The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This PagePrint This Page

Rule one: when covering terrorist attacks, do not discuss the political context of the attacks or the terrorists’ motives and strategy. Two generations of comic books and cartoons have accustomed people to villains who are evil just for the sake of being evil, so calling the terrorists “evil-doers” will suffice as an explanation for most people.

Rule two: all terrorist actions are part of the same problem. Thus you may treat this month’s bomb in Bali, the sniper attacks in Washington, and the hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre as all related to each other in some way, and write scare-mongering think-pieces about the “October crisis”.

Rule three: all terrorists are Islamic fanatics. On some occasions — as when Basque terrorists blow somebody up — it will be necessary to relax this rule, but at the very least any terrorist with a Muslim name should be treated as an Islamist fanatic.

No journalism school in the world teaches these rules, yet most of the Western media now know them by heart. Consider, for example, the terrorist seizure of the theatre in Moscow. Two years ago, the media coverage of these events would have given us a lot of background on why some Chechens have turned to such savage methods. Didn’t see much of that last week, did we'

Conflict with a history

Nothing about the long guerrilla struggle Chechens waged against Russian imperial conquest 150 years ago. Nothing about the fact that V.I. Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation to Central Asia (where about half died) during World War II. Nothing about the fact that Chechnya declared independence peacefully in 1991, and that both the Chechen-Russian wars, in 1994 and 1999, began with a Russian attack. In fact, nothing to suggest that this conflict has specific local roots, or a history that goes back past last week.

Never mind all that now. The Chechens who seized the theatre have Muslim names, so they must be part of the worldwide network of Islamist fanatics. If you like being treated like an idiot by your media, you are living at the right time. The number of people hurt in terrorist attacks is far lower than in the Fifties and the Sixties, when national liberation wars in countries from Algeria to Vietnam took a huge toll on civilian lives. It’s not even as high as in the Seventies and in the Eighties, when a new wave of “international” terrorists bombed aircraft and attacked the Olympics. The world media see the world through American eyes, so the attacks on the United States of America in 2001 have utterly distorted people’s perceptions about terrorism.

In retrospect

The way terrorism is now being covered closely resembles domestic TV coverage of violent crime in the US, which has gone up 600 per cent in the past 15 years while the actual crime rate fell by 10 to 15 per cent. It has enabled the Russian government to smear the entire Chechen liberation struggle as terrorism. Israel does the same to Palestinians. Most of the struggles we (retrospectively) see as justified involved a good deal of terrorism at the time.

The controversy that is now starting up about the tactics the Russian authorities used in freeing the hostages is just the media barking up the wrong tree as usual. The real question is whether Russia should be occupying Chechnya, but in the present media environment we won’t hear that. So just to check out your sympathies, here’s a list of conflicts in which the eventual victors made extensive use of terror against the other side.

The Royal Air Force Bomber Command’s campaign against German cities; US nuclear weapons on Japanese cities; Zionist campaign to drive the British out of Palestine, 1946-48; Algeria’s independence struggle against France; the Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya; Vietnam’s independence war against French and American forces; Zimbabwe’s liberation war against white minority rule

If you approved of more than two, you’re obviously a terrorist sympathizer. Turn yourself in to the nearest police station.

Email This PagePrint This Page