As usual in such a tragic event, the devastating effects of yesterday’s terror attack in London have left myself and many others in a position of shock, to the point of being unable to comprehend a coherent response. Many will condemn the hateful attack, the violent backlash and others will call for new counter-terror legislation to try and deal with a supposed increased threat to security. What stands out, however, in this attack and others over the past 20 years, is the true extent that terrorism has been transformed by the mass media.
Upon first news of the events in Woolwich, I was shocked to have seen the media label it as a terror attack; I thought it was a lone stabbing incident, while tragic, is not uncommon. However, since reading the clearly-prepared speech, and watching footage filmed on a mobile phone of one of the attackers, it was evident that this was more than just a random act of violence.
What is terrorism? I have spent the majority of the year studying it, and the definition, response and aftermath are still developing. Terrorism involves inciting hate and fear-driven violence on behalf of an ideological motive. A driven agenda, to make a political statement, this incident certainly resides within this definition. The language used of ‘us’ ‘our’ and ‘them’, of references to the government and the unnecessary brutality of the incident firmly put the attack into a terrorism category. The labeling of such as ‘terrorism’ did more to gain media coverage in comparison with other attacks, regardless of its differing technique, due to the intense controversy and interest surrounding terrorism.
This attack was not aiming to kill as many people as possible. If that was its intention, the men would have carried on with their violent activities and hurt more people, and possibly taken more lives. The attackers used the media in a form of stunt, to gain as much attention for their cause as possible. The events from London have made their way onto every front page newspaper in Britain, and have been featured in media around the world. Rolling live blogs were set up, tweets sent, and news reports covered updates for the rest of the day, and most likely will do for the next few weeks.
Similarities can be drawn from the attacks of September 11 in America, in which commercial aeroplanes were flown into one of the most famous landmarks in New York – the Twin Towers. The symbolism of destroying these buildings, the Pentagon, and the White House (where the presumed plane which came down in Pennsylvania was heading) meant more to the terrorists than the number of dead. This is possibly why the attacks were spaced out, which enabled the attack on the second tower to be broadcast live on television around the world, for maximum publicity. Further, the recent attacks in Boston were not aimed purely to kill people, but to cause a destructive scene at a high profile event. As both of these attacks were on American soil, this contributed towards a heightened media reaction of an attack on American livelihoods, values and ideologies.
The London men remained on the scene until the police arrived yesterday, speaking to passers by, covered in blood. They did not intend to get away with this crime. The symbolism that was involved in killing what was thought to be a soldier, near an army barracks, was precisely the sort of reaction the men were looking for to advance their cause. They asked people to video them, to take photographs, and to publicise the events as much as possible, regardless of the trauma involved, or the distressing images which have found their way into tomorrow’s papers and all over the internet. They wanted their message to be heard all around the world, and thanks to the speed and sophistication of the modern media, terrorism has reached a new level which has allowed this point to be reached, without a second thought for the impact this might be having on culture, society or terrorist activities themselves.
We cannot stereotype, or blame. This is not purely a race issue, or purely a religious issue. And while the English Defence League have every right to feel angry at the unprecedented, vile attack on one of their citizens, it does not give them the right to promote further hate, further attack and further division in an already fragile environment, by way of violent protest and hateful speech. We must not stand for it.
As always, in these times of intense darkness, we must search for the light. The terrorist threat has changed beyond all recognition in light of changes to the mass media, to even create a response generated for it, but that does not, by any stretch of the imagination mean that all hope is lost in such desperate situations. I hope, that regardless of the violence and hatred being reported, you will take comfort in this knowledge that a woman attempted to shield the victim from further attack, and how one mother talked and listened to the attackers until the police arrived, trying to talk them out of further attack. It is through the intense developments in news media that just a few hours after the attack, the world will know of the bravery of these people.