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The London Blasts


The London Blasts: Media Briefing



A Comment on the longer Media Review (Read here)


1) The Background Assumption


The attacks on London appear to have been claimed by al Qaeda, this claim appears to have been accepted by the authorities, and the discussion of the bombings starts at this point (quite reasonably in our view). The question, then, is what al Qaeda intends, and by what means this terrorist campaign can be brought to an end.


There is a generally-held view of al Qaeda in the Western media and in the Western political mainstream, which holds that this is a group of deluded religious extremists who simply hate the West and all that it stands for, and who are therefore driven to carry out crazed acts against the institutions and people of the West.


When we turn to considering the behaviour of the media in relation to the latest atrocities, it is important for us to remember this overwhelming background assumption. In the absence of any forceful corrective to this picture of al Qaeda, the 'mad Muslim' explanation of the atrocities will prevail.


In other words, if the media simply report what has occurred, and the attempts of rescuers to mitigate the appalling effects of the atrocities, the public will be left with the belief (probably reinforced) that the perpetrators are religious fanatics who cannot be dissuaded by argument, negotiated with, or placated with concessions.


Even if there are muted reports to the contrary, this impression of the al Qaeda networks, which has been instilled over many years of reporting and portrayal on both large and small screens, will continue to dominate discussion.


2) Useful Devices


As examined in detail in an accompanying discussion, the serious British press has responded to the London atrocities with a variety of 'explanations'. There are four broad approaches: to deny that there are any political objectives being sought by al Qaeda; to produce a smokescreen to obscure the fact that al Qaeda has political objectives; to point in the general direction of the motivations of the terrorists, but not to spell out the crucial details needed for political action; and, finally, to tell the truth.


The standard 'they have no political aims' position is taken, for example, by columnist Mick Hume in The Times, and by Home Affairs Editor Philip Johnston in the Daily Telegraph ('Beyond the extension of the "struggle" worldwide, they have no obvious political aims that anyone can begin to address').


Then there are those who know better, but who tie themselves in knots trying to avoid shedding light on the subject. Middle East expert Amir Taheri says that al Qaeda 'does not want anything specific', then says that 'this enemy does want something specific: to take full control of your lives, dictate every single move you make round the clock... to convert humanity to Islam,' and then, having safely confused the readers of The Times, confesses that al Qaeda does have 'tactical goals', concerning the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and so on.


In the Financial Times, columnist Philip Stevens also gets into knots trying to minimise the impact of his analysis that peace and justice are the way to put al Qaeda out of business: the 'fascist ambitions of the extreme jihadists stretch way beyond reasoned argument or political accommodation', but their recruits may be swayed if there was 'a settlement, say, between Israel and the Palestinians.'


The Guardian's approach is to make the right noises, but to avoid details that lead to political action and uncomfortable consequences. The newspaper speaks of the need to try 'to understand why people are drawn to commit such infamous and evil deeds, not merely tightening security to prevent them from happening again,' and calls for 'a recognition of the need to drain what can be drained from the reservoir of grievances from which the terrorists draw strength.' But like Robin Cook on the facing page, the editors fail to identify the foreign policy roots of al Qaeda's campaign, the specific grievances that drive men and women to carry out brutal assaults on ordinary civilians in British streets.


3) Telling The Truth


Finally, however, there are those who simply speak the truth.


In the Financial Times, Andrew Dorman puts the matter pithily: 'Al-Qaeda and its like are a reflection of perceived and real injustices around the world.'


Dorman goes on, 'Ultimately these groups will only be defeated if they are separated from the populations from which they draw recruits and support,' and this requires among other things that Britain helps 'to resolve disputes such as the Israel-Palestine conflict and seeking to tackle the inequalities that the Make Poverty History campaign has been seeking to address.'


Accurate, perceptive and valuable insights, and therefore buried in the final paragraph of Dorman's article where they can do the least harm.


More prominently, in the Independent, Robert Fisk makes his point simply and forcefully:


'it's no use Mr Blair telling us yesterday that "they will never succeed in destroying what we hold dear". "They" are not trying to destroy "what we hold dear". They are trying to get public opinion to force Blair to withdraw from Iraq, from his alliance with the United States, and from his adherence to Bush's policies in the Middle East.'


Amidst the acres of coverage which either silently or explicitly reinforce the 'mad Mullah' view of the likely perpetrators, these are two tiny sparks of sanity.


It is up to all of us to be sparks of sanity.

This page last updated 8 July 2005






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The London Blasts