Terrorism in the modern world

According to Bennett (2007 pp.1), the word terrorism was derived from the Latin word terrere meaning to tremble. The U.S Department of State in the United States code defines terrorism as a premeditated violence which is politically motivated against non-combats targets carried out by groups intending to influence an audience. Terrorist attacks are in most cases random and indiscriminately and intentionally target noncombatants. It is criminal in nature, motivated politically, and premeditated, with a vast scope of motives including religious, political, ideological or cultural. It assists an organization to further its ideological ideas. In this world of terrorism, targets include physical assets like people, services, information, and property. Terrorist attacks are normally designed to create disturbance and at the same time influence a wide range of audience apart from the victims of the actual terrorism.

The relationship between terrorism and the media is in most cases defined as symbiotic and to an extent of mutual benefit (Hauner, 2009 pp.3). Looking at it in one perspective, the media by increasing the viewing figures and circulation can ultimately make huge profits. Looking at in another perspective, the terrorists will have achieved what they wanted as the media will have already broadcasted the propaganda of the deed will have consequently instilled fear among the target groups. Worse still the terrorist can even at this point mobilize more support from other sympathizers and in the process influence their enemies political decisions. Some theories have emerged and claim that terrorists are what they are today because of the media coverage they enjoy. Despite the amplification effect however, censorship is not desirable nor can it be realized in western societies. This leaves the media with task o weighing the options of what is right and appropriate to air and what is not.
Take for example the terrorist network of Al Qaeda. Communication plays a vital role in order to adhere to net war strategies. Contrary to other hierarchical organizations which apparently are quite easy to run, a network form such as that of Al Qaeda requires dense and constant information. A communication system that is profound is essential as it allows the group which normally decentralized to manage the actions of its scattered cells. In the beginning, all the propaganda of Al Qaeda was meant for internal consumption only. The appeals to declare a global jihad did not in fact go beyond Al Qaeda sympathizers. They were only addressed to those Muslims who were living in nations with Islamic majority and also those who were living in western nations. The cell was by then protected by a network of cloudy information that frustrated the efforts of international penetration.

According to a report by the Centre of Excellence Defence against Terrorism (2007 pp.10), some researchers claim that terrorism would not exist if the media did not deliver the terrorists messages. On the other hand however, the war against terrorism has to be won without losing freedom in short democracy, like in every other war, has to make concessions of both political and civil rights in a bid to preserve freedom.  For a case like Iraq, it is apparent that the information campaign is more difficult than ever before, having its battles fought not only in the western and Arab Medias, but also in the global cyberspace. The insurgents have been able to extensively use the internet to recruit new fighters in their cells, attract support from their sympathizers, to gain technological advantage and to be able to sustain the global Jihad. The deaths of two British presspersons in Iraq is a good illustration of the manner in which media from all over the world has been covering events n Iraq. The media has been seen to have very sophisticated equipment that is able to relay live scenes as they actually happen. Yet with all this sophistication, the media in Iraq is not able go beyond the green zone and hence are not in a position to report on issues and event on the ground as the situation is deemed dangerous. The report also gives an account of how hostage takers make use of the media. In one particular Jihadist manual, it clearly stated that the media coverage is a very important goal in itself. The author states that it is a successful tool as it is able to capture international attention. Terrorists are now able to broadcast videos of their activities to their congregation. It has often been mentioned, that global terrorism would be close to impossible without the involvement of the mass media. Without mass media, terrorism would be just local or merely regional. Terrorism acts are designed to be fascinating news such that any journalist following their journalistic instincts will end up giving mass coverage to terrorist acts.

The use of the media according to Fawaz Gerges is very crucial for Al Qaeda. Many in the cell have said that Osama Bin Laden is addicted to the international media and is already obsessed with the applause and fans that come with it (Gerges 2005 pp.194). Apparently, he happens to be not the only one who values the media this highly. Al-Zawahiri is believed to have said that half of this battle takes place in the media battle field. One Islamic magazine is recorded to have written encouraging jihadists to film everything they think is good advice for mujahideen. He advices them that every shot they take is as good as firing a missile to the enemy and his puppets. According to the author, without the coverage of the media, terrorism would amount to almost being helpless, and would thus limit it to the immediate victims of terrorist attacks rather than reaching the intended wider audience.
Terrorists would resemble the proverbial tree that falls in the forests. Any terrorist incident would be as if it never happened if at all if the media did not cover it in the first place. Terrorists are not in any way interested I the deaths of twenty people, or two hundred people. They let the imagination of the target masses do the math for them. Terrorists could even carry attain their objectives without even having to carry out any attack. The broadcast of declarations and threats through the radio, television, internet, and interviews would produce the desired panic just by using such crude psychological warfare. A terrorist will always try to be in the media and spend as much time as possible there. The objective is simple. To gain attention. They try to influence the media outlets, which in turn spreads the word on the existence of the organization, thereby influencing their audience. Creating fear among the audience is the major reason behind this. It is seen as a very important factor in any terrorist organization as the whole concept of terrorism is based on fear.

Mark Danne adds that the power exhibited by todays media and especially the television facilitates this particular violent road to legitimacy. The terrorists lure the journalists who then air the kidnappings and hijackings to the rest of the world, and by this they manage to make strong political statements. The media though not directly becomes a partner in terrorist productions when they provide the terrorists with a podium in exchange of a photo opportunity and when they replace what the terrorists do with what they say.


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