Friday, September 08, 2006

The Politico-Media Complex

Simon Jenkins examines how the "politico-media complex" helps terrorists achieve maximum disruption of the global system.

Terrorism is 10% bang and 90% an echo effect composed of media hysteria, political overkill and kneejerk executive action, usually retribution against some wider group treated as collectively responsible. This response has become 24-hour, seven-day-a-week amplification by the new politico-media complex, especially shrill where the dead are white people. It is this that puts global terror into the bang. While we take ever more extravagant steps to ward off the bangs, we do the opposite with the terrorist aftershock. We turn up its volume. We seem to wallow in fear.

Were I to take my life in my hands this weekend and visit Osama bin Laden's hideout in Wherever-istan, the interview would go something like this. I would ask how things have been for him since 9/11. His reply would be that he had worried at first that America would capitalise on the global revulsion, even among Muslims, and isolate him as a lone fanatic. He was already an "unwelcome guest" among the Afghans, and the Tajiks were out to kill him for the murder of their beloved leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud (which they may yet do). A little western cunning and he would have been in big trouble.

In the event Bin Laden need not have worried. He would agree, as did the CIA's al-Qaida analyst in Peter Taylor's recent documentary, that the Americans have done his job for him. They panicked. They drove the Taliban back into the mountains, restoring the latter's credibility in the Arab street and turning al-Qaida into heroes. They persecuted Muslims across America. They occupied Iraq and declared Iran a sworn enemy. They backed an Israeli war against Lebanon's Shias. Soon every tinpot Muslim malcontent was citing al-Qaida as his inspiration. Bin Laden's tiny organisation, which might have been starved of funds and friends in 2001, had become a worldwide jihadist phenomenon.

I would ask Bin Laden whether he had something special up his sleeve for the fifth anniversary. Why waste money, he would reply. The western media were obligingly re-enacting the destruction and the screaming, turning the base metal of violence into the gold of terror. They would replay the tapes and rerun the footage ad nauseam, and thus remind the world of his awesome power. Americans are more afraid of jihadists this year than last. In a Transatlantic Trends survey, the number of them describing international terrorism as an "extremely important threat" went up from 72% to 79%. As for European support for America's world leadership, that has plummeted from 64% in 2002 to 37% this year.

Bin Laden might boast that he had achieved terrorism's equivalent of an atomic chain reaction: a self-regenerating cycle of outrage and foreign-policy overkill, aided by anniversary journalism and fuelled by the grim scenarios of security lobbyists. He now had only to drop an occasional CD into the offices of al-Jazeera, and Washington and London quaked with fear. The authorities could be reduced to million-dollar hysterics by a phial of nail varnish, a copy of the Qur'an, or a dark-skinned person displaying a watch and a mobile phone.

A feature of democracy is freedom of information and speech. News of violence cannot be concealed since concealment fuels the climate of fear. The state should not censor news of terrorist incidents. As Milan Kundera asserted, "the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting". But there are ways of not forgetting. A feature of democracy is also to reject arrest without trial, reject the use of torture, and reject retaliatory violence against people or groups. Democracy can apparently sacrifice these legal principles to guard against the 10% of terrorism that is bang. Why not restrain the publicity that fuels the other 90%, the aftershock? The boundary between news and scaremongering may be hard to define. But so is any boundary between liberty and security. What is so sacred about publicising terror as against habeas corpus?

Conceding the kudos of state censorship to jihadists should be as unthinkable as conceding arrest without trial. That does not excuse the politico-media complex from any responsibility for caution, a sense of proportion and self-restraint. The gruelling re-enactment of the London bombings in July and this weekend's 9/11 horror-fest are not news. They exploit grief and horror, and in doing so give gratuitous publicity to Bin Laden and al-Qaida. Those personally affected by these outrages may have their own private memorials. But to hallow the events with repetitious publicity turns a squalid crime into a constantly revitalised political act. It grants the jihadists what they most crave, warrior status. It more than validates terrorism as a weapon of war, it glorifies it.

The best way to commemorate 9/11 is with silence. Instead, Bin Laden must be laughing.


Blogger Meatball One said...

Acts Of Terrorism...they've turned out to be quite the win-win events for all except the shredded.

I'm thinking...
-the dot com bubble
-the housing bubble
-the terrorism bubble

9/08/2006 2:50 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


Quite right.

Lots of people in the Washington area (esp. in Northern Virginia) have grown rich due to all the "terrorism" related govt contracting.

And the Politico-Media Complex hasn't done too badly either.

9/08/2006 3:33 PM  
Blogger DrewL said...

There's lots of money to be made in peddling fear. They say that sex sells. Well, fear does a nice little sales job itself. And people are buying it. Oh, they're buying it, all right!

9/08/2006 11:55 PM  
Blogger Effwit said...


The unwashed masses need to get their satisfaction, after all.

9/09/2006 7:04 AM  

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