France has banned female Muslims from wearing the veil, the Chinese are pushing Uyghur Muslims into concentration camps, India has seen a spike in hate crimes against Muslims, Trump’s anti-Islamic rhetoric further aggravated the condition, anti-Islamic forces in Germany publicly burned the Quran, and a Muslim girl in the USA was attacked with acid in a hate crime. Love (2017) notes in his book “Islamophobia and racism in America” that minority groups in America were confronted with hate crimes just because they “look like a Muslim”. Moreover, post-9/11 America has witnessed an exponential rise in Islamophobic cases and sentiments and anti-Islamic rhetoric. Findings of The Resilience and Ordinariness of Australian Muslims: Attitudes and Experiences of Muslims Report 2015 revealed that 79% of their random sample of Muslims living in Sydney believed that the media portrays Muslims unfairly, and about 83% put faith in the notion that media reports have a significant influence on the views of non-Muslims about Muslims (Dunn et al. 2015). In Europe, dressing in a specific manner could result in discrimination against Muslim women. France imposed a hefty fine on female Muslims for veiling in the public. Muslims were not allowed to build their mosques in Catalonia. The reactions to the World Trade Center attacks have made it very difficult for Muslims to live in Europe. They face prejudice which is enforced by local right-wing political parties (Amnesty International 2012). Iqbal (2010b) asserts that media critics have time and again highlighted that the Western media has played a pivotal, read wicked, role in misrepresenting Islam that has fostered Islamophobia. The media not only furthered cultural prejudice against Muslims all across the globe but also depicted Muslims as a threat. The present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK), Boris Johnson, before his premiership, compared women in burqas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. The Guardian News and Media (2019) notes that after this jibe, incidents of abuse against Muslims increased by 375% in the week. A YouGov (2019) report, “Western/MENA attitudes to religion portray a lack of faith in common values”, revealed that 38% of British people believed that Islam was not compatible with Western values. Contemporary British intelligentsia disapproves of religions as a whole and considers ridiculing Muslims as healthy for debate, and not an issue of discrimination (Lambert and Githens-Mazer 2010).

