George Lakoff is a professor of cognitive linguistics at UC Berkeley, and the author of Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. While Lakoff’s book is generally a great instructional tool for American progressives, he is still encumbered by a Western bias, which is evident in his framing of Islam and Muslims. Lakoff’s hidden assumption is that Islam is fundamentally violent, but that Islam in moderation is tolerable and acceptable. That is, Lakoff’s prototype of Islam is that Islam is centrally violent, and his concept of a non-violent Islam is that it is atypical or non-prototypical. Moreover, Lakoff accepts a worldview in which “Islam” and “the West” are polar opposites, and that a non-violent Islam is non-violent because it falls somewhere on the continuum between “Islam” and “the West”. Within this frame, of course, “Islam” is violent and “the West” represents non-violence.
Lakoff frames terrorism as arising from cultural difference.
Lakoff is a progressive, but his understanding of “radical Islamic fundamentalists” is borrowed from American conservatives’ understanding of “Islam”. Instead of dismantling the conservative frame that characterizes Islam as inherently violent and backwards, Lakoff keeps the conservative frame and adds the disclaimer that this characterization is not representative of most Muslims. In Don’t Think of an Elephant, p. 59, Lakoff writes:
The question that keeps being asked in the media is, Why do they hate us so much?
It is important at the outset to separate moderate-to-liberal Islam from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do not represent most Muslims.
Radical Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview that is incompatible with the way that Americans—and other Westerners—live their lives.
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