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|No more Freedom Fighters|
|11/03/02 at 00:43:30|
|Whatever happened to those good old freedom fighters?|
October 29 2002, The Age
The media have rewritten the rules on the coverage of so-called
terrorism, writes Gwynne Dyer.
Rule one: When covering terrorist attacks, do not discuss the
political context of the attacks or the terrorists' motives and
strategy. Two generations of comic books and cartoons have accustomed
the general audience to villains who are evil just for the sake of
being evil - so, calling the terrorists "evildoers" will suffice as
an explanation for most people.
Rule two: All terrorist actions are part of the same problem. Thus
you may treat this month's Bali bombing, the sniper attacks in
Washington, and the hostage-taking in a Moscow theatre as all related
to each other in some (unspecified) way, and write scare-mongering
think-pieces about "The October Crisis".
Rule three: All terrorists are Islamic fanatics. On some occasions,
as when Basque terrorists blow somebody up, it will be necessary to
relax this rule slightly, but at the very least any terrorists with
Muslim names should be treated as Islamist fanatics.
No journalism school in the world teaches these rules, and they
didn't exist two years ago. Yet most of the Western media now know
them by heart.
Consider, for example, the terrorist seizure of the theatre in Moscow
last week that ended with the death of about 50 Chechen hostage-
takers and more than 100 hostages. Two years ago, the media coverage
of these events, even in Russia itself, would have given us a lot of
background on why some Chechens have turned to such savage methods.
Didn't see much of that last week, did we?
Nothing about the long guerrilla struggle that Chechens waged against
Russian imperial conquest 150 years ago. Nothing about the fact that
Stalin deported the entire Chechen nation to Central Asia (where
about half of them died) during World War II. Nothing about the fact
that Chechnya declared independence peacefully in 1991 and that both
the Chechen-Russian wars, in 1994 and 1999, began with a Russian
attack. In fact, nothing to suggest that this conflict has specific
local roots, or a history that goes back past last week.
Instead, the terrorists were presented as pure evil, as free of
logical motivation as the Penguin or the Joker in the Batman movies.
Hardly anybody mentioned the fact that more than 4000 Russian
soldiers and at least 12,000 Chechen "terrorists" (anybody resisting
Russian occupation) have been killed since President Vladimir Putin
sent the army back in to the Chechen republic in 1999.
The Chechen men and women who seized the theatre have Muslim names,
so they must be part of the worldwide network of Islamist fanatics
who are driven by blind hatred to commit senseless massacres (or so
it says in the script here).
If you like being treated like an idiot child by your leaders and
your media, you are living at the right time. The number of people
hurt in terrorist attacks is far lower than in the '50s and '60s,
when national liberation wars in countries from Algeria to Vietnam
took a huge toll of civilian lives. It's not even as high as in
the '70s and '80s, when a new wave of "international" terrorists
bombed aircraft and even attacked the Olympics. But the world's
leading media see the world through American eyes, so the attacks on
the United States on September 11, 2001, have utterly distorted
people's perceptions of the dangers of terrorism.
In fact, the way terrorism is now being covered closely resembles
domestic TV coverage of violent crime in the US, which has gone up
600 per cent in the past 15 years while the actual crime rate fell by
10 to 15 per cent (depending on the crime). It has enabled the
Russian Government to smear the entire liberation struggle of the
Chechens as terrorism, and Israel to do the same to the Palestinians.
But the truth is that most of the struggles we (retrospectively) see
as justified involved a good deal of terrorism at the time.
The controversy that is now starting up about the tactics the Russian
authorities used in freeing the Moscow hostages is just the media
barking up the wrong tree as usual. The real question is whether
Russia should be occupying Chechnya. But, in the present media
environment, we will not hear much about that. So just to check out
your sympathies, here is a list of conflicts in which the eventual
victors made extensive use of terror (high-tech or low-tech):
•RAF Bomber Command's campaign against German cities.
•US nuclear weapons on Japanese cities.
•The Zionist campaign to drive the British out of Palestine, 1946-48.
•Algeria's independence struggle against France.
•The Mau Mau rebellion against British rule in Kenya.
•Vietnam's independence war against French and US forces.
•Zimbabwe's liberation war against white minority rule.
If you approved of more than two, you are obviously a terrorist
sympathiser. Turn yourself in to the nearest police station.
Gwynne Dyer is a London-based journalist, author and film maker.
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