1.2. Unpacking Islamophobia

Any discussion of Islamophobia must first entail an unpacking of the term itself and, in this section, we bring together scholarly literature that has defined Islamophobia.
Edward Said postulates in his book “Orientalism” that the West considers Islam as rigid and unsuitable for the modern era ideology of the West and multiculturalism (Said 1981, while the figure of the Arab is often represented in Western discourse as a barbaric Oriental. In the book “Covering Islam”, Edward Said again contends that Western media shows a distorted image of Islam by associating it with religious fanaticism and terrorism (Said 1981). Said argues that there is Euro-centric prejudice against Islam, its culture, and its people, and puts forward a negative representation where not only is Islam, its people, and its culture portrayed as tyrannical, irrational, and violent, but also legitimizes the West as superior, thus placing the West with its progressive and enlightened values as a savior for the backward and inferior Arab–Islamic world (Said 1981). Said’s arguments about the demonization of Muslims have paved the way for several articulations of Islamophobia over the years. While often associated with the definition in the impactful reports by the Runnymede Trust in 1997, Islamophobia as a concept has been contested and questioned over the years (see Lean 2019; Allen 2010). By far, the majority of scholars focus upon the process of racialization that is both essentializing and homogenizing, and positions Muslims and Islam as the ‘Other’ (see Allen 2010; Sayyid and Vakil 2010; Garner and Selod 2015), highlighting the prejudices and stereotypes that stem from this representation as similar to cultural racism (Alietti and Padovan 2013). There are schools of thought that also focus upon the perception of the incompatibility of Islam with the core values of Western civilization, which in turn poses a threat to the West (Huntington 1996; Cesari 2011).
Abbas (2019) argues that Islamophobia is problematic as a term because it can, and often does, conflate Islam and Muslims into a monolithic entity, giving rise to an increasing focus on anti-Islamic rhetoric. Iqbal states that Islamophobia is a “new word for an old fear” (Iqbal 2010a), and is based upon religious intolerance, while Rana highlights that the figure of a Muslim is “constructed through a racial logic” which intersects with various cultural categories such as religion and ethnicity among others (Rana 2007).
Alietti and Padovan put forward a two-fold model of Islamophobia as the “internal enemy” and the “external threat”. Both aspects of the model are premised upon the notions of fear and threat. The “internal enemy” emphasizes the fear of how close in contact the Muslim body is with the dominant group, while the “external threat” represents Islam and the Muslim civilization as a threat to the existence of Western democracy, undermining its entire social fabric (Alietti and Padovan 2013). Marking the Muslim body and the Muslim civilization as different from, and incompatible with, Western social fabric paves the way to a politics of difference that shifts back and forth between biological and cultural xenophobia to immutable ideological clashes. Cultural and racial differences alongside ideological incompatibility form the basis of Islamophobia.
Picking up from the argument that Islamophobia has a racial logic underpinning it, Carr and Haynes refer to the prevailing racialization of Muslims based upon the characteristics (both physical and cultural) of social practices, clothing, and language (Carr and Haynes 2015). This process of racialization of the Muslim figure backgrounds the heterogeneity and diversity among Muslims, and echoes the argument by several scholars (see Rana 2007; Bayraklı and Hafez 2016) that Muslims are generalized into a common, immutable, and fixed group, with their heterogeneity denied. This then leads to the stereotypical, negative predication and evaluation of their practices, values, and other cultural traits. Thus, Islamophobia is a form of prejudice borne through essentialized cultural (and biological) categories. Thus, Islamophobia is a type of cultural and epistemological racism that has turned into globophobia.
Sayyid extends the debate over the definition of Islamophobia further by arguing that Islamophobia is a “form of governmentality”, and stems from the need to protect national identities. Islamophobia is the “systematic regulation and disciplining of Muslimness” which is seen to be a threat to Westernizing values and practices (Sayyid 2014, p. 423).
Kaya (2018) defines Islamophobia as an ideological construct that is premised upon social control, where the conservative political elite employs fear as a tool to ensure compliance and submission. As in any asymmetric relationship with the political elite, there is a clear link with dominance in power relations. Bayraklı and Hafez (2016) argue that Muslims are made submissive within an “Us versus Them” schema in this web of power relations where they are excluded from access to the privileged resources and rights that the dominant ingroup of political elites enjoys and is defined by.
In a recent article on Islamophobia and exclusionary populism, Cervi (2020) makes a distinction between “banal Islamophobia” and “ontological Islamophobia”. Drawing from and extending Alietti and Padovan’s (2013) model of the “internal enemy” and the “external threat”, Cervi constructs a model which explains how prejudice against Muslims and Islam is not only predicated upon but also, in turn, reifies emotional distance from Muslims, a distance that allows Islamophobic sentiments to be legitimized and prevalent. Cervi argues that “banal Islamophobia” is the reinforcement of the othering process which is premised upon the difference (physical attributes and social practices) of the Muslim body that poses a threat to the normative cultural and traditional lifestyles of dominant groups. Ontological Islamophobia is explained as being uniquely linked with Islam and represents Islam, its core values, and Islamic civilization, as clashing ontologically with the West and its core values (see also Cesari 2011). This incompatibility is an inherent threat to the survival of Western civilization
On the whole, definitions of Islamophobia tend to revolve around polarization, focusing upon racism and religious prejudice and also focusing upon the binaries of extremist and normative beliefs among Muslims in specific areas. There is a tendency to conflate both Islam as a religious concept and Muslims as a social group or as individuals. As such, it cannot be denied that Islamophobia is constructed along the lines of oppositions and differences which deepen rifts in society. However, we define Islamophobia, it cannot be denied that the realizations and tangible manifestations of Islamophobia have far-reaching effects. Allen reinforces the fact that Islamophobia is a Muslim-specific “real and tangible discriminatory phenomenon” (Allen 2020, p. 8). Elahi and Khan rightly argue that Islamophobia affects “human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life” (Elahi and Khan 2017, p. 1). Islamophobia thus represents a complex interplay of power and prejudice which is constituted by, and in turn constitutes, systemic oppression. Islamophobia is multidimensional and needs to be examined as such, rather than in simplistic, alarmist, and monolithic terms.

