Terror and the Media: Breaking the Cycle
“Two terrorist attacks in London left six people dead and more than 30 hospitalized. The police say three suspects have been killed,” read the New York Times alert which popped up on my phone just hours after the heartbreaking attack in London on June 3rd, which killed six and sent 48 more to nearby hospitals. The attackers? Three men yelling “this is for Allah” as they tyrannized the streets.
Modern-day international terrorism is marked by ties to Islamic extremism. While it would be blatantly incorrect to assume all Muslims are terrorists, the overwhelming majority of attacks originating abroad which are brought to light by the US media are perpetrated by Islamic extremists.
The goal of terrorists, through ostentatious attacks on those who are often innocent bystanders, is to garner attention for their cause. They want a world governed by the Islamic faith, a goal which they view as non-negotiable with a predominantly Christian West. It is important to note that this extreme view is not shared by most Muslims, who by many accounts can be considered moderate. Yet still, these attacks continue, regularly occupying a space in daily news briefings. By garnering our attention, keeping our eyes glued to the TV and our ears tuned in to the radio, terrorists heighten our fear, seeking for us to change our behavior to capitulate to that trepidation.
Immediately after every terrorist attack, the media coverage picks up. I can turn on my phone to text a friend and find half a dozen breaking news alerts like the one above, which don’t slow for the next few hours and only diminish in frequency after a few days. It seems as though our media talks about Islamic terrorism constantly, with news cycles reporting the same story on repeat to inform us of rising death counts in the latest tragedy.
We are simultaneously fascinated and frightened by these reports, and as we continue to watch, the media continues to inform. In this sense, the media has an incentive to continue to show us the worst the world has to offer, as they capture and hold our attention. The constant media cycle perpetrates the fear we feel, as we’re bombarded with images of victims running from violence, constantly reminded of the wickedness in the world every time we tune in.
While it would be easy to start naming ways the media should change – from only updating audiences when new information becomes available, to devoting the same attention to attacks which happen outside of the Western world – it’s unlikely this shift will happen anytime soon. We must be mindful of the way we consume information on terrorist attacks, and to look at any report with a critical eye. We must also remember that giving in to our natural curiosity and our desire to know is giving in to what the terrorists want: our attention.
The fear and sadness we feel is not unwarranted – we should grieve for those lost to indiscriminate violence, and we should continue to stand for a world which values the understanding and acceptance of our differences. But at the same time, we can’t give in to the fear. We can’t continue to devote so much awareness to terrorists whose goal is to capture our attention and let our imagination wander to fearsome places.
We fight by becoming hardened targets; when terrorists see their actions no longer change the way we live our daily lives, no longer make us fearful of the many Muslims who abhor terrorism as much as we do, they lose their ability to use the killing of innocents as a weapon against us. Only then will we be able to show that a world of intolerance and violence such as theirs is not one we stand for.