Terror in Norway: What to Remember about the Relationship between Terror and the Media

Anders Breivik
gunned down dozens of young people and blew up a building all in the name of
“Norwegian ethnicity,” “Christianity,” and “Muslim fear.”
It is important to remember that these are group categories and capable of
producing the greatest violence. We sometimes think of modern terrorists as
outlaws perpetrating violence for their own ends, but these terrorists usually
have larger political goals, and are more strategic than we think. They
consciously manipulate the media, and violence is the mechanism they used to do
so. As terrorists specialists have pointed out for some time now (e.g. McCauley),
terrorism is not best understood as an individual pathology. In fact, terrorism
would be easier to handle and understand if it were an individual pathology. It
would be easier to identify the individuals and prevent their terrorism. Their
behavior would be more predictable and they would be easier to catch.

No, terrorism
is a strategy. It is instrumental violence. It is violence in the service of a
goal and in some way the violence has been legitimated. It is not a pathological
behavior carried out for the pure pleasure of the perpetrator. Anders Breivik had
broader political objectives. His first request in court was to represent
himself and have the opportunity to speak. He is trying to manipulate the media
in the service of his political manifesto. Studies have reported the
correlation between the rise in terrorism and the availability of media. More
broadcast outlets are associated with more terrorism, especially dramatic and
high concept terrorism that attracts attention.

Terrorism has
two primary strategies: the first is a psychological impact on the enemy. Breivik
wanted the Norwegian people to “wake up.” He was trying to
“warn” the world about an impending danger. Blowing up buildings and
killing innocent citizens has very little material effect, but its psychological
impact is enormous. Terrorists need the media for these psychological effects.
The second strategy is to mobilize the terrorists’ own supporters. Even if
other supportive individuals do not engage in terrorist acts, they will
sympathize. This sympathy is also a goal. Breivik wanted to arouse the
Norwegian people from their slumber and expand the level of sympathy for his

such as Breivik use violence as a “communication strategy.” They have
an important relationship with the media, and are reliant on them for exposure;
they want others to ultimately embrace their cause. Modern terrorists are
sophisticated in that they want more than buildings simply blown up. Terrorists
need the media to damage their enemy, both psychologically and materially. But
governments also use the media to communicate to terrorist organizations. They
want to present themselves as in control and use the media to present favorable
images of strength and determination.

terrorists want to take credit for violence the media are in the untenable
position of assisting them. They can be easily used as dupes. The media need to
protect the public’s information rights, but not at the expense of assisting
terrorism. Moreover, when the public knows little about a particular terrorist
group they turn their attention to the media who report on the terrorist group
and increase the public’s understanding. Consequently, it is not uncommon for
the public to express a certain amount of sympathy for the terrorist group
agenda, even though the public condemns violence.

And, as much
as terrorists depend on media attention, they can also be exposed by the media.
Investigative journalists can get close to discovering and exposing terrorists
and thus put themselves in danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org)
reports a steady upward trend in the murder of journalists in the last two

Terrorism has a close relationship with modern
media. Over the years terrorists have refine their communication skills. Weimann
probably best captures the essence of terrorism by equating it with a
theatrical performance, complete with scripts, actors, and stage management.
The young people murdered by Breivik were actors in his script. He put on his
police uniform costume and played the role of avenger warning the townspeople
of the coming storm of Muslim immigrants. Breivik played his role successfully because
he is now reaching larger audiences.

About Donald Ellis

Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford.

Posted on July 28, 2011, in Media and politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Terror in Norway: What to Remember about the Relationship between Terror and the Media.

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