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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.

So, in a nutshell, this book is about how to make sense of the packaged terrorism that is thrown at us from time to timefrom New York, London, Madrid, Kabul, Bali and Bombay.

Chapter by chapter, Dr Moeller builds up the gory picture of terrorism and its manipulationby terrorists, politicians and media barons. She begins with the basics such as what is terrorism, how 9/11 happened, how president Bush and his vulcans (Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz) crafted the war on terrora label for their unilateralist and interventionist foreign policy goals, and how the American (and the copycat global) media responded.

Media response to the War on Terror

The media responded as directedand as they always have at the start of a national crisis, writers Dr Moeller. At the end of October 2001, the then CNN chairman Walter Isaacson wrote a memo to his staff members that ordered them to balance the broadcast images of civilian devastation in Afghanistan with reminders of the American lives lost at the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. And thus began, according to Moeller, the beginning of a misleading media spin on the war on terror. Isaacson was wrong, she argues. The American public deserved to know more about the casualties and hardship in Afghanistan. The public needed to know more about the meaning and the effect of the president co-opting 9/11 and co-opting the patriotic, broad-based interest in responding through a War on Terror.

After examining the genesis of the War on Terror, Dr Moeller brings under her microscope various media-related issues that underlie the reporting on terrorism. Some examples: use of the umbrella words and phrases such as terrorist, madrassa and weapons of mass destruction, defining terrorism, why news standards matter, and the politics of media coverage.

Over and over, time and again, my centres studies revealed that the victims of terrorism rarely appear in the stories about it, she says. Media cover international affairs through the lens of their own countrys foreign policyespecially as articulated by its leadership. Think of last years Mumbai terror attacks and how quickly it became an India and Pakistan issue, and how the media in the two countries adopted nationalistic agendas in reporting and discussing the attacks.

Citizen journalism and terrorism

With a rich cache of examples, the book traces a variety of developments in the media sector that arose while covering terrorism. One of the most fascinating aspects of these developments is the rise of citizen journalism, especially photos and videos, that came from citizens as well as professional photographers that were much discussed, many achieving iconic status. Perhaps blogs were invented just for thiswhen the mainstream media became shy of covering something or could not reach some areas, bloggers stepped in (remember the Baghdad blogger?) to fill the void. Very recently, the pain and suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza would not have come out in the open had it not been for the bloggers in Gaza and Israel who wrote online when Israel had embargoed the foreign media in Gaza in its three weeks assault early this year.


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