1.3. Countering Islamophobia

While there has been quite a lot of research conducted on Islamophobia, we argue that discourses that counter Islamophobia or are anti-Islamophobic, should also be scrutinized. Anti-Islamophobic discourses are necessary to not only address, but also actively challenge, Islamophobia discourses that are seen to be normative, and in turn, impact on the lives and realities of Muslims all across the world. Indeed, Iqbal (2010a) argues for interventions, both practical and theoretical, in systems that practice “intersectional oppression” and dominance. Most anti-Islamophobic discourses focus upon contesting homogenizing discourses and highlight that Muslims are diverse and heterogenous, and are integrated into the societies in which they live. Abbas and Siddique (2012) argue against the conflation of religious Muslims with violence and radicalization. While scholars are making headway in highlighting anti-Islamophobic counter-theory and praxis, yet, we argue, there is a need to examine how anti-Islamophobic arguments are constructed and what meta strategies are at play in these discourses. It has been argued that the oppression through which Islamophobia is operationalized is framed by multidimensional structures of ideology and social inequality. As such, any discourses that set out actively to counter Islamophobia are likely to be based upon similar strategies that challenge the dynamics of power that perpetuate discrimination and social inequality, such as anti-racism and other anti-individual or systemic systems of oppression. The counter-narratives to Islamophobia are likely to address the dominant narratives of Islamophobia which are premised upon binaries, oppositions, and the Us versus Them schema. This in turn could mean that the counter-narratives themselves subscribe to similar structures of oppositions and the Us versus Them schema. The Us versus Them schema is almost always based upon the positive representation of Self alongside the negative representation of the Other. This is why we argue it is necessary to examine the speech of a prominent Muslim leader such as Imran Khan who attempts to publicly challenge Islamophobia on the world stage. If the speech does subscribe to similar structures of oppositions, then the question arises as to whether such counter-narratives are impactful, or simply reinforce and sustain the current dominant narratives of Islamophobia which are constructed along with the Self–Other schema.

1.4. Self–Other Dichotomy and Pakistan

van Dijk (1998) asserts that the “Us versus Them” schema is an ideological dichotomy that reflects the fundamental social, economic, political, and cultural differences between social groups. The schema is based upon the dichotomous notions of identity and difference and reflects inequalities and imbalances of power where one social group (the in-group) asserts its institutional and structural dominance over the out-groups (see also La Capra 1989). The discursive construction and representation of in-groups and out-groups is based upon positive self- and negative other-presentation.
The Self–other dichotomy is manifested in Pakistan in two forms—first in the representation of the “other” as from outside of Pakistan, mainly the West, and second, the representation of the “other” within Pakistan itself, with distinct othering of minority groups in Pakistan such as Christians (Ahmed and Zahoor 2020). In terms of the former, parallel to the anti-Muslim rise in Western politics, there has also been a rise in anti-American and anti-Western sentiment, as well as sentiment against neighboring countries such as India, in Pakistan. This often takes the form of “us” as Muslims and “them” as anti-Muslims. Tabassum et al. (2013) critically analyze media reporting regarding Osama bin Laden’s death and assert that Pakistani media plays a significant role in reinforcing the “us versus them” dichotomy in Pakistan against America as well as India by employing the argument of patriotism. As is common in the presentation of the in-group and the out-group, the Pakistani media portrays Pakistan (as the in-group) in a positive light. In the news reporting of Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan assumes the position of victim and blames the “other” for atrocities in Pakistan. Cabot (2021), in his story for France 24, reported on the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) protests against the caricatures made by a French magazine. During the protests, TLP called for banning the sale of French-made products in Pakistan and demanded the expulsion of France’s ambassador. TLP alleged France as a promoter of Islamophobia, firmly representing France as the anti-Muslim “Them”.
The latter type of othering, which focuses upon the negative representation of the minority out-groups in Pakistan, has serious implications for these groups. Gregory (2008) reports that Christian minorities living in Pakistan experience marginalization in almost every sphere of their lives. They are treated as second-class citizens of Pakistan and are exposed to risks of violence and discrimination. Munir (2002) argues that religious fanatic groups in Pakistan dominate the social system of the country, which is worsening the situation for Christians and people belonging to other religious minorities. In fact, the murders of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, two prominent politicians who supported Christian victims, received wide national support in Pakistan (Gregory 2012), reflecting and reinforcing the Muslim versus anti-Muslim binary.
Ideological conflict is often discursive, i.e., it is enacted in and by discourse. Discourse is a crucial aspect in the reproduction of in-group/out-group ideologies. Members of social groups express, reproduce, legitimize, and justify their ideological beliefs and practices, alongside concealing them from the out-group and excluding the out-group from access to power and resources. The process of othering is enacted discursively as well as institutionally and structurally. Public discourse, especially political speeches, are fertile ground for the enactment, reinforcement, or contestation of normative representations. Political speeches carry their own sets of baggage and are not neutral. Much like the media, political speeches attempt to influence and shape ideological positions; in fact, they are a reflection as well as a contestation of ideology and power. In this paper, we analyze how Imran Khan, as a Pakistani leader, assumes the position of a leader who contests Islamophobia, but at the same time, also subscribes to the ideological differences that construct Islamophobia within the Muslim and anti-Muslim paradigm that prevails in Pakistani media and also in other parts of the world. We argue that while his UNGA speech focuses upon contesting and countering Islamophobia, he does not challenge the Us Versus Them binary that is established in the Pakistani media and in the West. While Islamophobic discourse presents the Us/Self as anti-Muslim and the Them/Other as Muslim, Khan turns this schema around, and presents the Us/Self as Muslim and the Them/Other as anti-Muslim; a schema that prevails in the Pakistani media and in fact excludes the minority groups in South Asia who are subjected to and oppressed by the very same dichotomous representation.

