Monday, September 04, 2006

Hidden ironies of the War on Terror: Part I

A recent column by Mark Steyn serves as a brief update of his current thinking about the War on Terror. There are several broad themes to this column, but the one that interests me on this post is the theme that the mainstream media in Western nations is censoring information about terrorist actions in their territories out of political correctness.

The charge, which is very popular with the online Right, is illustrated with an example:
Down at the other end of the news business, meanwhile, one finds items like this snippet from the Sydney Morning Herald:

"A 16-year-old girl was tailed by a car full of men before being dragged inside and assaulted in Sydney's west last night, police say . . .

"The three men involved in the attack were described to police as having dark 'mullet-style' haircuts."

Three men with "mullet-style" hair, huh? Not much to go on there. Bit of a head scratcher. But, as it turned out, the indefatigable Sydney Morning Herald typist had faithfully copied out every salient detail of the police report except one. Here's the statement the coppers themselves issued:

"Police are seeking three men described as being of Middle Eastern/Mediterranean appearance, with dark 'mullet-style' hair cuts."
Believe it or not, the irony here is that exactly this type of media censorship may be an advantage, not a disadvantage, in winning the War on Terror. The reason is obvious: any putative propaganda value that the alleged terrorists might have hoped to derive from such an incident is getting studiously ignored by the media as well. Doesn't the whole concept of political terror lose any possible motivation when the supposedly terrorized population remains firmly committed to the belief that it is not being terrorized? If you really want to see what happens when the media wants to pump up propaganda when it comes to random mayhem, just wait until the next "disgruntled postal employee" incident occurs: "going postal" has entered into the American popular idiom in a way that "going muslim" is far, far away from approaching.

The second irony is that, from a historical perspective, the censorship that the liberal mainstram media has been applying to these presumed terror incidents is exactly the type of "Orientalism" that good liberal multiculturalists are supposed to despise. If the mainstream media doesn't take Islamic terror seriously, we shouldn't be surprised, because the mainstream media never took Islamic terror seriously. The myth that the only muslims that want to kill Westerners are the "mad mullahs" and the "lone wackos" goes back to at least the days of General Gordon of Khartoum, if not earlier. This point of view even explains most of the Democratic Party's position on the War on Terror: if one believes that the War on Terror is just another stereotypically Western "mullah hunt", then toppling the Taliban and capturing Osama bin Laden make good preconditions for declaring victory.

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