Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sally Neighbour and the Media on Terrorism

Sally Neighbour is an Australian journalist.

Sally is best known for her work as a reporter with Australia's premier investigative public affairs program, ABC TV's 4 Corners, which was recognised by three Walkley awards for excellence in journalism. She is currently a senior writer with The Australian newspaper, specialising in Islamic militancy and related issues.
Sally's newest book is 'The Mother of Mohammed: An Australian woman's extraordinary Journey into Jihad', published in May 2009 by Melbourne University Publishing.  It tells the remarkable story of Muslim convert Rabiah Hutchinson, who grew up in Mudgee, New South Wales, and later spent twenty years on the frontline of the global Islamist struggle in Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt and Afghanistan, where she married a senior al Qaeda strategist, Mustafa Hamid. 

I wouldn't necessarily agree or disagree with her opinions and I haven't read her books.
But it is important to hear from somebody who has more than just passing interest in the subject of Islam.
Here is an article by her and to avoid misquoting or giving quotes out of context, I present the entire article.

Propagandists of terror prevailing

IN July 2005, al-Qa'ida's chief strategist Ayman al-Zawahiri outlined a critical element of his organisation's war against the West.
"We are in a battle and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. We are in a media battle for the hearts and minds of our umma (community)."
Al-Qa'ida has made "the media battle" a key front in its war, a strategy that helps explain why the jihadist movement continues to flourish. Yet intelligence and security agencies engaged in the so-called war on terror have been slow to seize this imperative, choosing instead to remain in the shadows, avoiding the vigorous media and public debate about terrorism and how it should be combated. Their reluctance has allowed the jihadists to gain the upper hand in the crucial battle for hearts and minds.
Al-Qa'ida's media strategy was deliberate and targeted from the outset, in keeping with an earlier directive from Zawahiri: "We must get our message across to the masses of the nation and break the media siege."
From its inception, al-Qa'ida established a media committee to run its propaganda offensive and a media production company, Al-Sahab, to film and distribute professionally produced videos, DVDs and other propaganda. Its activity has escalated markedly in recent years. In 2006, Al-Sahab released 58 videos, one every six days. In 2007 it issued 97, one every four days.
The trend has continued.

Al-Qa'ida used the Qatar-based AlJazeera television network as a regular forum. Senior al-Qa'ida strategist Mustafa Hamid, also known as Abu Walid al Masri, who was married to Australian woman Rabiah Hutchinson, was a correspondent for Al Jazeera in Kandahar at the same time that he was a serving member of bin Laden's advisory Shura Council.

The practice of targeting the media is not unique to the present generation of Islamist terrorists. It's a strategy terrorists have always used.
"Terrorism is about theatre," says Brian Jenkins, of the think tank RAND Corporation. Put another way, terrorism is "an extreme act of political communication", in the words of Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain's MI6.
People used to say: "Terrorists don't want a lot of people dead; they want a lot of people watching." That has changed; now they want both.
Harvard University scholar and author Louise Richardson writes in her book What Terrorists Want that what they want is "the three Rs": revenge, renown and reaction.
Renown is what they gain through publicity, which Richardson describes as a central objective of terrorism, serving "to bring attention to the cause and to spread the fear instilled by terrorism".
Richardson cites an article by an al-Qa'ida operative, Abu Ubeid al-Qurashi, which was published in the group's online magazine al-Ansar, which described the Palestinian massacre of the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Munich Olympics as "the greatest media victory".
"Four thousand journalists and radio personnel and 2000 commentators and television technicians were there to cover the Olympic Games," al-Qurashi wrote. "Suddenly they were broadcasting the suffering of the Palestinian people. Thus 900 million people in 100 countries were witness to the operation by means of television screens."
Al-Qurashi went on to observe: "The September 11 (operation) was an even greater propaganda coup. It may be said that it broke a record in propaganda dissemination."
Al-Qa'ida and its allies film and distribute motivational videos of their training camps set to rousing jihadist songs. They film their bombings, often using several cameras strategically placed to capture the action. They film the testimonials of would-be suicide bombers that are posted on the internet to inspire others. There is even a TV program called Hidden Camera Jihad, a video compilation of attacks on US forces, set to a laughter track. BBC journalist Gordon Correra calls it "the mainstreaming of jihad as entertainment". All of this is crucial to recruitment, mobilisation, solidarity and morale.
The availability of and access to jihadist literature and audiovisual material has become a central feature in the evolution and spread of Islamist terrorism and the formation of home-grown terror groups across the world. Typically, these groups have no direct links to al-Qa'ida central and are almost entirely reliant on material obtained on the internet for their self-recruitment, ideology, spiritual guidance and the facilitation of their plans, such as manufacturing explosives.
It is accepted wisdom that the jihadists' aggressive media offensive is a key reason their movement continues to flourish and why the terrorists' freedom-fighter narrative has proven so enduringly potent for millions of Muslims.
Yet the intelligence and security agencies with the task of countering terrorism remain stubbornly reluctant to join the media battle, typically refusing to answer media questions, engage in public debate or explain and justify their actions and policies.
In many cases there are compelling practical and logistical reasons for secrecy. More often it seems to be simply a hangover from their historical preference for lurking in the shadows. No doubt they prefer people not to know when they venture on to the "dark side", to quote former US vice-president Dick Cheney.
The well-reported excesses in the secret war on terror - Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the CIA's rendition program, the use of torture, all skilfully exploited by the jihadists - have had a profound influence on popular opinion, in the West and the Muslim world, and on the prevailing media narrative.
Seven or eight years ago, the prevalent story was that evil religious fanatics were bent on destroying our democratic societies and killing as many innocent civilians as possible. Today, the war on terror is frequently depicted in the media as an unjust and ill-executed war that has undermined the freedoms and values it was supposed to uphold.
The intelligence and security agencies can no longer afford to stay mute in this seminal debate. It is time for them to come out of the shadows and engage in the crucial battle for hearts and minds.
This can be as simple as releasing more information to illustrate the nature of the threat, such as the revelation in 2006 by MI5 head Eliza Manningham-Butler that British authorities were dealing with 30 known terrorist plots and 200 terrorist networks, and watching 1600 individuals who were "actively engaged in or facilitating terrorist acts here or overseas". It was a strategic decision to take the media and the public into their confidence by releasing data that normally would be deemed classified. And it clearly had the desired effect, a jolting reminder that terrorism is not a figment of the security agencies' imaginations but a very real and present danger.
Sally Neighbour is a senior contributor to The Australian and a reporter on ABC1's Four Corners. She is the author of In the Shadow of Swords: On the Trail of Terrorism from Afghanistan to Australia.
This is an edited extract of an address to a counter-terrorism training seminar in Sydney.

No comments: