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April Hughes

Dr. Balleck/Dr. Van Tassell

Critical Though Paper #1(Terrorism)
February 14, 2008

Terrorism is not a new method of coercion, yet with the invention of television, and its resulting

invasion into American homes nationwide, terrorism has been transformed. The resulting rise of

modern media has provided an outlet for terrorists to reach a much broader audience. Today, Osama

Bin Laden is a household name, yet Americans are unaware of his rise to power during the Afghan War

as an ally of the United States. Although they do not know the history of this very influential

individual, they have seen his face on their television sets for years and most are aware that he tops the

FBI’s list of most wanted terrorist. Today’s terrorism, especially in democratic companies,

inadvertently uses the media as a weapon against its enemy, and it must be addressed if a decline in

global terror is to occur.

Osama bin Laden has arguably become our Nation’s Celebrity Terrorist. For over a decade his

face has been plastered on American television sets nationwide. His declaration of war against America

launched him into the homes and lives of Americans in 1998, and since then he has been using modern

media to “shock the conscious of his disciples and the undecided.”1 His jihad, or holy war, against the

Western world is professed in video clips and websites, and the search for this infamous villain remains

a central issues on television news. In bin Laden, “the World’s media… found a new hate figure to

occupy their attention, and military commanders and radio talk show hosts thumped tables and called

for bin Laden to be hunted down and killed.”2

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of

force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian

Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the bin Laden Brotherhood, (Durham,
NC:Duke University Press, 2002), 31.
Simon Reeves, The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama Bin Laden and the Future of Terrorism, (Danvers, MA:UPNE,
2002) 2.
population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”3 Yet, according to

Bruce Hoffman, professor at Georgetown University, the media defines terrorism as “virtually any

especially abhorrent act of violence that is perceived as directly against society-- whether it involves

the activities of anti-government dissidents, or governments themselves, organized crime syndicates, or

common criminals, rioting mobs, or persons engaged in militant protests, individual psychotics, or lone

extortionists.”4 Because of the sheer shock value and destruction of the event, terrorist acts make for

outstanding news. However, by covering the breaking news story for months, the ideas of the terrorist

organization is perpetuated and made known to each and every concerned citizen. It is no surprise that

“sophisticated terrorists like Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda associates, as well as like-minded

individuals… want the whole world to know about their deeds.”5 The groups get the attention that they

desire, and the world is able to learn the motives behind their actions. The world is therefore

enlightened to their cause. Not only are terrorist like bin Laden publicizing and soliciting support for

their terrorist regimes when their acts are dramatically unfolded before the public by the media, but

they are also teaching and breeding new generations of terrorists. Through the over broadcasting of

these events, “terrorists in different parts of the world learn about and embrace the most successful

methods of mass-mediated terrorism.”6 In a society free from government censorship, is this the price

that must be paid for the freedom that we posses?

Although censorship is an infringement of personal liberties, media overcoverage aids terrorists

and single-handedly perpetuates the group’s message. As an aspiring history professor, I believe in the

power of knowledge and freedom of speech, yet the epitome of success for a terrorist organization is to

have their actions and belief flooding into the enemies’ homes while these citizens sit and watch,

Caroline Payne, “Understanding Terrorism,” World Conflict
Quarterly,http://www.globalterrorism101.com/UTDefinition.html, (Accessed 12 February 2008).
Hoffman, Bruce. Inside Terrorism. (New York: University of Columbia Press, 1999) 15.
Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the bin Laden Brotherhood, (Durham,
NC:Duke University Press, 2002), 31.
Brigitte L. Nacos, Mass Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of Media in Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, (Lanham,
MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) 23

paralyzed in fear. The issue today in regards to terrorism is not an issue of coverage, but rather of over

coverage. Although the very idea of media censorship threatens national freedom, several methods

should be enacted to relay factual and informative news about terrorist activities without giving them a

voice. If terrorism is ever to be eradicated, it must loose its primetime advertising position. Today’s

media is notorious for “overcovering terrorist incidents, highlighting routine warnings of more

devastating terrorism to come, and occasionally pointing to the flaws in counter-terrorist preparedness

programs.”7 “Terrorism fits into the infotainment mold that the news media increasingly prefers and

offers villains and heroes the promise to attract new audiences and keep existing ones.”8 News anchors

over dramatize the devastation caused by the enemy and downplay relief efforts, causing a much wider

state of panic among the population, which is precisely the goal of all terrorist actions.

Several methods should be enacted globally, nationally, and commercially in order to create

accurate and informative media coverage of terrorism. Within the United Nations Counter-Terrorism

Strategy, which was accepted September 2006, member states agreed to subscribe to thirteen

International Conventions enacted to combat terrorism since 1963. The twelfth convention is

International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, ensure that certain state

entities are not directly or indirectly harboring or aiding terrorist organizations. Although the media

surely is not funding these terrorist activities, they are certainly providing free advertising for them.

Although media coverage should not be suppressed, however the United Nations should be more

concerned with the way in which these actions are conveyed globally. The potential for the media to be

inadvertently harboring terrorism should be addressed in a global forum.

More emphasis should be placed on The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural

Organization (UNESCO) and UN Department of Public Information. If these two entities are more

heavily promoted by the United Nations, and by each individual state, messages of peacekeeping

Brigitte L. Nacos, Mass Mediated Terrorism: The Central Role of Media in Terrorism and Counter Terrorism, (Lanham,
MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007) 5.
Nacos, Mass Mediated Terrorism, 8.

operations could be heard, instead of public media’s main focus of violence and terror. As a nation,

policies should be enacted to educate citizens and promote global awareness. Children are exposed to

the ideas and act of terrorism, from the local news to the Internet, yet they rarely discuss it in their

classrooms. Today, with the help of the Internet, children can search for informative articles about

global terrorism, yet are also only a click away from videos such as “I Wanna Be Like Osama” and

“Jihad Jane Sings Suicide Song” without any warning to explicit content. 9Although setting privacy

limitations is up to each parent and household, public institutions should be installed in middle schools

and high schools to educate these children on the history of violence surrounding terrorist such as bin

Laden and al-Qaeda.

Large commercial businesses could also be used to combat mass media’s promotion of

terrorism. Trans-national corporations who use primetime news spots to advertise should united in

order to promote unbiased, and over dramatized news reports of terrorist activity. Placed under

economic pressure from these groups the media’s portrayal of these events on the nightly news could

be swayed. These commercial entities could also provide public service announcements and campaigns

promoting the education of our young people about the importance of knowledge in stopping


Without the media inadvertently promoting terrorism, the ideas of these madmen would not

spread as rapidly. Without a voice, the actions of terrorist like Osama bin Laden would be far less

effective. If an end to global terrorism is ever to be achieved, the medias portrayal of these villains

must be reformed. Global, national, commercial, and individual entities must collaborate to demand

fair and factual news, without indirectly harboring terrorism through the media.

“I Wanna Be Like Osama,” You Tube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eeDDb5VywbY (Accessed 12 February 2008).