Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Lessons from Mumbai

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By Jamie Hyams

As tends to be the case after any major terrorist attack, media commentators and editorial writers reacted to the Mumbai atrocity by trying to extract lessons for the benefit of their loyal readers. Two Age editorials were careful to appropriately condemn the terrorists, but still inappropriately put the onus on the civilised world. The Nov. 28 editorial argued, “Peace-loving nations have no choice but to stand united against all forms of terrorism. Ultimately, though, to prevail in this terrible struggle, they must find political resolutions to conflicts – whether in Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, South-East Asia, the Middle East or North Africa – that are being conflated by Islamic extremists into their single cause of global ‘jihad’”.

The following day’s editorial, by contrast, correctly noted that it is India’s “status as a democracy and emerging great power that has undergone rapid economic modernisation… that makes jihadists hate it.” However, it then contradicted itself by hoping that India wouldn’t adopt the “tough measures” the West had since 2001, as “greater repression would only lead to more terrorism and yet further repression. In other words, to a victory for the terrorists.”

The Australian, by contrast, was less politically correct, but more correct in the old-fashioned sense of the word. Its Nov. 28 editorial read, “If there are lessons to be learned from this senseless atrocity, they are these. First, the values we hold dear are hated by the fundamentalists. Where we are inspired by India’s rapid progress, they are angry… It is folly to think we could ever negotiate with terrorists, whose targets and causes shift with the wind… The only correct response is vigilance, solidarity and a determination to win this insidious and insufferable global war.”

On the same day, Greg Sheridan was in no doubt about the terrorists’ motives, writing, “This is a devastating assault on India, its democracy, its way of life and its brilliant economy, all of which excite envy and hatred from Islamic extremists… They demonstrate once more the savage, sectarian nihilism of the terror movements.”

London Times columnist David Aaronovitch, reprinted in the Dec. 3 Australian, took on those who like to explain terrorist acts by what has been done to the terrorists, and focused on the efforts the terrorists took to attack the Jewish centre. He concluded, “The only possible reason for going to such lengths to seek out a few Jews… is ideology. It is because someone has told you, and you have accepted, that these people are your particular enemies… There isn’t anything – whatever the explanatists say – we can concede to the zealots… that will persuade such people, once radicalised, not to try to kill us.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, in the Dec. 4 Australian, looked at a cause of terrorism overlooked by the apologists – the propaganda that appears even in the Western media in the form of untrue depictions of supposed Western or Israeli mistreatment of Muslims, such as the supposed Jenin massacre of 2002, or the beat up about the Koran allegedly thrown in a toilet at Guantanamo. Stephens wrote, “Of course, it’s always possible to fall for a well-told lie. But it’s worth wondering why a media that treats nearly every word uttered by the US, British or Israeli governments as inherently suspect has proved so consistently credulous when it comes to every dubious or defamatory claim made against those governments. Or, for that matter, why the media has been so intent on magnifying genuine scandals (such as Abu Ghraib) to the point that they become the moral equivalent of 9/11. Some caution is in order: terrorists, of all people, might actually believe what they read in the papers.”

Finally, one commentator who really nailed it was Chris Kenny, in the Dec. 3 Adelaide Advertiser. He noted, “Many media reports desperately sought to find plausible demands from the terrorists. This shows a misunderstanding of Islamist extremism and plays into its hands. Islamist terrorists have become expert at playing to Western media and political pressure points. Hence they will always offer a rationale or demand designed to suit their ends. So they offer a link to American policy in Iraq or Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory or, in this case, the Kashmir dispute and treatment of Indian Muslims. But these are not legitimate demands, not the real motivation. These are the propaganda lines aimed at increasing Western self-doubt, fuelling political recriminations and fostering military indecision. The terrorists aim to create chaos of all kinds, in order to make incremental gains towards their ultimate goal. Lashkar-e-Toiba, al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamist affiliates share the goal of a global Islamic caliphate. It seems too crazy for us to comprehend. But they want the world styled on their model society – Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.”

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