Tony Blair on terrorism and modern media

Tony Blair on terrorism and modern media

: Tony Blair calls for firm support of the work in Iraq and the war against terrorism in an interview with The Observer. After talking about the terrorists’ kidnapping of a Briton…

However, he hoped the public would understand that terrorism in Iraq ‘is to try to stop the country getting better, to murder anybody who tries to help its reconstruction and its democratic process. And our response, surely, has got to be to stand firm’.

Blair called on those divided over the war to rally behind a fresh battle for the control of Iraq: ‘I can understand why people still have a powerful disagreement about the original decision to go to war. But whatever that disagreement, surely it is absolutely clear we have to stay and see it through. Because the consequence of not doing so is that global terrorism will get a tremendous boost.’

Downing Street has been privately alarmed by the sophistication with which hostage taker Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has played on western public opinion. ‘What these terrorists understand is that they can use and manipulate the modern media to gain enormous publicity for themselves and put democratic politicians in a very difficult position,’ he said….

Asked if the war on terrorism had really delivered a safer world, Blair suggested things were often darkest before dawn: ‘There was more bloodshed in 1941 than in 1938.’ The intensity of the insurgency showed, he said, how much was at stake.

He’s right about staying the course (and, yes, I wish I could vote for him in November).

He’s also right about the terrorists’ ability to manipulate modern media — and modern media should be grappling with what to do about it. Playing the hostage videos, one after the next, is not necessarily the responsible or moral choice, for it gives the terrorists what they want: publicity. If Hitler released a press release, would you print it verbatim? Just because the terrorists in Iraq put out their press releases on video, that doesn’t mean you need to air the images on TV. Video is the ideal format for manipulating video media; the terrorists have learned that.

We are also entering an era of unfiltered media and that, too, is an issue. Back to that Hitler PR example: In the days of filtered (that is, published, edited, time-delayed) media, what Hitler had to say would have been cut up and quoted in stories. Today, in the age of go-to-the-source media, you can put your message on a web site and it can be quoted in the same media (TV on TV) and linked to directly.

On the one hand, some bloggers and some on cable news have said that we need to see the full horror of what these terrorists are doing and so they argued that the threatening and beheading videos should be seen.

But you also have to be aware that when you do that, you play into the hands of the terrorists; you give them just what they want: publicity. Does that make you complicit?

All this is quite counterintuitive — you’d think that the terrorists would realize that this should hurt them, make them look like the murdering slime they are. But this is a counterintuitive world with the most countercivil people: They don’t care about bad PR. They don’t care if we hate them for they hate us; in fact, if we hate them, it’s a badge of honor. So the worse we think of them, the better it is for them. And playing their videos accomplishes that goal.

But playing their videos too much eventually desensitizes us to the horror of their crimes. The sameness of the videos and of the reports of terrorist bombs killing civilians in Iraqi marketplaces or outside Iraqi police stations is becoming numbing. And that, too, suits the terrorists just fine; it dilutes our resolve to fight them.

We need to be aware of how the terrorists are manipulating modern media, as Blair said. What exactly we should do about that, I’m not yet sure; I invite discussion.

But I do know one thing: We start by calling terrorists terrorists.