2. Critical Discourse Analysis

Critical Discourse Analysis (henceforth CDA), is fundamentally a tool or an approach to reveal the underlying ideologies that drive socio-political practices through the micro-analysis of language discourse. It encompasses almost every aspect of the language used in socio-political discourses (van Dijk 2004) and is a tool for a critical qualitative communication research (Reynolds 2019). Critical Discourse Analysis is a qualitative inquisitive approach for critically expounding, construing, and articulating the trajectories through which discourses erect and legitimize social inequalities within a broader context (Mullet 2018).
It is a tool that examines the language’s relation to power and ideology, argues Fairclough (2013). “Critical Discourse Analysis is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced, and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context” (van Dijk 1998). The predominant focus of CDA is to examine implied power in discourse, and is utilized to harness the minds and actions of the dominant group and to safeguard their vested interests. Moreover, CDA is applied specifically on social and political discourses to analyze the language that has been used to legitimize certain events, beliefs, persons, etc. Furthermore, prevalent ideological schisms and confrontations can also be studied through CDA. CDA underscores how some events validate the ideological beliefs that might be instrumental in widening gaps in society. Although CDA has multiple approaches within its ambit, the main focus is often upon the “self–other schema”, i.e., the “us versus them” binary which analyzes how socio-political groups present a positive image of “self” while demonizing the “other”. This “self-other schema” is a powerful narrative to legitimize certain ideological beliefs, practices, and sentiments, and one of the key approaches that focuses on the “self-other schema” is the Ideological Square Model of van Dijk.
While studies employing CDA are too numerous to be cited here, it is pertinent to note that several studies have already employed CDA to investigate Imran Khan’s speeches. Nusrat et al.’s (2020) research on the Dharna (Protest) speeches of Imran Khan in 2014 analyzes the relationship between the use of “I” and “We”, and power in the speeches of Imran Khan. Moreover, Imran Khan’s 74th UNGA speech has also been the subject of a Fairclough-based study focusing upon the implications of words and the context of speech (Rehman et al. 2021).

3. The Ideological Square

This research analyzes the speech of Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, and the way he used the platform of the 74th UNGA to reveal the fact that Western ideology has become Islamophobic and Muslims have been pushed to the corner in the West and are hated because of the perceived clash of civilizations. To study the text under analysis, van Dijk’s (2006) Ideological Square Model is apt to examine how Imran Khan uses language to highlight Islamophobia in the West in his discourse. van Dijk’s model (2006) is a tool which is used to study how discourse is used to form the “positive self and negative other representation”. Mazid (2008) contends that the Ideological Square Model is a tool that unravels the political or media discourses which surround the ideological conflict. Furthermore, van Dijk (1998, 2004, 2006) argues that the Ideological Square Model is a pertinent tool to analyze the ‘us versus them’ polarization in any speech. Therefore, the Ideological Square Model is adequate to be applied in this research because it will permit the researchers to highlight how Imran Khan brings light to the problem by portraying “Us–Muslims” as the victims of Islamophobia and “Them–West” as the perpetrators.
There are two stages of the analysis: macro and micro.
There are twenty-five macro-strategies to analyze the speech. Those strategies are “actor description, authority, burden, categorization, comparison, consensus, counterfactual, disclaimer, euphemism, evidentiality, argumentation, illustration/example, generalization, hyperbole, implication, irony, lexicalization, metaphor, national self-glorification, norm expression, number game, polarization (“us” versus “them”), populism, presupposition, vagueness, and victimization.” (van Dijk 2006).
For the micro-analysis, van Dijk (1998, 2004, 2006) identified four basic strategies that are used to legitimize the “self” and de-legitimize the “other”, i.e.,
  • Emphasize positive things about “Us”
  • Emphasize negative things about “Them”
  • De-emphasize negative things about “Us”
  • De-emphasize positive things about “Them”
Us–Muslims in-group
Them–West out-group
The Ideological Square Model is not only an appropriate tool to analyze the speech keeping in view the “self–other schema” but also equips the researchers to investigate the basis of schema with a set of discursive stratagems in which the “self–other” schema is engaged in the language.

4. Methodology

This research examines Imran Khan’s speech delivered at the 74th UNGA session. The significance of that speech cannot be denied because Khan used the speech to initiate a debate to forestall the incipient Islamophobic rhetoric which is often conflated with radical Islam. This study employs CDA to examine Imran Khan’s speech to identify the representation of the West in the speech, unveiling the Islamophobic forces dwelling in the West. In addition, NVivo 12 Plus has also been used and results are gleaned from the software which focused on every word of sampled tweets and provided the researchers some vital and significant outcomes in the form of visualizations that are incorporated in this research. More specifically, the researchers have used advanced features of NVivo 12 Plus, for instance, Word Cloud, Word Trees, Sentiment Analysis, Auto-Coding, and Tree-Map of most frequent and dominant terms in the data set. Subsequently, all such investigated terms have been well investigated with the help of the Ideological Square Model under the umbrella of CDA.
In the studies on any discourse, a researcher is always pertinent and selective to choose the data from any speech, interview, or statement based the keywords, argues Baker (2006). Waikar (2018) asserts that, when a researcher is analyzing a discourse, the main focus is on the quality of the content instead of quantity. For Waikar, large data are unmanageable; therefore, discourse studies can also be performed on a small size of corpus.
Glaser and Strauss mentioned in 1967 that the sampling procedure in qualitative research is always resilient, ongoing, and evolving while choosing data. Therefore, in this research, the researchers have solely chosen the third point from the speech, i.e., Islamophobia to realize the subtlety of the corpus and put forward in-depth analysis of the discourse. The smaller the size, the better would be the investigation of the speech.

5. Selection and Background of Imran Khan’s Speech

The 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly was held between the 17th and 30th of September 2019. Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, delivered the speech analyzed in this paper on 27 September 2019. In his address, he discussed and highlighted many points, but the researchers concern is only with the point where he articulated on Islamophobia. Imran Khan’s third point was Islamophobia, starting at 10:22 and ending at 23:50. His speech has been transcribed from the official YouTube channel of the United Nations—link (accessed on 10 December 2020).
The selection of this speech is based on multiple reasons. This speech touches upon the precarious condition of Muslims across the globe as a result of Islamophobia and, more significantly, the hypocrisy of the West towards tackling and curbing Islamophobia. This address is critical because it not only foregrounds the normative Western perceptions of Islam and Muslims but also sheds light on the condition of Muslim leaders themselves. In this research, computer-assisted analysis has been performed through NVivo 12 Plus, and the researchers is successful in gleaning some significant findings. Moreover, the Ideological Square Model of CDA has been applied on the speech to critically examine the address of Imran Khan.
It is pertinent to note here that Orientalism is inextricably linked with the Ideological Square Model. Edward Said laid the foundation in the 1970s for codifying the demonization of Muslims with the “us versus them” strategy as a significant tool. In the same vein, the Ideological Square Model shows how polarization is constructed in and through speeches and other types of public texts.

6. Analysis and Findings

The speech of Imran Khan is analyzed in two steps. In the first step, results are gleaned from the software which focused on every word of Imran Khan’s speech and provided the researchers some vital and significant outcomes in the form of pictures that are incorporated in this research. In the second step, the Ideological Square Model from van Dijk (2006) is used to comprehend the nuances of Imran Khan’s discursive strategies by focusing on the micro-text in his speech.

