Has mass media created a terrorist stereotype?

Ana Paula Roldao

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Let's Work For World Peace. Photo Credit: BrotherMagneto
Let’s Work For World Peace. Photo Credit: BrotherMagneto

Noam Chomsky once wrote in his book `Power and Terror`, “we can not approach the terrorism of the weak against the powerful without confronting equally the unspeakable but much more extreme terrorism of the powerful against the weak”.

According to the Oxford dictionary, terrorism is `the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims` the origin of the term is related to late 18th century, in reference to the rule of the Jacobin faction during the period of the French Revolution known as the Terror.

However, the term has been currently related to religion (most specifically Islamic) aims. In despite of some historical facts to point out religion as motivation to terror activities, such as classical case of Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when their Catholic group failed assassination attempt against King James I to restablish the Catholicism in the United Kingdom, and – more recently – the IRA in Nothern Ireland, in my concern – paraphrasing Clausewitz in `On War` – `war is the continuation of politics by other means`, the terrorism is also a continuation of politics, and that is one of the leading motivations for it.

Since the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001, this co-relation between terrorism and religion became even more narrow as explain Barry Buzan and Lene Hansen in their book `The Evolution of International Security`, “the events of September 11 and their respective responses certainly elevated the existing literature on terrorism to a higher level and also induced interest in religion, which was already unfolding.

11th September attack was the mark in the time to establish the terrorism as we (think to) know currently: it is deadly, it is irrational, it is from a not evolved society, it is Islamic!
The construction of the `Islamic terrorist` stereotype we can see today is not a new fact. Edward Said in his books `Orientalism` and `Covering Islam` has written about it since the 70`s, presenting a background of the Western view of Islam and the caricatured way that Islamism has been treated for years in the United States and `Western world`. Said also raises the US academy’s lack of interest in studies of Islamic culture, which – according to him – contributes to this unwarranted and dehumanised image of the people from the Middle East.

In my opinion, mass media has played a central role spreading this misleading idea about Islamism and terrorism, many times in partial and bias reports without any historical background of the issue what reinforces the inaccurate connection between terror and religion. Also, media also brings many interpretations of Muslims tied to the image of “oil suppliers, terrorists and religious fanatics”, as says Mr Said. This kind interpretations might be connected to political and economic interests when, many times, the creation of a joint enemy and an insecure society are profitable for the business.

Nowadays the insecurity has a recognised face; it looks like groups such as ISIS, Al Qaeda and Boko Haran and their pursuit to what they understand as Jihad. They are every day on Social Media, in the Newspapers and on Television, alive, showing terror and reinforcing their message, their fight.
The lack of experience/ability of the press and the Islamic stereotyping spread by it contribute to these groups aim. Media helps to create a collective social fear based on the eminence of a war/attacks in the name of an Islamic kind of `Crusade`, the Jihad.

Misinterpreted for fundamentalist groups, and for the press, Jihad doesn`t mean a kind of `holy war` which has as the main goal `conquest` the `free world` introducing the Islam, it is a primary obligation Muslims have in their religion, what is not included war or forcing conversion from one religion to another. However, the first thing coming to the mind of the most ordinary people when they heard the word Jihad, is terrorism.

This thought increases the sensation that there are only two sides, the Western and the other, which need to be combating to re-establish peace and order. As long as this polarisation continues and the lack of qualified information prevails in the traditional media, very little can be done to solve the problem.

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Ana Paula Roldao

A person who doesn't want to be a journalist, again.