Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terrorism Wins When Attention is Given

There is no doubt that the terrorist attacks in Paris is unfortunate, and it is perfectly justified that traditional media are filled with news of latest developments and social networks are filled with messages of condolences.  Killing of innocents are morally and legally wrong and deserve to be condemned.  But the label "terrorism," after years of its continued threat to the Western world, should be more or less learned by now.  The very purpose is to generate attention through fear, with collateral damage to innocents as a tool.

Given that this is the purpose of terror attacks, the Paris one seems to be remarkably successful.  A few news reports and 128 deaths later, the story has marketed itself to every corner of the Internet.  And the cost of that viral marketing is simply a few rifles and souls determined to achieve their violent purposes.  Marketing firms can only dream of that much exposure for so little investment.  Interestingly, as ISIS claims responsibility for the attacks for which it may not even have had any involvement to begin with, it is probably getting free publicity just out of the public's blind trust.

Looking from the African continent, this is sad in many ways.  One is that 128 deaths is actually a small fraction of the casualties to innocents suffered in many ongoing conflicts on the continent.  Many of the ethnic and sectarian conflicts, however, due to its long-lasting, continuously simmering nature, and the sheer obscurities of locales, get nearly no coverage from international media, and certain no striking "breaking news" headlines.  Certainly, nothing since the now little-remembered Kony2012 campaign has put African conflicts in the same level of international spotlight.

The other is that natural reflex when a country is hit by terrorism is retaliation.  This was true for 9/11, for Mumbai, for London, and of course also for Paris.  News media have jumped to Russia's vows for intensified attacks against ISIS, now with the moral high ground of preventing future attacks of similar nature.  Surely France, US, and other Western states will not remain passive in the face of terror, as their officials have publicly vowed.  Renewed interests by the citizenry baying for blood of the terrorists will drive support for more military actions.

Under such circumstances, what will be neglected in comparison will be more constructive long-term programs that will also need large amount of resources.  It is satisfying to spend money to destroy areas held by terrorist organizations in matter of weeks and months, but it is the less sexy ventures of investing in livelihoods of common people in the same areas that will ultimately root out the very underlying causes of why terrorist organizations can emerge and flourish in the first place.  Without increasing incomes and opportunities, one terrorist killed will quickly be replaced by ten others.

It is the latter that the impoverished areas of Middle East and Africa needs.  The young, poor, unemployed, and energetic, perhaps the largest growing demographic group in these regions, are most vulnerable to radicalization.  If the world shift resources away from giving them better lives and into destroying their homelands further, there is no reason for them not to embrace terrorism that provide the most visible means of fighting back the evil foreigners.  They know this precisely because they see foreign media's devotion to documenting the details of public suffering to terrorism.

Then, what should be a better response to terror attacks?  The author believes that it should not cross the minds of people (and in turn, media that react to popular demand) any more than bouts of homicides and (at least the US today) excessive police aggression against racial minorities.  All are social issues, and all are tragic and worthy of condemnation.  If so, why should terrorism be singled out for more attention, with their constant media analyses, marches of solidarity, and viral online symbolism?  All should be, as cynical as it stands, taken as a sobering fact of life.

Only by not giving attention to terrorism can terrorism be stopped.  If terrorist attacks can no longer generate terror-causing attention, then there is no more reason to carry them out.  Then countries can reduce their reflexive devotion of resources to assault the presence of terror, and devote more to resolve the sources of terror.  When poverty- and inequality-sparked anger and frustration, which serve as the fuels for terror, become minimized, there will come the day when the general public come to realize how juvenile they were in being so jumpy at every terror attack they faced in the past.

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