6.1. Computer-Assisted Analysis

The researchers have analyzed the data through NVivo 12 Plus and this enabled the researchers to glean some major findings.
Figure 1 shows the frequently used terms in the speech while talking about Islamophobia. While it is to be expected that Islam and Muslim would be dominantly used words, the speech also shows words related to radical Islam and terrorism. Khan uses terms such as minorities, communities, and suicide attackers, which are employed for the portrayal of Muslims across the globe. Furthermore, Figure 1 also reveals that Imran Khan talks about Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), who is a role model for Muslims. Khan also sheds light on the system of slavery that was the order of the day in hindsight, and how Islam abolished this system by propagating emancipation and egalitarianism.
Keywords in Figure 2 give an account of the main themes of Imran Khan’s discourse. There can be traced a clear link between words such as “equality in Islam”, “Islamic civilization”, “Holy Quran”, and “Muslim Leadership”. These keywords reflect the main content of Khan’s speech, and how he uses discourse to form a link between Islam, equality, and the Holy Quran parallel to other keywords such as “Islamophobia”, “Suicide Bombers”, “Radical Islam”, and “Holocaust”. These keywords are reflective of two different mindsets. The former is that of Imran Khan, where he is attempting to portray Islam in a positive light, i.e., associating “positive” with the “self” in opposition to the normative and marginalizing definition of the same religion by some quarters of the West as a religion of fanatics and “suicide bombers”. Khan has again emphasized the teachings of peace and equality derived from the holy book of Muslims, i.e., the Quran. It is interesting to note here that Khan counters Islamophobia by refusing to conflate Islam with radicalization and violence. Post-911 anti-Islamophobia discourses often focus upon the binary differentiation between the good Muslim and the bad Muslim. The good Muslim is perceived to be secular, rational, and moderate while the bad Muslim is represented as an antithesis to this (see Mamdani 2004). Khan rejects this representation of the good versus bad Muslim, focusing instead upon the moderate and equality-driven aspects of Islam.
In Figure 3, the sentiments of Imran Khan’s lexical approach are analyzed. It shows that the speech was fraught with negative sentiments as he used many words with negative meanings in his speech to reinforce the generalization that the West is against Muslims. While in Islamophobic texts Islam and Muslims are represented as the “negative-other” with the West represented as the “positive-self”, in this speech, Khan attempts to subvert this schema. In Khan’s speech, the self refers to Muslims and Islam, while the West is firmly positioned as the Other. He attempts to use historical facts to paint a negative picture of “them”, which is the West, and is juxtaposed with the positive image of Islam to construct a positive “us/self”. The utterance of words such as Holocaust, suicide, 9/11, etc., might be the reason behind the sentiments being very negative.
Figure 4 is the tree-map of frequently used words in Imran Khan’s speech. It shows the hierarchy of words and their consequences, for instance, Muslim, West, religion, Islamophobia, terrorism, etc. The words “Islam” and “Muslims” hold a significant space because Imran Khan is trying to paint a positive and according to him, the true picture of Islam. Imran Khan presents the case that suppression of Muslims led to radicalization and further argued that the world has been polarized because of Islamophobia in the West. Interestingly, Khan himself employs this very same polarizing strategy to drive his argument against Islamophobia.
Figure 5 is a set of four pictures depicting the text search query performed by the researchers. The first term is “Islamophobia” and it can be seen how Imran Khan sets the stage for Islamophobia, using the events of 9/11 to drive his powerful narrative of the exponential increase in Islamophobia and the ways in which it caused pain amongst Muslims.
The second image shows how the term “radical” was used with Islam to explain how the West has labeled Islam as a radical religion based on fallacious and misleading claims. Imran Khan rejects the overgeneralizations inherent in Islamophobic discourse by arguing that no religion is radical, and further, rejects the association of terrorism with Islam. Imran Khan stresses upon the clash in understandings about religion between the “West mind” and Muslims, once again locating this clash within the Us versus Them schema, and stressing on Islamophobic provocation in the West. Just as significantly, by asserting that Islam is not radical and terrorism must not be equated with Islam, Khan counters Islamophobia by rejecting the notion of a radical Islam upon which the cornerstones of Islamophobia are built. This has a problematizing effect upon the Us versus Them schemata that frame Islamophobia because by rejecting the notion of a radical and intolerant Islam, and by invoking other persecuted minority groups, Khan questions the binary framework of Us versus Them, while ironically employing it himself.

