WASHINGTON – In a perverse way, our hysteric fascination with each and every killing perpetrated in the West by Islamic terrorists guarantees that there will be more of them. Here is the latest story. In Sydney, Australia, a crazy man of Iranian origin kept lots of people hostage in a bar claiming that he was acting on behalf of ISIL, the self-described Islamic State now controlling parts of Syria and Iraq. Eventually the police stormed the place. The lone terrorist got killed, but a couple of hostages also lost their lives, while others were wounded.
No doubt, this is a tragic story. And yet the enormous amount of media coverage that this event received –with front page stories and large pictures in all major US newspapers– is truly out of proportion.
Yes, it is worrisome to realize that there are a few deranged individuals inspired by bizarre beliefs who will engage in violent acts against innocent strangers in the name of their “cause”. But this is not a global, existential threat. These events are extremely rare, hardly an everyday occurrence.
Homicides without an Islamic angle get little attention
By contrast, a man in the US just killed six people. This tragedy got media attention. But this killing spree, along with similar violent incidents that occur almost daily in America, got only a fraction of the space devoted to the Sydney terror attack.
How so? Because these cases are about “ordinary violence”. There is no religious angle. The US man did not kill in the name of jihad. Therefore, as this is just “plain” murder, it gets just some coverage. And yet in Sydney only two innocent people got killed. In the US the killer murdered six persons.
Reasons for concern
Sure enough, there are reasons to be concerned about political violence inspired by irrational ideologies. We know that ISIL is openly advocating more acts of violence against unbelievers across the world. Therefore, it is quite possible that more “radicalized” individuals in the UK, in the US in France, or elsewhere will be persuaded to engage in similar terror acts. So, there is reason for keeping an eye on this phenomenon of internet-inspired “lone wolf” attacks. That said, excessive media coverage is counter productive.
Media attention inspires more copycats
Indeed, it is clear that the more coverage we give to this type of “retail” terrorism, the more copycats we shall have. Yes, these improvised terrorists are narcissists. They love the lime light. They want to be famous. And if killings inspired by jihad get a lot of attention, then more attention-seeking people will be tempted to try.
Treat these incidents like ordinary crime
In other words, if the media treated religion inspired killings just as they treat any other homicide, after a while the glamor surrounding them would wither. If the media would stop placing each and every act of violence supposedly inspired by Islam on the front page, while obsessively questioning scores of terrorism experts about the real motives of the perpetrators, we probably would have fewer such killings.
By all means let the police and intelligence services in the US, Australia, Canada, or Germany be on the look out. Let them pursue all suspicious characters in order to prevent more acts of violence.
Cars are more dangerous
But the general public –with the help of more sober media coverage– should realize that the chances of getting killed in a banal car accident are infinitely greater than becoming a victim of a terror act planned by a “lone wolf”, or by any group affiliated with Islamic fundamentalism.
By all means let’s keep an eye on Islamic fundamentalists. But let’s be realistic about the extent of the threat. And let us not encourage more killings by showing how scared we are of them.