Al Qaeda: In The Eye of The Media Storm

October 3, 2010

The continued loss of lives in Afghanistan is a sad situation, one of which many families have to go through every day in this country and elsewhere. Of course we must remember why they are out there; fighting for the freedom of our country and Western civilisation against a very real and very dangerous threat from a group of ideologically motivated Islamic extremists.

Except it doesn’t work like that.

Terrorism is the most discussed form of modern warfare we know of today. You can’t pick up a paper without hearing of the latest car bomb explosion in Baghdad or another Palestinian attempt to take Israel back off the map. The basic tactic of terrorism follows three steps:

1)      A group of people who share a common enemy plan and execute an attack against this individual or group.

2)      The act of violence causes a stir in the media.

3)      The group to outline their message to the widest possible audience through this media coverage.

The British and American Governments believe the best form to counter this terrorist threat is to take them out at Step 1, using military intervention to remove the group, hopefully at its core in the form of leaders and important group members. This is the British way in any military intervention, including the invasion of Iraq (although we are all aware of the real reasons for that) or the war in the Gulf. But this is not how terrorist groups operate.

Terrorists as we know them today work using a concept called ‘phantom cell networking’, where the supposed ‘leader’ of the group is not an actual person, but instead the ideology and belief system that unites the group in the first place. Through the use of the internet and modern technologies, they can communicate their ideas with each other and co-operate to defeat the infidel. Without a leader, it becomes almost impossible to militarily destroy them at the core.

Now Britain has always been a country proud of its military heritage. From the colonial movements of a developing empire to Mrs Thatcher’s chasing off of the Argentines in the Falklands, we have always been willing and able to overcome the enemy and defend our freedoms. But terrorism doesn’t work like other forms of insurgency. For one thing it isn’t a case of your army verses mine on the battlefield. A terrorist’s battlefield is anywhere and everywhere the enemy resides. For another these aren’t battles over land or resources; it’s ideologically motivated, designed to get a message or idea across to a mass audience.  They are so difficult to defeat because they can exist anywhere at any time, and have the power to strike instantly with malice aforethought. It’s like hiring a fire squad to catch a group of fleas; the fleas benefits from there agility and size to escape a supposedly vastly superior enemy before slowly draining them of moral and resources.

As more British troops leave Afghanistan, we become more aware of how fruitless their intervention has been. Al Qaeda is still at large, and continues to be a tour de force in geopolitical conflict. Britain has lost hundreds of lives totally needlessly, and every single one of them is another victory in the Jihad against the West.

So we need a re-think. If we can’t take them out at step 1, what about the other 2 steps? Well we cannot control step 3, since once the Terrorists get themselves in the media they control what message they give to the audience. So what about step 2? Could taking them out of the media spotlight really destroy their campaigns?

You are more likely to be killed by your own trousers than you are by a terrorist attack (no, I’m not making that up!). The deaths as a result of terrorist attacks in the UK tend towards 0 compared to road accidents, deaths in the home and drug-related fatalities. So why is it that a significant proportion of people still won’t fly because they fear a repeat of 9/11 on their holiday to Benidorm? It’s totally mad, and there’s only one explanation: the media. Newspapers always tend toward popular sensationalist stories because, quite simply, they sell. So if people are still curious about the idea of terrorists, they will keep buying papers selling stories on the subject, even if it is a null story with no significance on anyone’s lives. And this is the nectar these Terrorists feed on, and so far since 2001, they’ve capitalised on it.

But if we took it away from them, suffocated them of this exposure oxygen and placed media restrictions on these stories, they would have no mass outlet in which to expose their message of intifada. They wouldn’t be able to spread their ideology to those who don’t understand. They would have no reason to continue these violent insurgencies.

I don’t think it could ever realistically happen; we live in a free country and these sorts of restrictions would only be introduced by someone who has his people refer to him as ‘The Great and Glorious Kim Jon Il’. And since we can have an opinion and are able to express it without the fear of execution, we will let the Terrorists continue to hold the spotlight. When something new comes along to replace it as the popular fear of the masses, we won’t need to have our troops stationed in Helmand Province, and we won’t have this stupid and sad loss of life fighting a battle we cannot possibly hope to win.



  1. Terrorism isn’t just Al Quaeda vs. The West, and I don’t like the trend in this post which implies that.

    Why not look at other examples of terrorism, past or present, from the Troubles in Ireland, to ETA in Spain, and the various other groups and sects which exist.

    Why not also look at Israeli tactics of terror against Palestinians living in Gaza?

    To focus solely on Islamic Extremists when they are certainly not the only terrorist fighters existing in the world today displays something unpleasantly propagandist, somehow.

    Perhaps this post in some way exemplifies what you’re thinking, in that the huge (and out-of-proportion) media coverage of Islamist terrorism has created a Western phobia of all things muslim, some thing which I find divisive and threatening.

    Why single out one single group? That’s a general question, not solely directed at you.

    By only looking at one particular part of society, one social threat, a simplistic world-view is encouraged which seeks only One enemy, and cannot see the infinite complexities of the modern global situation.

    • Well I think you might be missing the point, in that I’m arguing that to remove the threat of terror, you take the media away. And who do the media focus on? Islamic Extrmism. Of course I know terrorism goes on throughout the world affecting many parts of cultures and societies. I use the examp-le of Al-Qaeda mostly because this and other Islamic Extrmist groups and the ones people understand and know about. In theory my argument could work anywhere. My singling out one group is demostartive of the way society approaches it.

      • I think it was partly a problem with the way that those ideas were expressed – reading it through again it still feels more like you’re focussing on Islamic terrorism for ideological rather than academic reasons…

        I also forgot to say last time, however, that you write really well! Apart from the opinion differences (which aren’t really opinion differences between _us_, just between me and the phrasing, apaparently) it’s a really enjoyable piece. 🙂

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