6.2. Macro-Strategies Analysis

The macro-analysis of the speech indicates that Imran Khan does employ the Us versus Them schema in his own counter-Islamophobia arguments. We now proceed further to show how the discursive strategies of the Ideological Square Model reveal the ways in which the schema is realized linguistically.
The analysis of Imran Khan’s speech reveals that Khan uses five main strategies to discursively realize the Us versus Them schema in his anti-Islamophobia arguments. They are—generalization, victimization, polarization, counterfactual, and evidentiality. Generalization is a strategy that occurs when the attributes (usually negative but can be positive too) of a small group are assigned to the larger group (van Dijk 2006). Polarization refers to the categorization of the in-group with positive attributes while the out-group is categorized along the lines of negative characteristics The third strategy of victimization is the use of oppositions to represent the members of the in-group as victims because of unfair treatment or discriminatory behavior Counterfactuals are statements that reveal what could happen, or what an individual could turn to if certain conditions are or are not in effect Evidentiality is used to provide evidence or proof by the producer of the text in order to substantiate and support their own opinions, beliefs, or information (van Dijk 2004).
The strategy of generalization is used most often in the speech and often occurs in tandem with the strategies of victimization and/or polarization. Khan uses generalization in two ways. First, he shows how Muslims are generalized and represented collectively in negative ways by the West. Second, he generalizes the West and Western leaders in terms of being collectively responsible for failing to curtail Islamophobia. When using the latter form of generalization, he contends that Muslims who wear the hijab suffer because of the perception that the hijab negates the Western ideals of freedom. He draws a polarization between Muslim and non-Muslim women and contends that Muslim women are not given any freedom to wear clothes of their choice while the very West which does not allow Muslim women to veil claims to allow all women to wear whatever they want. The generalization strategy that Khan employs enables him to interrogate and unravel the dynamics of power in the notion of Western ideals of freedom through which Islamophobia is reinforced and sustained.
Imran Khan also uses the topos of burden and renders “Islamophobia” the main cause of Muslim plight. He again uses the strategy of generalization and contends that “Western leaders” are responsible for radical Islamism and it is a Western construct. Khan’s discourse here is also an example of victimization as he uses language to form a “self–other” schema and attempts to associate a positive image with the “self”, representing Muslims, and negative attributes with the West which is responsible for spreading notions such as Muslims being terrorists.
The generalization strategy is used to argue that Western leaders equate terrorism with Islam, arguing that the idea of labeling Muslims as radicals and terrorists is an idea constructed by the West. This is an interesting attempt to de-mystify the Islamophobic stereotypes and tropes that sustain prejudice and social inequality. Interestingly, Khan not only uses the generalization strategy to show how Muslims are victimized, but he also employs it to collectively hold all Western leaders, and the West in general, as responsible for the perpetuation of Islamophobia. Generalization of Muslim leadership is also evident in the speech as he says that there is a fear in Muslim leadership of being labeled as radicals and as a result, they gave into the idea of Westernization.
Khan draws on a binary Us versus Them argument when he postulates that the West does not understand religion and in opposition to that, Muslims are (the only ones who are) well acquainted with the real essence of religion. We see traces of both the polarization and generalization strategies here, which have the effect of reinforcing the Us versus Them schema between Muslims and the West.
Khan does attempt to rise above the Us versus Them schema when he argues that terrorism should not be associated with Islam because it has nothing to do with any religion. He contends that after 9/11, the West started equating Islam with terrorism and this equation was void of reason and evidence. He further uses the evidential facts to point out that an array of suicide attacks took place before 9/11 and the culprits were Tamil Tigers but no one blamed Hinduism. He uses counterfactuals to persuade the audience once again that religion cannot be used as a basis to propagate hatred. Khan uses counterfactuals to contend that “no religion preaches radicalism”. He also uses comparison to accentuate this point and contend that radicals are everywhere and Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, or any other religion have nothing to do with radicalism. Khan attempts here to reclaim how Islam is represented through the lens of terrorism by refusing to associate Islam or any other religion with radicalism. The use of counterfactuals here also serves to challenge the stereotypes that are associated with Muslims. In a way, this argument leads to a discursive strategy of focusing upon a playing field that is based upon peace.
However, this is contradicted when, in several other parts of the speech, he attempts to polarize the West-them and Muslims us as people with two different ideologies, and further, generalizes and holds all European countries responsible for the plight of Muslims and Islamophobia. The Us Versus Them schema is reinforced through Khan’s use of language to indicate victimization for Islam, and that Muslims are blamed every time without any evidence. His counterfactual statement that “marginalization leads to radicalization” draws a clear demarcation of “us” versus “them” and victimizes Muslims as marginalized.
As the speech progresses, Khan uses, again, the strategy of generalization to argue that Muslims are suffering because the West has failed to understand what Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) means to them. The lexicalization of Khan’s discourse attempts to shed light on the idea that the Quran and Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) is very important for Muslims; he uses instances from the Prophet’s (P.B.U.H.) life as illustrations and evidentiality to make the Western world understand why Muslims perceive their religion differently than the West. It is also significant that Khan talks about incidents from the life of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.), and these incidents are used as counterfactuals to establish the fact that Islam preaches equality. Imran Khan argues that Muslims do not go against minorities, quoting examples from history as evidence, and establishing the Prophet Muhammad’s position as legitimate and as an authority. Through generalization and evidentiality, Khan here seems to be interrogating one of the main systemic mechanisms through which Islamophobia is enacted, that of the clash of civilizations and the incompatibility of Islam with Western ideals.
However, it is significant that, just like Islamophobia does, Khan too uses religion as the primary means of differentiation. He contends that the West fails to understand Muslim sentiments regarding religion and their prophet (P.B.U.H.) because the way that they perceive religion is altogether different from how Muslims perceive and practice it. He also uses the strategy of implication and contends that whenever the West will malign prophet (P.B.U.H.) there will be reactions from Muslims. Imran Khan has also drawn a comparison between the Muslims and the West, and argues that the West does not see religion with respect as Muslims do. Here, he has highlighted the positive attributes of Muslims as his in-group and the negative attributes of the out-group. Moreover, he, again, generalizes that the West fails to understand the real essence of religion by putting forward an illustration/example from his real-life experience. He also uses the counterfactual here by seeking empathy implicitly through the example of the Holocaust.
It is significant that Khan uses similar structures of argumentation employed in Islamophobia to counter Islamophobia itself. The effect of this is that the Us Versus Them schema is reinforced and prevalent throughout the speech.

