The London Blasts: Media
HOW THE BRITISH MEDIA
ARE RESPONDING TO THE ATROCITIES
A Comment on the longer
Media Review (Read
1) The Background
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
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
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
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.'
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
Dorman puts the matter pithily: 'Al-Qaeda and its
like are a reflection of perceived and real injustices around
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
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,
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
Amidst the acres of coverage
which either silently or explicitly reinforce the 'mad Mullah'
view of the likely perpetrators, these are two tiny sparks
It is up to all of us
to be sparks of sanity.
This page last updated 8 July 2005