Thursday, 24 March 2016

Brussels attacks: no live media outside Nato's terror base

Once again, as with the divergently-covered attacks on Paris and Beirut, we've seen starkly contrasting media reaction to the terror events in Brussels and Ankara. Despite comparable levels of death and injury, the killings in European capitals, it seems, are deemed much more deserving of our attention and sympathy.

And as the live feeds from the Place de la Bourse in Brussels continue, the same media narrative plays out: adoption of the Belgian flag, icons of Belgian defiance and other je suis-styled sentiment.

Amid the tributes and reflection, 'security correspondents' like the BBC's Frank Gardner lament the failure of Belgian forces to monitor and purge the terrorist cells. How, they ask, could so much intelligence and street policing lead to the bombing of an airport and metro system?

The term 'security' here has become a byword for state control and 'protection against the other', rather than a universal life value. All part of the primary media meme: 'how do we comprehend and deal with the terrorism now being visited on our cities'.

The relative importance of 'our' cities is also defined by their buildings and institutions. Brussels: nominal capital of Europe, home of the European Commission, Parliament and Council of Ministers, centre of EU commerce and international embassies. Again, we're reminded how close and vulnerable all these key places are to terrorist attack.      

Yet, the presence and role of one crucial Brussels edifice seems to carry no such media interest: Nato HQ. The location of Nato in the middle of a city just bombed by a terror cell might be an obvious media cue for asking more probing, connecting questions about the attacks and how we really understand the issue of terrorism. It might even prompt consideration of Nato's presence there as a terror base, plotting and sending out orders of destruction from this esteemed city.

But the mass murder and mayhem unleashed by Nato on Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, as well as its expansionist presence in Ukraine and other Baltic states, seems to hold little significance in the great 'how do we stop terrorism' question.

Here, also, is the perfect opportunity to question the whole Nato presence in Turkey, how Erdoğan has used the cover of that US-led club to prosecute regime change in Syria, to facilitate ISIS, and to purge the Kurds, leading, in response, to the terror killings in Ankara and Istanbul.    

And, as part of that same US-Nato war complex, what better time than a presidential race to shine full media light on Hillary Clinton's dark part in the Libyan and Syrian calamities, and responsibility for the terror responses we're now witnessing?

Nothing happens in isolation. Islamic State and its devotees may never see any other aim than jihadist supremacy. But Nato militarism, with its vastly more dangerous claims to global control, only feeds that zeal.        

And so it goes on, round and round, the West and Nato wielding major terrorist violence, the inevitable responses, the shallow media coverage, the facile security analyses, the token visits to Muslim suburbs wondering how young men get radicalised. Just as the cycle of Western-led war and 'blowback' continues, so does the same political and media message revolve in an ever-repeating loop. How do we move on from such omission, denial and spin?    

As the Brussels-based political writer Frank Barat puts it:
To stop this drift towards self-destruction we, as a human race, need to ask the tough questions, and speak truth to power. We, collectively, need to ask ourselves why some young men and women, born and raised in Brussels, with family and friends here, many with jobs and even businesses in the city, turned into terrorists and suicide bombers, very often in a matter of a couple of years. Despite the rage that we are feeling today, we must try to think rationally and try to understand, which is very different from condoning, what led them to commit such terrible and heinous crimes.
This should be priority enquiry for any media serious about informing the public. Yet, for Barat:
If you look at what happened in France and Belgium, if you study all the footage and read all the media reports and analyses, you will realise most of them focus on “security”, “militarisation” “hitting back” and “war”. Only a few are concentrating on what the terrorists said or wrote. Why did they do it? What did they say while doing it? If you read these – not something you’ll find easily with a Google search – you will realise that all the attackers are talking the same language. They were politically educated out of the destruction of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, the drones bombing in Pakistan, Yemen, the torture of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib and the colonisation and occupation of Palestine. 
It's not that these factors are never aired. How could they be completely ignored? But it's a rudimentary acknowledgement, usually contextualised as 'Western mistakes', 'problems of migration and integration', or the 'failings of the Muslim community to contain jihadism'. 

Take, as a useful example, the live presentation, reports and analyses by Matt Frei, Jonathan Rugman and Paraic O'Brien for Channel 4 News the day after the Brussels attacks. There's multiple questions and discussion about the Belgian intelligence failures, the possible need for greater surveillance, the rise of radical terrorism, interviews with locals outside the killers' apartment in the city's Shaerbeek area where the terror plots were allegedly hatched, the brooding mood in nearby Molenbeek district, the 'migrant crisis', the spectre of fascistic parties across Europe, implications for the EU referendum and other apparently linked issues. All these things are up for earnest assessment by Frei et al. But there's no talk of Nato, or its Brussels location, nothing - beyond token mention of Syria and its fallout - about Nato war policy, or that the actual formation of ISIS came from the catastrophe of Iraq and other Western-led chaos in the Middle East.

Rather than just coverage from the Place de la Bourse, or the grubby flat in Shaerbeek, imagine the impact of live comment and critical interviews outside the home of the Nato war machine, asking rational, penetrating questions about that organisation's part in promoting global terror, and how its violence has come back, full circle, to Brussels.

Unthinkable. Which tells us all we really need to know about the vital presentational role of the media in framing terror attacks and the 'war on terrorism'. How easy, having seen images of the devastation, to condemn a wicked terror cell in Brussels. How much harder, with far less media scrutiny of its murderous, earth-scorching operations, to comprehend and decry what's being planned and directed from inside Nato's Brussels building.

Reporting from locations festooned with flowers and candles keeps us attuned to safe forms of human observance, 'solidarity', and determination to 'resist the terrorists'. But a far greater media service and public empathy could be realised by locating and exposing the state-militarist agencies most deeply responsible for creating the conditions under which such attacks inevitably occur. How many more mass deaths, around the world and in 'our' cities, have to happen before a complicit media start relaying the big, connecting picture?

1 comment:

Jackie said...

Thanks for saying what needs to be said.