Yesterday, four people were killed in London in an apparent terrorist attack. As terrorist incidents go, it was a pretty lame-duck effort – a bit of road rage and a stabbing from one stupid wretch, with a bodycount no more impressive than your regular drunken weekend collision.
But that’s what “terrorism” has become – since the undoubtedly spectacular 9/11, terrorist events have descended into farcical moments of near slapstick that would be humorous if there weren’t actual lives involved.
At Sydney’s Lindt Café in 2014, as the bumbling Man Monis held a handful of hostages in a sweet shop, he included in his list of demands an authentic Islamic State flag, as he’d purchased the wrong one on his way to the scene.
And in Paris in 2015 – a day on which a “sophisticated attack” by a “global terror network” took place – an attempt to wreak havoc at the Stade de France stadium was foiled when the suicide bomber was turned away by security, the hapless martyr forced to blow himself up in a near-deserted street.
Considering this is the work of the ‘almighty’ Islamic State, the group that declares it will “bring the west to its knees” on the march toward a global Caliphate, that’s Pythonesque. These people aren’t evil, just dumb.
Paris was obviously a bigger deal, but yesterday’s effort was nothing – it’s at the point where a bloke could drop his lunch on a crowded bus and provided he’d shouted “Allah akbar!” it’d make international news. Yet these pathetic incidents send the media into meltdown, the template well learned on 9/11 wheeled out no matter how piddling the incident; all other news is banished while we are drowned in “special editions” featuring furrow-browed reporters, dodgy phone footage, politicians scrambling for the thesaurus in search of new words for “despicable”’ and “cowardly”, eulogistic biographies of the victims and dutiful damnation of the perpetrators. This is what we got yesterday and today, and there’s more coming at us from the weekend editions. Over less than a dozen victims.
Two days before yesterday, 10 people died and over 60 were hospitalised in an Indian village after drinking home-made booze, angry relatives of the victims leading a rampage through town that all but demolished the houses of the brewers. Not only is that a more interesting story, with nearly triple the fatalities, it’s actually useful, a warning to all about the dangers drinking DIY hooch. But that story didn’t make it anywhere past the Hindustan Times, because it didn’t come graced with the bumper-sticker of “terrorism”.
Let’s not be bashful about making plain the fact that the media loves this stuff. The terrorist strike is to the media what a jackpot is to the gambler. It’s the moment reporters, editors and producers pray for, if they have a God. All those days reporting on the middle-class mumblings from the asylums of politics are just rest periods for the media, which anxiously awaits the next terrorist strike to bring the ratings and readerships back into the black.
So what’s our excuse, the viewers and readers, the tweeters, the ‘debaters’, the Facebook-funeral directors? We don’t have one, basically – not a responsible one, anyway. We watch and we read and we participate for the same reason we rubberneck at car crashes and gawk at burning buildings despite the fact we can’t do anything to help; we dig it. Not in the same way we dig chocolate or money, but in the same way we get off on scary movies or a TV drama, most of which these days are about death or violence of some shade. Barack Obama was perhaps saying more than he knew when he referred to Islamic State as a “death cult” – we’re part of it, because we’re hypnotised by the horror, soothed by the grief that isn’t quite ours, and convinced we actually need to know when a handful of strangers lose their lives far away.
This wouldn’t be a problem but for the fact that terrorism thrives on this very fuel. It must be gratifying to the extremist to see that just a moment of deliberately bad driving can make a million avatars around the world change colour. It must be tempting to the deluded dill to think a premeditated tantrum can close his account with big bold headlines and immortality in the vaults of history. And those little boasts of “We are not afraid” (the sad affirmation of the truly terrified) must be nothing but entreaties to do better next time in the minds of those for whom fear is the aim of the game.
This lurid carousal could be stopped in an instant.
Don’t for a moment fool yourself into thinking the media couldn’t put its own foot down regarding this rot. When, some years ago, reporting of suicide was revealed to inspire contagion the media took notice, and, today, you couldn’t get an editor or producer to broadcast details of a DIY death if you held a gun to his head. Same goes for nudity and taboo slang – avoiding the facts of life is easy for the media, when it’s encouraged to do so.
What’s needed is a grass-roots and corporate movement – the type of which appears to have been very successful against the scourge of sexism and racist jokes – that tells the media it’s not on anymore, that we’re not going to be involved any longer in this sickly circle jerk, that a handful of pointless murders belongs on page seven, or somewhere between the lead news item and the one about the panda born at the zoo. No more “special editions”, no more “breaking news” on cretins who kill ’cos they know we morons will guzzle it wholesale. It’s boring.
For corporations, you wouldn’t cop it if your ad got played in the middle of a porn film. Same thing here, only worse; this is a snuff flick, and you’re financing it. Get your name out of prime time news and papers that peddle this crap, lest your brand become identified as an “influencer” in a game played by idiots that’s actually killing people. The media would rethink its priorities on dropkick terrorism if it thought it might lose some blue-chip clients and a whole lot of viewers, and the ‘martyr’ wouldn’t bother to blow himself up if he thought nobody would give a toss.
In school we were told to ignore the bully and he’d go away. We were also taught that to stand and watch was tantamount to participation.
So it is today.