A Skewed Foghorn

The media framing of terrorist soldiers and insurgents has a great deal to do with the public’s ensuing perception of the same. Downplaying the gravity of the terrorist attack and highlighting the individual perpetrators, for instance, can perpetuate the extremists’ narrative of marginalization and martyrdom. It can imply that the term terrorist is selectively used to describe violence perpetrated by certain ethnic groups from certain parts of the world, but does not apply to others because they do not have the capacity for such barbarism. Or so the framing implies.

With certain ethnic groups, the term terrorist is awarded fairly quickly in any media analyses of otherwise inexplicable violent attacks. As is the case in the United States, for instance, particularly with home-grown terror (such as the Charleston Church shooting), the media tends to paint a more demure picture of the attackers, describing them as psychologically disturbed young men and women, racist puritans, etc, and employing numerous panels to psychoanalyze the same. Often reserving judgement and avoiding use of the word terrorist, it is treated like a trophy some ethnic communities are too evolved or intrinsically good to earn.

The perpetrator of the Charleston shooting was not charged with terrorism, but instead faced 33 criminal charges, and was sentenced to death for hate crimes and firearms violations. He is described as an overzealous racist, and analysts argue that he cannot be deemed a terrorist. It is treated by all an sundry as a hate crime, and not an act of terror, which many would argue, it was.

This is the particular dichotomy the media creates between violent extremists and the causes for which they stand. Defining and narrating terrorism as a very exclusive club for all the ‘wrong’ people. In so doing, they vindicate the actions of the attackers to their supporters.