WASHINGTON – The real problem with terrorists is that, whatever their “cause” and declared “goals”, deep down they are mostly attention seeking narcissists. When they plot and execute, they are not thinking about “winning”. They are really thinking about all the media attention that their showy violent acts will get. The more spectacular the deed, the more attention; and therefore the more glory to them, or to their image, assuming a suicide attack.
Obsessed with terrorism
Unfortunately, all media stupidly cooperate in this. Terrorism is scary. Therefore any act of violence, if linked with a terror group or with anybody, even a “lone wolf”, who claims to have a political motive for engaging in violence, gets an extraordinary amount of attention.
Given all this, it is intuitively obvious that the reward of endless media coverage may constitute a strong incentive for would be terrorists whose secret craving is really to be “famous” to actually engage in terror plots.
Aaron Alexis just a killer
Consider this. A few days ago Aaron Alexis, a deranged former serviceman, engaged in a deadly assault at the Navy Yard, in Washington , DC. He killed several people. The Navy Yard is a major US Defense Department facility, right in the heart of the Nation’s Capital.
Was this yet another terror attack? No, it was not.
Indeed, after the initial uncertainty, it was quickly concluded that Alexis was a mentally disturbed individual who did not have any political or terror agenda. And so the matter immediately fell into semi-obscurity.
But it would have been a totally different story had the same Aaron Alexis engaged in exactly the same massacre of innocent people shouting “Allahu Akbar“, (God Is Great), and if indeed it had turned out that he had converted to an extreme form of Islam, and that he had been “radicalized” on line by some fanatic Muslim cleric.
Terrorism gets attention
In this scenario, the whole thing would have been turned into a major national crisis. “How come?” “What mysterious route led Aaron Alexis to become a religious fanatic?” “Was he in contact with others who may be part of a sleeper cell ready to spring into action?” And you would have seen parades after parades of terrorism experts on TV who would have opined on the significance of this act, and the likelihood of more such massacres inspired by radical Islam.
But, missing the spice of the “terror angle”, this horrible mass killing that occurred at a major military facility right in the middle of Washington, DC, almost immediately fell off the radar screens.
A terrorist killing a lot of people, even if acting alone, is a big story. A mentally disturbed individual killing the same number of people is a regrettable, tragic event soon to be forgotten.
Stop giving so much coverage
Sadly and rather stupidly, we are obsessed with terrorism. And all terrorists and would be terrorists know this. While there are some among them who would plot and execute, no matter what, many others have a special incentive in portraying themselves as “fighters for the noble cause”, knowing that whatever they will do it will immediately get major media coverage.
If you are an attention seeking narcissist, in this climate, whatever the impact of your actions, for sure you’ll get all the coverage you wanted.
Pointless acts that change nothing
From this perspective, it would be wise to treat terrorism for what it is: totally pointless violence aimed at inflicting some wounds, making a lot of noise, and scaring people. The media should stop performing this echo chamber role. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in giving so much coverage to acts of terror.
On the contrary, if would-be terrorists would see that acts of terror get little or no media attention, while normal life goes on, at least some of them would come to the conclusion that, as these deeds are fruitless, they may as well desist.