Terrorism was a word that was rarely used before the mid-1980s, yet it has now become synonymous with everyday life. What defines terrorism, however, is still incredibly murky as there is no textbook definition of the term.
It is generally accepted that the Bataclan Theatre massacre in November 2015 was by all definitions a “terrorist attack”; given the violent way in which Islamist gunmen entered a concert and shot people at random. Conversely, the Charleston Church shooting in the same year by white supremacist Dylann Roof, in which he entered a bible study and shot people at random, was not considered a “terrorist attack” by the mainstream media, or even by any government. As a white supremacist, Roof was considered to be a deranged lunatic with a troubled past; someone that was left behind by society. Arguably, the mainstream media looked for a degree of sympathy whilst exploring the motive for Roof’s actions, whilst they looked for a degree of hostility for the perpetrators of the Bacalan massacre.
Not surprisingly, the sheeple listening to the mainstream media coverage of these two events reacted accordingly on social media. Almost instantly after the Bataclan massacre, the option of an opaque French flag became apparent as an effort to show personal solidarity on Facebook. People had the option to be “marked safe” in Paris if they were signed on to social media, and politicians were able to go into a ultra-nationalist semi-sympathetic, tough guy hybrid mode; with a pinch of “thoughts and prayers, thoughts and prayers”.
On the other hand, the Charleston Church shooting did not encourage any Facebook profile picture options, nor did it lead to any significant security measures, or a national day of mourning, or a state of emergency. The motive of Roof’s attacks was home grown from a growing internal white supremacist movement in the United States, yet no anti-terrorist legislation was utilised, and nothing was done by either the public nor the government. It seems that if CNN or the BBC would have reported this as a terrorist attack; the thoughts, the prayers, the Facebook profile modifications, the hashtags and all of other 21st century reactions to an incident such as this would have been utilised.
Dylann Roof’s target: The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina
The reactions of politicians and the media towards terrorism have only encouraged the mistrust of the establishment. People are much more skeptical, more selective over their media sources and more likely to be fatigued by not only terrorism (defined by either the media or personal opinion), but by the reactions and frenzies whipped by the likes of the mainstream media, or world leaders.
In the United Kingdom, for instance, there have been “terrorist” style panics for generations. At the turn of the 20th century, it was militant suffragettes smashing windows and buildings for the cause of female voting rights. This was followed by the almost xenophobic approach the British government took towards “the Hun” (Germans) during the First World War, and then particularly by the mid-20th century, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) was the terrorist adversary.
After the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and before the 2001 September 11th terrorist attacks, British politicians lacked an “other” to blame, to scapegoat and to demonise. Without the ability to demonise, you lack to ability to control, to brainwash, and to establish electoral clout to look strong in front of the mainstream media. After 9/11 however, the “other” re-emerged in Britain, even though the World Trade Center was located 3500 miles away from Westminster. From that point on, Tony Blair was able to establish an electoral platform of keeping Britain safe from Islamic terrorism, even though the country was more vulnerable than it ever had been.
British propaganda from World War One: An example of when Germans were once the “other”
Terrorism and “the other”
Similarly in the United States, after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and before the 9/11 2001 attacks, there lacked the “other”. The Cold War provided the basis for the United States to compare itself against communism which it believed to be an inferior way of governance. Once this was taken away when George H. W. Bush was president, he looked weak and vulnerable despite being the American leader in charge when Gorbachev dissolved the “evil empire”, in Ronald Reagan’s words.
Politicians are still using the “other” in their rhetoric, but its usage is quickly becoming redundant, just like the mainstream media’s influence on reporting terrorism is. Soon, “thoughts and prayers” will be replaced with a long sigh of fatigue as the next terrorist attack rolls in and yet again the public will have to put up with the circus act of even anti-terrorist legislation, world leaders linking arms in solidarity, cries of “WE WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!”, or “LOVE NOT HATE!”, the same familiar hashtags and the same Facebook profile picture frames. Once Islamist terrorism has moved on, politicians will seek to find another scapegoat or another… the “other”.
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