7. Conclusions

The macro-strategies of the Ideological Square Model are used to analyze the choice of lexicalization that Imran Khan employed in his speech. The findings of this research reveal that Imran Khan employs an array of macro-strategies such as generalization, evidentiality, counterfactuals, and polarization, among others, in order to counter Islamophobia. The key takeaway is that even though he attempts to challenge the construction of the Us versus Them schema at times, and attempts to reclaim the representations of Muslims and Islam that are negative and based upon stereotypes and tropes, most of this speech is based upon the meta-strategy of Us versus Them. The very premise of these macro-strategies employed reinforces the Us versus Them schema, which is based upon the Muslim and anti-Muslim binary, which in turn deepens the schisms between Muslims and the West. Islamophobia is based upon the construction of differences in the representation of Muslims and Islam. The construction of differences also permeates Khan’s speech, which then means that, in countering dominant narratives of Islamophobia, Khan ends up reinforcing the “difference” paradigm instead of arguing for peace and social justice for Muslims. We argue that narratives that seek to counter dominant narratives of Islamophobia should veer away from the Us versus Them schema and focus instead on discursive resources which not only challenge the Islamophobic narratives, but also pave the way towards peace and social justice.

Author Contributions

The main idea, initial drafts, analysis and findings of this paper were promulgated by M.J. under the supervision of M.H.K. Linguistic aspects of this paper were revised by F.Q. whereas the whole paper was reinvigorated by S.K. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Not applicable.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

Not applicable.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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Figure 1. Word cloud of most-frequently used terms in the speech.
Figure 1. Word cloud of most-frequently used terms in the speech.
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Figure 2. Coding of frequently used words.
Figure 2. Coding of frequently used words.
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Figure 3. Sentiment chart of Imran Khan’s speech.
Figure 3. Sentiment chart of Imran Khan’s speech.
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Figure 4. Tree-map of frequently used terms in the speech.
Figure 4. Tree-map of frequently used terms in the speech.
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Figure 5. Word trees of frequently used terms in the Imran Khan’s speech.
Figure 5. Word trees of frequently used terms in the Imran Khan’s speech.
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Javaid, M.; Khan, M.H.; Kaur, S.; Qazalbash, F. Islamophobia in the West: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Imran Khan’s UNGA Speech. Religions 2022, 13, 284.

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Javaid M, Khan MH, Kaur S, Qazalbash F. Islamophobia in the West: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Imran Khan’s UNGA Speech. Religions. 2022; 13(4):284.

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Javaid, Meesam, Mohsin Hassan Khan, Surinderpal Kaur, and Farwa Qazalbash. 2022. "Islamophobia in the West: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Imran Khan’s UNGA Speech" Religions 13, no. 4: 284.

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