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Making sense of packaged terrorism

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 19, 2009
Its not the acts of terrorism that matter most in the post-9/11 world, its what we are told to think about the acts of terror.

Packaging Terrorism: Co-opting the News for Politics and Profit by Susan D. Moeller, 2009: Wiley-Blackwell.

If you are thinking why we are talking about a book on the media coverage of terrorism in a space like this one, let me tell you one thing upfront: One, because this is a rare and important book and two, because terrorism, no matter where you are and what your profession is, can claim you as a victim.

Also, we have witnessed routinely how Internet-savvy terrorism has become of late: terrorism sites host beheading videos and broadcast threats of attack, terrorists abuse social networks and chat rooms for recruitments, and they use applications such as Google Earth for planning attacks (as seen in last years Mumbai attacks). Terrorists have been successfully using the new media to imbed fear into our hearts through our eyeballs.

The larger truth is that terrorism is the politics of our times. And like politics, even if you are not interested in it, it is interested in you.

The grand narrative of our times

Every era has its own grand narrative. Ours has been, at least for the last decade or so, terrorism. Before that, Kennedys and Reagans era was about the cold war, Clintons about globalisation and WTO and until recently, George W. Bushs of global terrorism and the war on terror.

This grand narrative, however, is taking yet another new direction under president Barack Obama. The express reckoning is that the global financial crisis is a greater threat to the USA than terrorism. It is an even bigger threat to the United States' national security than the al Qaeda terrorist network or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, said retired admiral Dennis Blair, the Obama administrations director of national intelligence, in his first appearance before the US Congress.

While the shift from terror to finance is still happening, it is a good time to look at the ogre of terrorism that has been the bane of our life and times. And if you havent ever thought about how the media brings the news of terrorism to us, Dr Moellers book can be an eye opener. She is the director of the International Centre for Media and the Public Agenda (ICMPA) at the University of Maryland, College Park, US. If you are afraid the book will be a dry read, you are in for a surprise. The book is not jargon-heavy, is divided into short chapters and uses a lot of examples to establish claims and observations.

Packaging terrorism for our consumption

Packaging TerrorismThe book is about a very simple idea. The idea is this: that its not the acts of terrorism that most matter in the post-9/11 world, writes Dr Moeller in her introduction, its what we are told to think about the acts of terror. Politicians tell us what to think. The media tells us what to think. Even terrorists tell us what to think. They all want to attract our attention…They all have agendas. They all are packaging terrorism for our consumption. We are the audience for all those disparate actors.


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