Media and Pundits Play a Special Role in Stopping Terror

28 august 2017

Pascal Boniface - Director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (IRIS)

Resume: Once again, a European city was hit by a terrorist attack. La Rambla of Barcelona, ??a tourist, commercial and entertainment center of the city, suffered a deadly assault.

Once again, a European city was hit by a terrorist attack. La Rambla of Barcelona, ??a tourist, commercial and entertainment center of the city, suffered a deadly assault. The public is again shocked; the media and politicians multiply the comments and questions. Terrorism has become the focal point of the concern for Western citizens,  politicians and the media.

It should not be forgotten, however, that terrorism also strikes elsewhere and is even deadlier, even though the Western media echoes this far less. Nor should we draw any wrong conclusions. While the attacks are committed by individuals claiming to be Muslims, not all Muslims are responsible, nor are all Westerners guilty of the acts of the Ku Klux Klan or Anders Breivik. Muslims living in Europe are also among the direct victims of these attacks. The goal of ISIS is precisely to show Muslims that they have no place in Western countries. Thus, making them feel the burden of collective responsibility, as some do, is tantamount to falling into the trap that the terrorist organization creates.

In France, on several recent occasions, individuals have attacked the police or attempted to ram vehicles into crowds. It turned out that they had no political or religious demands; they had mental imbalances, imitating what they saw on the television or on the computer, listening on the radio and reading in the newspapers. It is in this spirit that the French Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, wants to pay more attention to the use of psychiatrists in the fight against terrorism.

This is the tragic responsibility of the media and public commentators. Collective reflection is essential. It must be also asked whether the importance given to terrorism is not excessive. Already in 1962, the French political scientist Raymond Aron noted that the media impact of terrorism was stronger than its strategic impact. This is even truer today, with the intensive development of the media and around-the-clock information channels.

By speaking too much about terrorism, we risk making a triple mistake. First, by conferring onto them an important symbolic victory by entrusting us with their own communication. Second, by creating an anxiety-filled climate for citizens (because terrorists want the terror to spread). Third, by creating new calls to action among unbalanced individuals who want to have their quarter of an hour of glory, who are not attaching importance to their lives and the lives of its citizens.

The Swedish Security Service official, Anders Thornberg, spoke of a “new normality.” The attacks are now part of the daily landscape. But if we do not deny the existence of this threat, we must understand that it is not existential. ISIS may attack and kill, but it cannot take control of our societies. Its members simply represent a security challenge.

Despite the horror of the attacks, they do not cause more deaths than road accidents, excessive alcohol or tobacco consumption and many other fatal risks that have no political motivation but cause far greater damage without creating an equivalent social mobilization. There is no such thing as zero risk of terrorism. Through our commentaries, we indirectly give terrorists the reason to go beyond the point of no return. This threat will certainly continue for a long time. We must be vigilant in protecting ourselves, but we must also avoid doing things that nourish the phenomenon through our fighting it. This was particularly the case with the Iraq War and the military intervention in Libya.

Vigilance does not mean yielding panic or changing one’s lifestyle by renouncing going on city walks, to restaurants, shows or football matches. The Barcelonans reacted with extraordinary courage and dignity. Bruised, they have resumed the normal course of their lives, while taking security measures. The mayor of Barcelona, ??Ada Colau, rightly said, “Terror will not make us stop being who we are: a city open to the world, valiant and supportive.”

The Valdai Discussion Club

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