Posts Tagged ‘Contras. Death Squads’

Democracy Now! On the Failings of Media ‘Terrorism’ Pundits

May 9, 2016

This is a very relevant and serious piece from Democracy Now! In it, the two anchors talk to Glenn Greenwald and Lisa Stampnitzky, a social studies professor at Harvard and author of the book, Disciplining Terror, about how those, who appear on Fox News and the rest of the media claiming to be experts on terrorism actually aren’t. Greenwald and Stampnitzky point out that there is considerable academic disagreement about what constitutes ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’, and that often the people credited with being experts are only called such because other media pundits have so called them.

They talk about some of the ludicrous statements made about Muslim terrorists, such as by Emerson, the Fox News pundit, who appeared on the Janine Pirro show talking about how Europe was riddled with Muslim no-go zones. He became notorious, and just about universally ridiculed over this side of the Pond as he claimed that Birmingham was one such Muslim state-within-a-state, and that non-Muslims didn’t go in there. To make this guy’s humiliation complete, they also play the section of the interview he gave on the Beeb, in which he had to admit he didn’t know what he was talking about, and that the interviewer asked him if he knew that David Cameron had called him ‘an idiot’.

There’s another, similar incident, where an American news anchor, talking to the director, Kohlmann, about his movie, The Al-Qaeda Plan, asks him if, after he talks about how al-Qaeda isn’t really understood, because it emerged in a part of the world with which most Americans are not familiar, and whose language they don’t speak, he’s now going to go to some of the places that he’s featured in his movie and learn Arabic. Kohlmann’s reply is to state that he has a degree in Islam, and speaks some Arabic, though he’s not fluent. He also says that it’s very, very difficult now to get into Pakistan.

Greenwald also points out that throughout history there’s been much debate over what constitutes ‘terrorism’. He cites the work of a French academic, who pointed out that the term really only came into widespread use in the late 60s and 70s, when it was used by the Israelis to universalise Arab attacks on them. They used to term to present their anti-terror campaign as part of a wider defence of the West against the threat of Islam. Greenwald also states that there has also been many, many attempts by the Western military and politicians to define terrorism in such a way, that they can use it to delegitimise the use of violence by their enemies, without having it applied to their own violence, or that of their allies. These definitions have also failed. He states controversially that at the moment, ‘terrorism’ simply means any act of violence committed by a Muslim.

The Democracy Now! anchors and Greenwald also discuss how the term really is only applied to Muslims, and that when terrorist acts are committed by White Christians, they are described in other terms – the perpetrators are insane, or loners, or whatever. An example of this was Timothy McVeigh’s terrible attack on the federal building in Oklahoma in the 1990s. Before it was discovered precisely who did it, it was briefly described as a ‘terrorist’ attack. Two of the suspects had Arab names, though it turned out these were just taxi drivers, who had gone there to have their licences renewed. When it was discovered that McVeigh, a White Christian, had committed the atrocity, the ‘terrorism’ label was dropped.

Similarly, Louis Stark, an extreme right-wing anti-tax nut also flew a plane into a government building. Again, when it was believed that this might be the work of Muslims, the attack was described as ‘terrorism’. When it was again found out that it was a White, Christian American, who was responsible, it again stopped being described as terrorism.

Here’s the video:

In Britain, the use of the term ‘terrorism’ is rather broader. It was used, for instance, to describe the atrocities committed by the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. I also think it’s been used to describe the violence committed by the Basque separatist group, ETA, and in the 1970s to describe bombings and other attacks by Leftist extremist groups, like the French Action Direct and the Baader-Meinhof Gang in Germany. But nevertheless, the central point – that it’s only terrorism if it’s been committed by a Muslim – has been made by others as well as Democracy Now! I think the liberals over at The Young Turks have also discussed this issue.

Now, the violent attacks by al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other Islamist groups, like Boko Haram in Nigeria, are horrendous and truly deserve to be described as terrorism. But the term can also be applied to attacks by the West and its allies in the Middle East. The Young Turks have commented many times on the illegality of Obama’s drone strikes, and pointed out that they would be greeted with howls of outrage if a Muslim or foreign government carried them out against, say the KKK on American soil. Similarly, the Saudis’ targeting of Shi’a civilians in their attacks on supposed ‘terrorists’ in Yemen are another example of a type of terrorism, that isn’t described as such. And the Democracy Now! programme points out how the term terrorism was not used to describe the Contras and the other South American death squads supported by Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

Terrorism, as they point out, is a highly emotive, value-laden term, and the people appearing as experts on it on the news by and large, according to the programme, just recycle American government propaganda. The lesson is that you have to be careful, not just about how trustworthy the experts are, but also about the way the term ‘terrorism’ is being deliberately used in a way to stigmatize America’s enemies, while avoiding what’s committed by America, and its allies, including us in Britain.