errorism is now a kind of brand. It is like the anti-Christmas, or the anti-Coke. Consumer society has learned to configure the nefarious into a highly organized and sellable “package” maximized for dramatic effect.
Terrorism is its own actor in a leading role. Mass media and social media provide it with a platform and script from which details of any given carnage can be relentlessly broadcast and ceaselessly hashed over, raising collective anxiety well beyond the breaking point. So it is that exaggerated aftermaths become as alarming as the terrorist act itself.
Terrorism is psychological warfare that now enjoys a 100 percent success rate. Forget stiff upper lips. Sagging ones are more useful. Each anti-Christmas is a celebration of dread. Untouched cities borrow from that dread by first fearing for themselves, then seeking to “belong” to the affected city or country. “I am New York, I am Paris, I am fill-in-the-blank.” Missing out is not an option.
The schemers of terrorist acts now know they’re onto the greatest show on earth, particularly if they play to the self-involved West. They know random acts of extreme violence will be absorbed, shared, and raise the profile of those behind it. It’s a perverse cat-and-mouse story in which the cat has come to crave the next mouse to satisfy the needs of a hungry and ongoing storyline.
Each new brutal event is instantly made larger than life, and itself, with politicians uttering rehearsed words of loathing. Some grow emotional, sobbing and vowing revenge. Theatrics, real and imagined, take stage center. Words such as “lockdown” and “standstill” are made to stand lively, even if little is actually locked or stopped. Affluent society, largely removed from life-and-death drama, is force-fed reminders of its own vulnerability — an easy “sell” since there is no one “curing” war to wage and win. Certainly not against terrorism, whose agents see their actions as an autoimmune disorder they can trigger at will, and always with success, since the West is latently ill with a number of maladies and prone to magnify its sense of worry anxiety and righteous pain.
Rarely is it mentioned that the hinterlands of the aggressors, whether located in Syria, Iraq, Nigeria or Mali, are the site of constant violence, including air bombardments, with noncombatant death tolls numbering in the tens of thousands, allies and barbarians mixed up in the same blood-broth.
Nor do terrorist acts carried out in Ankara, Beirut, Cairo, Istanbul, Damascus or Jakarta, outland metropolises, carry the same weight of those that directed at first tier states with five star restaurants. A lethal bombing in Ankara is disquieting. An attack in Brussels or Paris is an affront to all that’s civilized, with anti-Christmas rhetoric immediately taking over.
Today’s status quo derives from one perfect event, the destruction of New York’s twin towers in 2001. That event, in the continent that produced both Hollywood and Disneyland, helped spawn the industry of fear to which terrorism now plays almost casually. It is an industry with its own jargon and pace. The instant a terrorist act occurs it is elevated to a status above and beyond the actual consequence of events themselves. If an airport is blown up, the real target was most probably a nuclear reactor, which, if destroyed, would contaminate millions. Be afraid, be very afraid, but don’t stop looking.
This industry depends on if not craves bad news, gladly embracing the jaw-dropping pornography of broken buildings and seared flesh. Given the basics, it can and will tirelessly furnish images and words to make the whole seem infinitely worse.
It will make the evil seem all the more so. It will parade faces of nefarious agents to prepare for the ever-impending next show. It will denounce the horrid purveyors of such acts while at the same time nuzzling up against the wreckage, sold on the reliability of the product, waiting for the next chance to play a jingle that has acquired its own breathless momentum.