Terror for media’s sake?

In an opinion piece that hasn’t been labeled as such, the BBC recently posted this article by British security expert Paul Cornish, which makes the case that the Mumbai attacks were an example of “celebrity terrorism,” or acts of empty violence contingent on the media and the public’s willingness to ascribe them meaning. Looking at the rationale behind the attacks, Cornish argues that there are two kinds of terror-suicide: suicide for celebrity (think Columbine and Virginia Tech), and suicide for martyrdom (New York, Madrid, London). While suicide for martyrdom prioritizes the cause over the individual, celebrity martyrdom does the opposite, mistaking media coverage as the cause itself, and relishing the final moments of universal attention as the act’s culmination.

In other words, terror for media’s sake.

According to Cornish, this strain of the global jihad has replaced advancing causes with articulating rage through the most explosive means available. Welcome to the age of celebrity terrorism,” he writes. “The invitation to the world’s D-list malcontents reads as follows: No matter how corrupt your moral sense, how contorted your view of the world, how vapid and inarticulate your ideas, how talentless you are and how exaggerated your grievance, an obsessive audience will watch your every move and turn you into what you most want to be, just before your death.”

I could be wrong, but isn’t that supposed to be the ideal form of terror? Would a well defined cause somehow be more reassuring or less devastating? To me, Cornish’s thesis doesn’t seem to capture a new strain of terrorism or even a particularly new way of utilizing the media, but rather reflects the disturbingly banal fact that at its core, terrorism is anti-rational. Celebrity terrorism, if it exists, is a question of form, not content.

Finally, here’s a really nice op-ed by Suketa Mehta, author of Maximum City.


~ by Jessica on December 1, 2008.

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