This journalist for The Guardian — let’s call her, Deborah Orr — has written an opinion piece meant to reveal to the reading public one struggle of responsible editorial decision making. The subject involves an already widely published, unsettling photograph of two victims of the recent attack at the Brussels airport.
Ms. Orr is attempting to wrestle with the idea that, in publishing the photograph, news outlets could be disseminating the objective of terrorism. It is a safe bet that the spreading of fear is a textbook definition of the word. By distributing the photo, one would be distributing terror, so the logic. This is a fair enough part of her reasonable discussion of journalistic ethics.
In a paragraph examining the subject of the photo, she speaks of the empathy that such images invite, which leads the reader to where her claimed crux of the conflict resides:
“This could happen to anyone.” Five words that perfectly communicate the message of terrorism.
When “anyone” — which I take to mean “even me or someone close to me” — can be directly effected, then terrorism has delivered its message. It’s safe to say, then, that if I could be directly effected, it = terrorism.
Conversely, “it cannot happen to me” = “not terrorism”. Or, at least, something that cannot happen to me does not deliver its message. Like, say, NATO explosions: Wherever they happen, they do not happen to me. I do not have to fear NATO explosions. They are not terrorism or, anyway, do not communicate the message of terrorism.
But what if I do have to fear NATO explosions? What if I live somewhere where they could happen to anyone as far as I can see? Would not the fear of NATO explosions amount to being terrorized, whether or not that was the intended message?
I’ll tell you what the intended message of NATO explosions is for those of us anyones who do not have to fear them: “Don’t worry about it.” Especially when literally hours after what happened in Brussels there’s a report from Washington by way of the Pentagon that a US raid in Syria had killed ISIS Number Two. (Do you remember during the Bush administration when all these second-in-command terrorist killings had become a running gag?)
It is precisely “anyone’s fear” that elite power bank on at the expense of victims whose fears their patrons and public care less about.
Anyway, the journalist’s professed unease about potentially spreading terrorist propaganda = ironic. I don’t mean to pick on Ms. Orr here. I don’t believe she is intentionally disseminating deadly department of defenses’ default positions regarding what is and isn’t terrorism. As a matter of fact, on the very day of the attacks in Brussels, she took a stab at reconciliation, if in terms vague enough that her message gets mired in her interpretation of, again, “the message of the jihadis”.
She opens with, rightfully, the point that bystanders somewhere in the world are victims every day — something people critical of seemingly exclusionary hashtag solidarity might appreciate (#jesuisbruxelles, sure, but what about #iamiraq or #iampakistan, etc.) — and comes to the conclusion that terrorism radicalizes all of us, and we-wonders how to deal with this without “sounding like a cringing apologist or a bellicose imperialist”, which is fuel for “demagogues and warlords”. She asks how we might “stand united against the manufacturers and retailers of hate and death and tragedy”.
So while likening racist demagogues to warlords, she unfortunately directs no explicit barb at the ones steering the rudder of the biggest war machine. It could be that she has employed “manufacturers and retailers” as an allusion to elite power, but her few short paragraphs focus enough on demagogues and warlords that it sounds like little more than a criticism of rhetoric. It is a criticism of the words of certain unsavory agents of state vs the actual brutal deeds of jihadis. This is demagoguery by omission.
As to the rhetoric, presidential campaign rhetoric in particular, it is only reasonable for racists and isolationist demagogues to agitate anyone whose tax money goes in historic mass to underpin by logic of warfare their fear and hatred of those who want to kill them. Even when they don’t. And while it’s all well and good for Democratic candidates, police chiefs, and MSNBC pundits to “destroy” Ted Cruz for his platform of profiling Muslims, they continue to support by implication the false notion that the war machine is not profiling Muslims.
Bernie Sanders, too, like the president before him, is using as anti-war cred supposed solidarity with American Muslims, opposition in 2002-03 to the war in Iraq, and the declaration that he wants to work with “Muslim nations” to defeat something loosely defined as ISIS. And like the two presidents before him, he is very status quo on the use of that military option abroad and what it is supposed to be accomplishing:
“Our goal in this issue is to destroy ISIS in coalition with Muslim nations on the ground, with the support of the US and other major powers. I think we can do that. We are making some progress. We have much more to do.”
Much more to do, indeed. It’s not over till it’s over.
Sanders’ claim that progress is being made is absurd enough. But what he doesn’t say is more important: The political vacuum in those nations is the goal of the war machine and its partners, whose only purpose is to expand their territorial wealth. That should be a message he would understand. Likely many of his supporters trade in the trope that he does understand, but just can’t say it if he wants to remain a viable candidate, let alone representative.
The fact that his immediate opponent can apologize for something she once held fast to — the destruction of Iraq — only to have continued the policies and expand the vacuum beyond that region should be an indication of what that certain something is that he will not say.
Until people of influence speak the words, they propagate another message. Whether they like it or not, it is the war profiteers’ message — or, rather, the terrorist propaganda of the war profiteer. And the propagation of terrorism.