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Terrorism and Media

by on November 26, 2013

Some extremist groups use terrorism as a form of political communication. Most of the time, terrorist groups, guerrillas or freedom fighters will try and use the media to promote their worldviews and legitimate their use of violence, because for them, they did not get the occasion or the right to get their voices heard in the political process in the first place. These groups are groups of politically motivated people deeply alienated from the political system, who opt to deploy political violence and terror to try and overturn what they perceive to be political repression (Louw E., 2005, p.239)

The terrorist’s aim is to communicate with governments and get their attention but also, in some particular cases, to attract mass media coverage, in order to open some kind of negotiations. Sometimes they will send messages to government supporters, saying ‘you may not know we exist, but we do exist. We’re unhappy; your government is responsible for our unhappiness; and unless your government makes changes we are going to inflict pain upon you’. (Louw E., 2005, p.243)

Take the al-Qaeda 9/11 attack, when they attacked the World Trade Centre buildings and the Pentagon, they actually attacked the heart of the global capitalism and the heart of the USmilitary machine. The scene of the two towers literally collapsing was broadcast for weeks. This was some kind of propaganda. The violent images of this attack provoke nothing but anger and fear and desire for revenge among the American citizens and the rest of the world.

By its action al-Qaeda showed how because of globalized television well-selected terror targets can now serve as propaganda of the deed exercises for such globally dispersed constituencies. In these situations the role of the media is very important as they are sort of gatekeepers and agenda setters. Both sides pay serious attention and try to see how the media can be used to promote ‘their side’ of the struggle.


By attacking these exact places, al-Qaeda communicated with different audiences. The first and core audience was Americans and their political system which is significantly media-ized. The attack provoked the instant response of the US government for revenge and it was covered by all media all over the world. The second audience was al-Qaeda’s own constituency. This attack was a success for the group. They were able to show the world how the US, the world superpower, could be vulnerable at its very heart. And the third and last audience was Muslims generally. The attack did not lead to the radicalization of Muslims people in the world; instead it brought hate and sometimes harassment of Muslims in the Western countries and this is the total opposite of what al-Qaeda expected.



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One Comment
  1. This blog post does a fair job of setting out terrorist strategy and the activities of al Qaeda, and some useful illustrations have been inserted into your text. However, there are a few areas for improvement when you come to consider revising this entry for inclusion in your portfolio:

    – Please try to develop more the conceptual side of the post. What is meant by ‘propaganda of the deed’ and how does it apply to the case of al Qaeda? More should be done to relate this post to the themes of the module.

    – I should also have liked a fuller engagement with the academic literature on this subject. You have cited Louw, but his ideas are not examined in much depth. Where does there diagram come from? Please cite the source.

    – Finally, there are some questionable claims (e.g., that terrorists only occasionally seek media attention – a claim which is undermined by the content of the diagram – and that al Qaeda didn’t want a deterioration in the treatment of Muslims in the West, when it fed directly into the organisation’s narrative).

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