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Terrorists should be starved of the oxygen of publicity

Does publicising terrorism play into the hands of the perpetrators or does it help keep us on the alert against further attacks?

Why do they do it? Again and again, after every attack, our media react by giving the terrorists exactly what they want – maximum publicity. Of course, the public should be told that an atrocity has taken place. But each attack dominates the news for days at a stretch. The TV networks go into overdrive, flying out their journalists to the scene of the attack and saturating their airtime. All this plays into the hands of terrorist organisations, allowing their killers to be glorified in the eyes of their supporters. In addition, the wall-to-wall news coverage creates a climate of fear and fuels the more authoritarian and xenophobic strands of our politics. President Trump’s recent actions – banning refugees and appearing to reference fictional terrorist attacks in Sweden – might be seen as an inevitable consequence of this hysteria. We should get things into proportion. After all, you’re more likely to fatally slip in the shower than be killed in a terrorist attack.

This is the line that taken by former Times editor and Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins. He was joined by Fawaz Gerges, a prominent expert on ISIS and al-Qaeda who has extensively researched the historical roots of jihadi extremism on the ground in the Middle East. Gerges explained how the West has played into the narrative of terrorists by portraying them as an existential danger, rather than as mere common criminals.

But for national security commentator Douglas Murray, the only way to defeat terrorism is to tackle it head on, speaking plainly about the true scale of the threat. The recent wave of attacks by ISIS was just the beginning, he will argued. Over a thousand foreign fighters have recently returned from Syria to Europe, and are highly likely to pose a risk to our security. It’s vital that our media and authorities keep the public fully aware about the terrorist threat and encourage everyone to be vigilant. Honest reporting is absolutely crucial, especially when society itself is under attack. As for ISIS, how they are portrayed in the mainstream media is a matter of indifference to them – their publicity strategy is all about broadcasting their attacks on social media to an audience of millions, not headlines in the press.

Does publicising terrorism play into the hands of the perpetrators or does it help keep us on the alert against further attack?



Clarissa Ward

Award-winning senior CNN correspondent

Award-winning senior CNN correspondent who has reported extensively from war-torn Syria, where she has interviewed Western jihadists, witnessed mass-casualty airstrikes, and visited areas where no Western journalists dare to travel. She also reported from Paris following the November 2015 terror attacks, contributing to CNN’s recent award for Best Breaking News Coverage from the Royal Television Society.

Fawaz Gerges

Professor of International Relations at the LSE

Professor of International Relations at the LSE and one of the world’s foremost academic experts on jihadi terrorism. He is the author of ISIS: A History and The Rise and Fall of Al-Qaeda.

Simon Jenkins

 Journalist and author

 Journalist and author. He writes twice weekly for the Guardian and has worked on the Economist and Sunday Times and edited the Evening Standard and The Times. His books include works on London’s architecture, the press and British politics. His bestsellers include England’s 1,000 Best Churches and 1,000 Best Houses, a study of Thatcherism and a short histories of London, England and Europe. His book on Europe’s greatest cathedrals came out in 2021 and his latest book is Celts: A Sceptical History.   

Douglas Murray

Columnist for the Spectator and Standpoint

Regular columnist for both the Spectator and Standpoint, who writes frequently for other publications, including the Sunday Times and the Wall Street Journal. His latest book is The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, which is part travelogue, part analysis of what Murray sees as Europe’s cultural death-wish.